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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hardcore Self-Interest

Today I had to get my car serviced so went to the local Mazda dealer.  I drive a Mazda, so obviously that’s one reason I went to this dealership.  Another reason is that last year I purchased an extended bumper-to-bumper warranty.  The repairs when they are completed next Monday (a part had to be ordered) will cost about $600, but the warranty will cover all but a $100 deductible.  My experience today would have been a lot less pleasant had I not out of self-interest purchased a warranty last year.  That is one reason why I like doing things out of self-interest—it makes me feel good.  While I was there, I witnessed a salesman try to get a couple in for car service into a new car.  Their car was in good shape, so they did not buy.  But I saw the operation of self-interest on the part of the customers and salesman leading to happy outcomes.  The salesman finally offered to get them into a new car with no money down.  Had they really needed a car, their need could have been met.

While I and the other customers sat in the pleasant waiting area surrounded by new cars, I could easily imagine guests who would be unwelcome from the dealership's point of view—say, a gathering of penniless vagrants. Generally, I suspect all persons unwilling or unable to pay for services provided would be unwelcomed by the dealership.  This is an area of dealership self-interest I can fully appreciate.  It is extremely unpleasant to find oneself in a situation where self-interest is expected to be sacrificed to the unworkable; where business cannot be done—where the gratification of self-interest has no chance of being a mutual exchange.  To expect otherwise really has the feel of disrespect—asking others to deliberately act in contradiction of their self-interest.  I really have a problem with this in terms of Christianity where the ethos is selflessness.  I guess I come down in the end to identifying the deserving in contrast to the undeserving needy; between those facing hardships from no fault of their own, and those who chronically bring it upon themselves and then expect others, as Christians, to always stand ready to bail them out.  I hold that we can be complicit in addicting others by letting them tread over our self-interest.  Helping the deserving needy, to the contrary, bolsters our self-interest by allowing us to be generous while helping the self-interest of others.  Indulging the undeserving robs the self-interest of all and results in mutual exploitation.  An obvious challenge for the welfare state is how to assist the deserving without encouraging flaccidity and venality among its citizenry.

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