People Are Less Selfish Under Capitalism


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Years ago, an MBA student of mine had immigrated from Albania after growing up under Communism. She shared with her classmates what she observed to be the most unexpected mindset difference between Americans and Albanians.

She got emotional as she explained how in Albania, charity was rare—caring for anyone other than yourself and your family was uncommon. In contrast, she experienced Americans as generous and caring.

My student described how exasperated she felt hearing the claim that capitalism leads to a survival of the fittest mentality. In her experience, it was the opposite; under communism, the mindset was to not care for others.

Today, she has more reasons to be exasperated. Among broad segments of society, the belief that capitalism teaches us to be so self-interested that we become uncaring about the welfare of others seems to be accepted as truth. As FEE editor Dan Sanchez observes, “Some go so far as to demand the abolition of capitalism in favor of socialism in order to fully restore benevolence and the intentional promotion of the public interest in the hearts of humankind.”

In her book, The Fear Factor, neuroscience professor Abigail Marsh observes, “Majorities of respondents polled in the United States and elsewhere believe that people are, as a rule, selfish, preoccupied with their own interest, and untrustworthy—and getting worse.”

However, widespread adoption of a belief does not make that belief true. Capitalism calls forth altruism.

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