Self-interest is not selfish

Many people often confuse selfishness with having self-interest. It can sound similar, but the meanings are very different. So different that one is consider bad and the other is good. Making this error (or intentionally to confuse others) can be deadly for the individual, family/business and expand out into a nation.

Here is the Google definition of both words. (I actually laughed out loud with their definitions.)


adjective: selfish
  1. (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.


noun: self-interest
  1. one’s personal interest or advantage, especially when pursued without regard for others.



Growing up, when I thought of someone being selfish- never did a businessman come to mind. More like someone not sharing their food or only caring about themselves (aside from profit*).

*Growing up, my perspective of people who only cared about profit, always appeared greedy and no one wants to work with a person after they had revealed this trait. 

The definition Google gave of self-interest, seems to be contradicting. How can one be solely interested on themselves with disregard of others? That sounds selfish! Not self-interest. If I want something for myself, there are things I need to do… and most likely those things involve helping others.

Assume I want to get fit- it sounds selfish. Or is it?

I now have to exercise, diet, use supplements and rest appropriately. I am figuring the local gym, market, supplement companies and Sleepy’s Mattress Company will all profit because of me wanting to get fit.

Same goes if I want to go to school. There are things I need to do- and that would involve human interaction. If I want to be a wife, a mother, a shoemaker, make-up artist… it would require me to engage with others respectfully and not disregard them simply because they are needed for my success. This doesn’t sound selfish, rather. It sounds beneficial to a free society.

When Alexis de Tocqueville observed the American economy of the 1800’s is evident to the benefit of having self-interest when he stated:

“Americans….. are fond of explaining almost all actions of their lives by the principle of self-interest rightly understood; they show with complacency how enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist one another.” – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, page 526

The idea of a system to which a voluntarily trade of goods or service in exchange for your personal benefit (through some form of payment) is not only good but it helps prevent extinction.

The question should be: how to channel self-interest for the general good? 

In a free society there must be rules of just conduct and good behavior in order for this system to work.

The irony when people say it is selfish to work for money, don’t comprehend the fact that self-interest remains. This could be done the right way or the wrong way.

Author and law professor Richard Epstein said:

“That self-interest  can manifest itself in one or two ways when dealing with strangers; through either aggression (force or deceit) or cooperation.” – Richard Epstein, The Limits of Liberty, Reason, March 2004, vol. 35, no. 10, pp.40-50

When a person or business puts their needs first, governed by rules of conduct, by making exchanges with others- both parties are better off.

No one would make a deal if he or she doesn’t believe they will be better off. (Unless it is Obama.. lol. )

When governments come in between the creativity, transactions  and tell people how to run their lives- everybody (expect those who are in power) loses. This will prevent innovation, postpone creativity, kill work ethics and limit potential.


Please watch this video as it briefly explains more about the system of socialism ‘not making baristas into brain surgeons, rather- it makes brain surgeons into baristas.’








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