Subject: Re: Fwd: Wall Street article on a new Cooperative
From: "Benjamin J. Tilly " <ben_tilly@operamail.com>
Date: Wed, 21 Apr 2004 04:14:36 +0800

"Stephen J. Turnbull" <stephen@xemacs.org> wrote:
> >>>>> "Ben" == Benjamin J Tilly <ben_tilly@operamail.com> writes:
> 
>     Ben> If acting in the public interest is temporarily in their
>     Ben> interest, they will not hold back from doing so because
>     Ben> they might do you a favour.  Of course the fact that
>     Ben> they act in your interest in one second won't stop them
>     Ben> from acting against your interest in the next.
> 
> Jeez, Ben, you should know better than to segue from "the public
> interest" to "acting against some individual's personal interest" that
> way.  The public contains a lot of individuals, and sometimes
> Individual A's interest correlates closely with "the public's", and
> sometimes it doesn't, by definition of "individual".

Why should I know better?  I don't even know what "the public
interest" really _is_.  I tend to assume that others don't
either, and when they say "public interest" they really mean
"the interest that I wish the public had".  I used the phrase
"public interest" the first time around to match his wording,
and then switch phrasings to what I consider more honest for
the rest of the discussion.

> Life's like that, ya know?  Much of the time the "problem" here is
> just that Individual A succumbed to the temptation to confuse his
> personal interest with "the public interest" just because everybody he
> hangs out with is like him.

Thank you for eloquently explaining my opinion of what people
really mean by public interest.  But we are still left with
the question, do you think that the phrase, "the public
interest" has any real meaning beyond its rhetorical use?
For instance, how do we determine which of many possible
Pareto optimal outcomes is more in the public interest than
the others?

> Note that individuality also means that some members of "the public"
> are benefitting from that corporation's change of focus (outright
> fraud aside).  Who's to say that said corporation isn't acting "in the
> public interest" most of the time?

If the corporation acts like most people, then it thinks that
it is acting in the public interest most of the time.  But
corporations don't tend to subscribe to that interpretation of
the world.  Instead corporations claim to always be acting in
their _shareholders_ interest.  Such claims tend to become
particularly forceful when they are actually acting in the
manager's interest and that interest divergest from the actual
long-term interest of the shareholders.  But let's not talk
about CEO compensation...

> Of course you know all that, that's why you cited _The Logic of
> Collective Action_.  But let's not lead the lambs astray.

But stray lambs result in tasty lambchops, why avoid that???
Oh, they might not result in lambchops for _me_, in which
case it is not in my interest. ;-)

Seriously now, I cited _The Logic of Collective Action_
because I thought that it was a good book, and it has a
good explanation of when groups do or do not act in their
own self-interest.  I believe that is of interest to many
here, and is relevant to understanding what public goods
are likely to be provided through open source dynamics.

> Of-course-I-support-free-software---its-in-MY-interest-ly y'rs,

It is in mine as well.  And I think that it would probably
be in the public interest - if I could figure out what
that means.  But perhaps I'm just being egocentric there.

Cheers,
Ben