Individual Goals and the Public Good

We cannot determine whether individual goals coincide with the public good until we determine what the public good is. Most people agree that some things are good for the public, and some things are bad for them, but they agree on little else. Some think that increasing the population is good because more people can then enjoy life; some think that decreasing the population is good because the people who are here can then enjoy life more. Some think that luxury is good for the public, and others think that it is bad. Some think that religion is good for the public; some say it is bad. There may be a transcendent, objective standard for good and bad, but we cannot prove what it is. Thus, each society decides what is in the public good and then creates mechanisms like law and education which encourage individual goals that are coincident with the public good and to discourage individual goals that are in conflict with the public good.

In this paper, I will discuss the relationship between individual goals and the public good in a libertarian society. In this model, society is nothing more than a group of individuals. Each person knows the most about his particular wants and is most qualified to make judgments for himself. Therefore, the public good is achieved when individuals have more freedom to live as they choose. Information is essential for free choice: if I am choosing between A and B, but unbeknownst to me, A and B are actually C and D, then my “A VS. B” choice is not a choice at all.

In a libertarian society, the achievement of an individual objective is intrinsically coincident with the public good because this achievement is an example of a person using his liberty in the way which he sees fit. Such an event shows that the society is functioning correctly. This does not mean that all individual objectives are consistent with the public good, however. If a person’s goal or his method of achieving the goal takes rights away from others, then he is in conflict with the public good. A person can do whatever he likes with himself and with the things that he owns, but he does not have the same rights over others.

We can predict that an individual is contributing to the public good if he is realizing his dreams while helping others to achieve their own. This generally means that he is non-coercive and honest. An ethical businessman is a great example. He does not physically force people to buy his product, nor does he lobby for subsidies or protectionist laws which coerce the public to pay for a product it does not want. He is honest about the features of his product; he does not lie about the side effects of its use or the conditions of the workers who make it. He does not steal from his company through embezzlement or from the government by breaking tax laws. The businessman who follows these rules allows the public to make a free and informed decision about whether it wants to buy his product or not. If the customers do make the purchase, it means they think the product will help them achieve their individual goals. The money which the businessman receives helps the man to achieve his own goals. Both sides profit.

There is one conundrum which libertarianism cannot solve: when a person finds an unclaimed natural resource, why does he have the right to say it is his and restrict others’ rights to it? Doesn’t this conflict with the public good? Otherwise, libertarianism is logically consistent. Such a society would simply solve the property acquisition mechanism in a different way.

There are many plausible systems of individual-group interaction, each with its own view of the human nature and a corresponding individual-group system to supplement it. The more committed a society is a specific system, the more efficiently the society will work, so long as the system is logical. For a capitalist society devoted to individual rights, libertarianism is the best choice. People in this society do not have to agree about what the good is. As long as they pursue what they think is good in an honest and non-coercive manner, they will help themselves and others. This method is simple, yet effective.

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