Front Page Titles (by Subject) Selfishness and Non-Tuism - The Economic Point of View
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Selfishness and “Non-Tuism” - Israel M. Kirzner, The Economic Point of View 
The Economic Point of View: An Essay in the History of Economic Thought, ed. with an Introduction by Laurence S. Moss (Kansas City: Sheed Andrews McMeel, 1976).
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Selfishness and “Non-Tuism”
In a chapter which has dealt with the view that economic activity is essentially self-centered and egoistically motivated, space must be found for the novel idea of the economic relationship that Wicksteed substituted in place of the controversial concept of egoism. We have noticed Wicksteed’s vigorous rejection of the notion that economic activity is exclusively self-regarding. Robbins has commented:
Before Wicksteed wrote, it was still possible for intelligent men to give countenance to the belief that the whole structure of Economics depends upon the assumption of a world of economic men, each actuated by egocentric or hedonistic motives. For anyone who has read the Common Sense, the expression of such a view is no longer consistent with intellectual honesty. Wicksteed shattered this mis-conception once and for all.33
In its place Wicksteed defined the economic relationship in terms of “non-tuism.” This innovation seems to have attracted far less attention than Wicksteed’s other contributions to the definition of economics.34 “Non-tuism” is closely connected with the concept of exchange as the core of the economic relationship, but it is itself the actual criterion. The economic relationship is entered into by two parties each of whom is intent on the furtherance of his own (not necessarily selfish) purposes, not those of the other. Wicksteed illustrates this from the case of trustees.
Trustees who have no personal interest whatever in the administration of the estates to which they give time and thought will often drive harder bargains—that is to say, will more rigidly exclude all thought or consideration of the advantage of the person with whom they are dealing—in their capacity as trustees than they would do in their private capacity...the reason why...there is no room for “you” in my consideration is just because “I” am myself already excluded from my own consideration.35
Wicksteed’s major contribution to the characterization of the scope of economics lies in his thorough and exhaustive analysis of the process of economizing. He realizes, however, that the principles of this process are not peculiar to economics but “are laws of life itself.” He seeks to isolate within the realm governed by these laws an area in which a peculiarly “economic” relationship is at work. This area is characterized by “non-tuism”:
...in our industrial relations the thing we are doing is indeed an end, but it is some one else’s end, not ours; and as far as the relation is really economic, the significance to us of what we are doing is measured not by its importance to the man for whom it is done, but by the degree to which it furthers our own ends.36
The existence of such a separate area is made possible by specialization, the division of labor and exchange, but its essence is seen in the lack of regard for the interest of the man with whom one is dealing.
Of course, to postulate such a lack of regard for the interest of others in economic activity involved Wicksteed in the question of the morality of such activity. Egoism is morally reprehensible, but has economics really escaped the castigation of the moralists by throwing in its lot with the “non-tuists” rather than with the egoists? Wicksteed’s answer is that immorality is not necessarily present in “non-tuistic” behavior, as the person with whom we have entered into economic relations “may be one of the last whom we are bound to consider.”37
Few writers have followed Wicksteed in viewing “non-tuistic” behavior as a separate category.38 The case for Wicksteed’s boundary line seems to be built mainly on the conventions of demand-supply analysis. In conventional theory it is convenient and customary to group together all the factors affecting the demand side of the market separately from those underlying supply. While the earlier writers had thought this practice to be justified only on the assumption of self-regarding behavior on the part of both buyers and sellers, Wicksteed has shown that this is not the case. All motives, including the most idealistic and altruistic, could underlie either the demand or the profit-seeking motivating the production of the supply. But if the distinction between buyer and seller is to be preserved at all, Wicksteed felt it necessary to assume purely “non-tuistic” behavior on the part of each. Departure from such “non-tuism” was to be regarded as a well-recognized empirical fact, but one causing a divergence between the results of economic theory and the facts of the real world. The core of the economic relationship, for Wicksteed as well as for the economists who considered egoism as the mainspring of economic activity, lies in the pursuit of one’s own purposes. Wicksteed’s rejection of egoism allowed him to include under “one’s own purposes” every conceivable interest except the interest in the person with whom one is dealing.
There is undoubtedly an element of artificiality, albeit ingenious artificiality, in this exception. If “one’s own purposes” are wide enough to include concern for the support of charitable institutions, they are surely able to include an interest in the welfare of the person with whom one is dealing. Despite the skillfulness and persuasive beauty of Wicksteed’s prose, it remains difficult to see the boundary line as other than the result of a quite arbitrary piece of surgery on the whole of commercial activity. While theorists have been both openly and tacitly employing such surgery on business behavior in order to simplify their analysis, few have followed Wicksteed in elevating what survives their excision into a separate category of economic behavior or in treating it as the sign of a separate economic relationship.
[]See Professor Robbins' Introduction to his edition of Wicksteed's Common Sense, p. xxi.
[]Wicksteed's “nontuism” was noted by Roche-Agussol in his Etude bibliographique des sources de la psychologie économique (1919), p. 61, n. 1. Roche-Agussol also points out the similarity of Wicksteed's “nontuism” to the ideas of Hawley (see especially “A Positive Theory of Economics,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1902, pp. 233 f; and his Enterprise and the Productive Process [New York, 1907].
[]P. Wicksteed, Common Sense of Political Economy, ed. Robbins, p. 175.
[]P. Wicksteed, “Scope and Method of Political Economy” (reprinted in op. cit., II, 782).
[]P. Wicksteed, Common Sense, p. 182.
[]To be compared with Wicksteed's position is that of Viner, “Some Problems of Logical Method in Political Economy,” Journal of Political Economy, March, 1917, (Copyright 1917 by the University of Chicago), p. 249: “ ... the economic transaction becomes non-moral in the sense that each party excludes the other from his moral situation.”