I started writing on self-interest. However, the larger scheme of things conspired to include politics in it. Most of the time, self-interests do less good than the general betterment of everyone. All of us apply self-interest in many ways. At times, the actor is unaware that his/her actions are driven by self-interest. However, most of the time actions are more motivated with the expected end result in mind – self-interest. Self-interest that is called profit maximizing approach in game theory. However, in game theory you’ve an opponent; here the case we’re going to discuss is related to self vs the larger public good.
Recently, a final closure of Brexit has happened, we have seen farmer protest in India and even the western countries are talking about it as if the law impacts their farmers.
The king was talking to his confidant. The confidant was none other than his younger brother. He told his brother – why are you just a spectator in the courtroom? We have studied together, you know the subjects, law, and Ethics as much or better than the other ministers. You must take part in day-to-day activities and decision making discussions.
The confidant was very insightful; he knew the functioning of the courtroom, decision makings of the kingdom, and a great deal about the ministers. A great observant, yet a humble right-hand man of the king. He responded – you are correct my brother, it is not that I have limited understanding. In the courtroom, many have their self-interest ahead of other things. Many times decisions are not made in the best interest of the kingdom but in the self-interest of the most powerful in that regard.
I will quote a recent example. It is regarding our dispute with the neighboring kingdom for the distribution of water of the common river. Our ministers proposed a solution either based on incomplete information, or the detailed information was not shared with the committee. The reason? Our minister wanted to influence the decision in support of the other kingdom, reasons may be best known to the minister. The whispers are that minister’s brother-in-law lives and own the land touching the river and could benefit most from our agreement. The minister is corrupt and it is not unknown in the whole ministry; am I right, brother?
The King knew all of this. He took a pause and responded. At times, you have to close an eye for the larger good of society. Let us assume we had not budged on the water agreement, it might have resulted in a war – however, limited it could be.
The confidant said – that does not absolve you of your duty as a king, you have the power to get rid of the minister! The minister, though was not as powerful as the king, knew the inner workings of the ministry so he could rebel. At last, the king was also working in the self-interest of staying in power.
This is how even the less powerful control the kingdom. This is how democracy undermines good governance too. An example is recent farm law protest in India. Though personally I could not make my mind for or against it as such. At times this is how organizations are at the ransom of these less powerful yet resourceful people. At times these insiders can damage the organization more than the benefit they may offer. Greed and self-interest can make a kingdom or government or an organization average or at worst failed one. There are umpteen examples of this – the Kuru clan in Mahabharat, most likely Pakistan (or other examples of the Middle East of the early 2010s) in coming years or read the HBR article.
In essence, though I find it difficult to write – “politics is not bad”. I may not be particularly good at it. However, the self-interest that drives many actions and decisions end up making few organizations or kingdoms average or moderately successful if not a failure. And lastly, self-interest defeats the concept of interdependence – interdependent co-arising.