Richard Ebeling emails:
I have a new article on the Future of Freedom Foundation (FFF) website on, “Bernard Mandeville and the Social Betterment from Private Vices.”
One of the most important discoveries by economists and other social theorists was the insight that society need not be designed and directed by the government, but may emerge “spontaneously” from the self-interested interactions of multitudes of people through market-based exchanges.
Bernard Mandeville in his famous poem, “The Fable of the Bees: Private Vices, Public Goods,” first formulated this discovery in the early 1700s in a “shocking” way. He imagined a community of bees that mimicked human society in every way, but in which the bees are guided in everything they do only by their own individual material self-interests.
But rather than disaster, Mandeville shows how it leads to innovation, industry, and competitive improvements for all in society. But, then, the bees develop pangs of guilt for being selfish in all they do, and change their behavior, becoming selfless, other-oriented, and non-materialistic in all their desires. The result: stagnation, economic decay, and cultural decline.
Mandeville’s “moral” was that we should accept mankind for how it is, and that if we want human betterment and prosperity we must not condemn or reject that people are self-interested beings who cannot be changed or repressed in their human nature without undesirable consequences for individuals and society.