It’s more than usual these days, to read claims from people who believe “true” liberalism is not only the best, but the only system by which a society makes its most, through individual effort and also individual benefit. This approach is simplistic, reductionist and incomplete.
The claim is about how a State or a government takes part of their profits, to discretionally assign that wealth obtained by “producers”, to other sectors of society, basically “consumers”, under the euphemistic name of “social well-being”. Their feeling, to put it plainly, is they are being “robbed” by the authorities, since their benefit is result of their own work, investment of capital and the taking of the implicit risk of any business.
“Economic anthropologists such as Marshall Sahlins, Karl Polanyi, Marcel Mauss or Maurice Godelier have demonstrated that in traditional societies, choices people make regarding production and exchange of goods follow patterns of reciprocity which differ sharply from what the “homo economicus” model postulates. Such systems have been termed gift economy rather than market economy. Criticisms of the “homo economicus” model put forward from the standpoint of ethics usually refer to this traditional ethic of kinship-based reciprocity that held together traditional societies.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_economicus
I’ll consider some aspects that, in my opinion, are being missed and should be clarified, when regarding society just as the sum of all individual “homo economicus” beings:
Nobody has been born out of anything, or created in isolation. If to consider how many people succeeded in human history, not having any familiar nor social context, we will probably find that if successful, they must have been social “misfits” afterwards as well. So from the Liberalism point of view, their only achievement, and this is also the only interest of Liberal ideology, was economic progress and, eventually, becoming rich. All other aspects, i.e.: social, cultural, familiar behaviour and achievements, could be avoided.
Even when we think we act individually, we are immerse in a context. For any business person, again, there is a need of a market to interact with. And the market is not only made of economic transactions although it’s a major part of it. Even if we accept that Society is the underlying infrastructure that supports the functioning of markets and enterprises, businesses need “others” being their customers, competitors, suppliers, governments and authorities, etc. How can we explain all these interactions, just based on the assumption that everyone is acting by their own individual interest? What about all those professionals that are not necessary running a business: medical doctors, lawyers, teachers, bus drivers, policemen, etc.? Are they also motivated just by economic progress?
We need to accept that there is more to human life than running business, eve when business might be an essential part of a Society. There are matters that involve too many people and cannot be only regarded from each of their individual point of view. There is (or must be) a common interest, when all individual interests need to be subordinated, in the benefit of the whole. And this hierarchy of priorities and levels of subordination, must be agreed by the whole of Society.