Rick Moranis frets over this question in an ironic piece from the Wall Street Journal, and in the process he raises several helpful questions which touch on the intersection of economics and morality. His day of discontent began with grinding coffee beans at home and he wondered whether he was harming his local coffee shop with his individual effort.
Mr. Moranis used a German-brand coffee grinder made in China. Should he instead have bought an American-brand kitchen appliance made in China? He made his own granola for breakfast but was concerned about layoffs that he might be causing from not purchasing a more expensive manufactured cereal in a box. People need jobs, right?
To get to work he jumped in a cab – not helping at all to offset the MTA budget deficit nor ensuring the employment of the unionized transit workers. Through the rest of the day he was bitten by a dog, encountered a suspected terrorist, and looked to all the cable news channels to help clear up his confusion and guilt. The whole amusing story is worth perusing.
Nevertheless, gentler reader, key questions remain. Are we selfish to save money by not consuming commercial products? Do we have a duty to patronize stores? To tip big? Or, in fact, is it self interest that drives a free market and leads to the best outcomes for everyone?
One of the goals of this blog over time is to investigate the differences between greed (one of the seven deadly sins, according to the Catholic church), selfishness (not much better than greed if you ask your mother), and self-interest (which guides the invisible hand, according to Adam Smith, or is the highest moral virtue, according to Ayn Rand). Without a doubt, the Bible has much to say on this topic as well.
Gentle reader, you are invited to take part in this dialogue in the comment sections of any post. You are especially invited to download the free Kindle version of Anthem using the link to the right (a dead-tree 50th anniversary edition is also available at the link for a nominal sum). This provocative book by Ayn Rand presents one set of answers to the questions that troubled Mr. Moranis today over his morning cup of coffee.