Frequent TRR commenter and my personal critic, Capt. America made a reference to Adam Smith in a recent thread about economics, conservatism, and Atlas Shrugged. He is correct in noting that everybody references Ayn Rand when talking about individualism as it applies to the market place but, forgets that it was Adam Smith, the father of modern market economics, who first fleshed out the notion that people acting in their own self-interests, within a framework of social and moral obligations, lead to economic prosperity and well-being for all. No doubt, Ayn Rand was heavily influenced by Smith's treatise on economics entitled An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, or The Wealth of Nations for short. In this work Smith uses the invisible hand metaphore to describe how an individual acting greedily in his own self-interests will, coincidentally and without intention, benefit the whole of society by increasing it's wealth as he increases his own. Here's the money quote from ...Nations that explains that idea...
"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages."
If you didn't know any better, you would have sworn you had read that in an Atlas Shrugged passage.
In other words, the Idaho potato farmer isn't interested in the slightest in providing my family with delicious potatoes to eat with our steaks. He's interested only in making as much money as possible selling potatoes. Through a long chain of transactions, he and I agree that he wants my money more than his potatoes and I want his potatoes more than I want to keep my money. His singular devotion to the pursuit of profit provides me with potatoes...so both our lives are enriched because of what some people call his greed.
If more people understood what Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, and Capt. America understand, our society would be better off.