Monday, September 13, 2004

Oprah's On!

Today marked the beginning of the 19th season of Oprah so the star-studded host invited 276 people in need of a car to sit in her audience. Then she each gave them a new Pontiac.

Later in the show, she gave a four year college scholarship to a young woman who spent much of her life in foster care and homeless shelters.

Still later, Oprah gave over $100,000 to a family with eight foster kids. The family was on the verge of being kicked out of their home.

To those of you that say that the rich are selfish and greedy and step on the backs of poor people, it’s simply not true—today just marked a dramatic example of it. Private charity (as opposed to government programs) is faster, too. If the family in the last example sought government help instead of Oprah help (all these individuals wrote the show, telling their stories), they will probably still be waiting for their check while sitting out in the cold and there’s no guarantee it would be enough, either.

Critics of the rich are quick to point out that this was a ploy to increase ratings. Of that I have no doubt. While Ms. Winfrey certainly got a lot of joy from giving these things away, I don’t think it would have happened if her billions were earned out of the limelight (at least not to the level that happened today).

But so what?

Some people have a nasty habit of confusing self-interest with selfishness and imply that anything people that’s not out of pure charity is egocentric and evil. But acts with self-interest in mind are simply acts that benefit the behaving agent in some way. Sometimes they manifest in selfish acts—acts that benefit the agent at the expense of others. Other times they benefit both parties, like on Oprah. That’s called trade.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Hey, very good thinking there, David, making a distinction betwen self-interest and selfishness. I hadn't thought about that distinction before. Now, I can use it to argue with some of my fellow "progressive/neo-liberal" students.