Peter Schwartz, one of the best writers I know, has written another excellent column against altruism:

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Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada. She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad. Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada. Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book.


  1. Schwartz asks whether we are really our “brother’s keeper.” This reference can be traced to chapter 8 in the book of Genesis, where Cain kills his brother Abel and is asked by God where Abel is. Cain’s classic response–“Am I my brother’s keeper?”–is purported to infer that Cain is generally responsible for his brother’s actions and whereabouts. But Cain is the only one in the story who mentions keeper, shmr in Hebrew, a word that has a distinctively agricultural connotation (i.e., like one accepts responsibility for farm animals). Cain’s question is rhetorical and brazen to say the least, and God does not answer it. Those of us of faith should understand the proper meaning of the exchange in Genesis between Cain and God. Indeed, if, when and how one should accept responsibility for the actions of others is a topic worthy of serious discussion.

    • Thanks, John, for your comment. The egoist stance on this issue is straightforward: we are never responsible for the actions of others (parents of young children excepted). We may choose to help others but it is not a moral duty. Others’ needs do not constitute claims on our lives. (If they did, our liberty would be severely limited). The proper principle to guide social interaction is trade: trading value for value, by mutual consent for mutual benefit (paraphrasing Ayn Rand).

  2. Thankyou “Parnell” for putting the biblical “brother’s keeper” term in context. Very instructive, what you describe is an off-the-cuff remark made to evade responsibility for an action, not advice to everyone.

    There may be other biblical notions that could benefit from context. Two that come to mind are:
    – the attack on money-changers
    – the half of Karl Marx’ famous maxim “To each according to his ability, from each according to his need.” that is in popular Christian bibles. (Marx was probably following words of older socialists and the bible, according to Bartlett’s book of quotations.)

    There are substantial differences among Christians in how far to go – Catholic bishops in Seattle have been far more socialist than Amway dealers from Spokane (though the founders of the Amway multi-level marketing business did write a book that IIRC used the concept “compassionate capitalism”).

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