Bernard Mandeville uses a fable about bees to show how prosperity and good order comes about through spontaneous order (1705)

Bernard Mandeville

Found in The Fable of the Bees or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, Vol. 1

In 1714 the poem “The Grumbling Hive” was published, which began Mandeville’s exploration of the idea that the pursuit of selfish goals by individuals, within the confines of the free market, could produce beneficial public benefits:

A Spacious Hive well stockt with Bees, That liv’d in Luxury and Ease; And yet as fam’d for Laws and Arms, As yielding large and early Swarms; Was counted the great Nursery Of Sciences and Industry. No Bees had better Government, More Fickleness, or less Content: They were not Slaves to Tyranny, Nor rul’d by wild Democracy; But Kings, that could not wrong, because Their Power was circumscrib’d by Laws.

This poem, which formed the basis of Mandeville’s longer work The Fable of the Bees, is a clever and witty attempt to make a profound point of economic theory, namely that structure and order can arise from individual action and does not have to be imposed from above by a King (in this case shouldn’t it be a “Queen”?).