Portrait of Philip H. Wicksteed

Philip Wicksteed on how impersonal economic relations help others (1910)

Found in: The Commonsense of Political Economy

The English economist Philip H. Wicksteed (1844-1927) makes the interesting point that a business person aims to help others achieve their goals whether or not the business person is motivated by selfishness or altruism:


We shall find that the economic relations constitute a machinery by which men devote their energies to the immediate accomplishment of each other’s purposes in order to secure the ultimate accomplishment of their own, irrespective of what those purposes of their own may be, and therefore irrespective of the egoistic or altruistic nature of the motives which dictate them and which stimulate efforts to accomplish them. And the things and doings with which economic investigation is concerned will therefore be found to include everything which enters into the circle of exchange—that is to say, everything with which men can supply each other, or which men can do for each other, in what we may call an impersonal capacity; or, in other words, the things a man can give to or do for another independently of any personal and individualised sympathy with him or with his motives or reasons.