Often in political discourse those who argue for fiscal restraint are accused of being selfish. Don’t support higher taxes? Stop being so greedy. Don’t think public money should be spent subsidising other people’s lifestyle choices? ‘Well you’re selfish!’ they squeal. But, what if those who talk the most about compassion and fairness are actually the selfish ones? What if their arguments about fairness are nothing more than a disguise for their own self interest? Is it selfish to keep what’s yours?
For many of us these attitudes go back to the lessons we learnt as a child. As children we were taught to share with others. The concept of sharing can be divided into two broad categories, the first is voluntary, where one child voluntarily shares his toys with another child. The classic example is letting the other child have equal time on the Playstation. The second kind of sharing is involuntary, you probably experienced it as a child. You were busy playing with your toy and some other child (possibly a brother or sister) demanded they have your toy and had a tantrum to get it. An outside force (your mother or father) too tired to deal with a tantrum gave in and forced you to give away your toy. Often that other child would show no respect to your property and break your toy. Or perhaps you were the child having the tantrum, however, if that were true you would probably be watching the ABC rather than reading this article.
It’s often this second kind of sharing that people apply in adult life when they throw around the selfish label. It genuinely surprises me how often people blatantly argue for their own self interest at the expense of others and pretend its a selfless argument. For example, the public sector union that argues for more government spending and the Australian Medical Association that demands the government has more compassion and increase the medicare rebate. Pick up any newspaper and it will be replete with examples. Whenever anyone challenges these demands for ‘fairness’ they’re called selfish.
The libertarian is often called selfish, however unlike the ‘progressive’ they are open and honest about their self interest. They know that people are self interested and seek to create a world which based on voluntary mutual benefit. That’s why the libertarian supports free trade and rejects government intrusions into voluntary exchanges between individuals. It’s the difference between someone renting your property and someone claiming squatter rights and refusing to leave. One is mutual exchange, the other: theft.
Libertarians believe in self ownership and since you own yourself, you own the proceeds of your labour. The progressive believes the collective owns you. The proceeds of your labour belong to the community (them). They will decide what you get to keep; because no rational person in a democracy would agree to theft, the progressive always argues someone else should pay. This other person is the 1%, big corporations or anyone with more then they have. This sharing always comes from someone who’s not themselves. To reject this logic is not selfish, it’s rational.