Greed is in our genes and that’s wonderful.
Richard Dawkins’ contributions to Science, excluding his fine work on the God debate, have been monumental. The most significant was a book entitled The Selfish Gene. His thesis, now the consensus among Biologists, was that our genes use our bodies as survival vehicles. An individual member of a species will selfishly only promote the survival and prosperity of themselves. If they were to help others, they would not survive. In short, genes which replicate for their own survival are awarded immortality; those who do not, die out.
A calibrated mind would recognize that if individual species are hardwired to be selfish, it stands in contrast to the altruistic behavior observed in mankind. How can selfish genes produce altruistic individuals? Dawkins’ accounted for this apparent incongruence in two ways. The first is Kin Selection.
Kin selection is the selection of genes for the reproductive success of relatives. A father risking his own life to save his child from burning building is one example.
The other is Reciprocity. In our prehistory, being members of one to two hundred in tribal groups, genes for reciprocating favours were selected. If we were all to hunt, gather firewood, construct spears, fend off rivals with those spears, build shelter, gather berries, make clothing, etc. only for ourselves, it would become clear that survival would be near impossible. If however, we were to utilize division of labour and have individuals specialize in building shelter in exchange for meat gained on the hunt, both parties’ benefit and survival becomes easier. Those selfish genes are only looking out for themselves, but because there is benefit from reciprocating favours; genes for altruistic behavior survive.
Disliking the theory of Selfish Genes put forward by Richard Dawkins because it reduces all actions to selfish motivations is, I believe, foolish. If altruistic behavior is indeed selfish, as the evidence suggests, then the motivations are irrelevant on fact of their manifestations. People aid stranded drivers. The coffers of charities are filled. Homes are constructed for the homeless. Results are more important than motivations of selflessness or selfishness.
The aggregation of selfish reciprocity is the Market. Where people use voluntary exchange to purchase goods and services from one another. Economics is the study of all variant monetized behaviors selfish genes produce.
What is important to note is that all exchanges are mutually beneficial to both parties. If both individuals are selfish, then an exchange cannot occur unless each perceive they gain more from facilitating the exchange than if they did not.
It is true that people are swindled. But Markets exist as Infinitely Repeated Games and in infinitely repeated games strategies like tit-for-tat punish those who break contracts and promises – excluding of course convictions laid down by the judiciary. Complimentarily, individuals who are swindled learn to avoid certain sellers and transmit that information onto other buyers – why large firms have public relations departments.
Our genes are here to stay. We cannot reform them. Rather than mold our behavior to serve all mankind, as Socialism attempted, and failed fantastically, allow selfish altruism to thrive through voluntary exchange. The mutual benefit of exchanges will only increase living standards, as each individual will selfishly demand ever-higher quality goods and services. It is the Market and the hero Entrepreneur that supplies us with prosperity, not ruin.
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner; but from their regard to their own interest.”
– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations