Concept of rational self-interest validSome comments on Randy Hertzman's reply to David Honig's column ["Follow your own career interests," Sept. 17] are in order.
His argument using pollution is fallacious. He thinks that capitalism is anarchy. In fact, capitalism is the social system where the government protects privacy-property rights. Under this system it would be illegal to pollute because pollution entails a violation of privacy-property rights (unless the polluter owns the whole river, water table, or ocean of atmosphere).
His argument using Defense is perverse. He evidently thinks that helping to defend the US from an obviously hostile world is immoral. All one has to do is point this out to see how vicious it is. However, the picture is clouded by the facts: 1) Many US military contractors play it both ways: they develop and sell military (or quasi-military) equipment to the Soviets or Soviet Bloc countries, or China, or (you name the dictatorship) at the same time as they work on US projects (to defend us from ...); 2) Many contractors fraudulently overcharge for their work; 3) There is much gross, bungling inefficiency and fraud in the choice of projects by the Pentagon (e.g. "artificial intelligence" automobiles -- one billion dollars). Thus many people working in Defense are helping to destroy America. So one must be careful in defending Defense. The idea of Defense is moral, our current Defense has cavities of corruption to be drilled so the bloat can go down.
Thus, in keeping with the idea of benevolent selfishness expounded in David Honig's article, if your ambition lies in military engineering, work for the military. And also keeping with that idea, speak out against corruption (legal and illegal), and by all means don't deliver turbine blades to Bulgaria.
Speaking more generally, the fact that some men are thieves, grasping bootlickers, or clamorers for government grants and favors is no reflection on the idea of rational self-interest. Psychologically these people have no self. They are ever worried about what someone else is doing; they only feal real in the eyes of others -- to be left alone is an insult. They cannot conceive of existence by voluntary trade; they see life as a plundering of others. Note that every dictator and would-be world ruler throughout history has used duty, self-sacrifice, and service before self as his rallying calls. Those who make a virtue out of dissatisfaction with their life and career follow.
David Honig's article deserves another reading. He is not advocating the ignoring of the effects of one's actions. Unfortunately, in today's Welfare State, the application of his ideas can be complex.