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Monday, October 21, 2013

Self-Interest and Public Interest

A core idea of our book is that self-interest isn't everything. Political motivations involve a complicated and shifting mix of self-interest and public interest.  Michael Barone offers a couple of examples:
People like to do well, but they also want to do good.

Let me cite two professions which that worked to put themselves out of much business, out of altruism.

Firefighters are the first example. Firefighter unions and other organizations have actively promoted safer building codes, restrictions on use of flammable materials and unsafe building materials.

These firefighters have lifted the charred bodies of dead children out of burnt-out buildings. They have seen families destroyed by needless fires.

They have worked to prevent such tragedies. And worked successfully: There are many fewer fires than there used to be.

Firefighters have done themselves out of business. They spend most of their time now on routine services which less expensive EMS personnel could handle, and their unions struggle to prevent layoffs.

Another altruistic profession is dentistry. For many decades dental groups have promoted fluoridation of water. They have vigorously encourage people to brush — and floss — thrice daily.

In their practices, they have seen the pain people suffer from because of defective teeth and painful abscesses. They want to reduce such suffering.

As a result, Americans have far fewer cavities and dentists have far less routine work than they did some years ago. In response, they have developed new specialties — peridontry, enamelizing, orthodonture.