Open Forum: Greedy Samaritan?

Posted: June 26, 2013

An Israeli, a Palestinian, a Progressive, and a Libertarian were traveling to Jerusalem, when robbers fell upon the Israeli, beat him, and stole his money.

The Palestinian — I don’t know if he was a Christian or a Muslim — stopped to attend to the Israeli. But, being a businessman, he didn’t have much time. So, he brought the Israeli to the next hotel along the road and paid the manager money equal to one day’s wages of a common laborer to care for the man.

The Progressive criticized the Palestinian. Why only one day’s wages of a common laborer? And, why hurry off in search of profits? Talk about putting greed ahead of need!

And what about the robbers? Shouldn’t there be programs for them? Rehabilitation, counseling, job training, self-esteem, a guaranteed income, health care, food stamps, housing vouchers, and, of course, an Obama phone? Why should the Palestinian have more because, in the lottery of life, he turned out to be a businessman and somebody else turned out to be a robber?

The Libertarian was sure that he admired the Palestinian and that he thought the Progressive was totally nuts. But, what was he to make of the incident, as he seemed conflicted?

On even-numbered days, he thought Jesus was right, that we should love others; and, on odd-numbered days, that Ayn Rand was right, that we should love ourselves. Then he remembered that both Jesus and Rand rejected race and religion as the basis of brotherhood. That Jesus defined “neighbor” (as in we should love our neighbor as ourselves) as one who acts like a neighbor. And that Hank Reardon, in “Atlas Shrugged,” helped his fellow businessmen, but did not call it charity.

Adam Smith is famous for arguing that, in our pursuit of self-interest, the workings of supply and demand act like an invisible hand to direct us to serve the common good. What is not widely known is that Smith also argued that businessmen would tend, over time, to embrace all the virtues of a free society, including honesty, courage and generosity.

The late Pope John Paul II put it this way, in his great encyclical Centesimus Annus, by working and owning property and by dealing with others on the basis of free association, a person has the opportunity to develop a sense of self, and to fall in love with himself; and, to see that others are persons, and to love them as he loves himself.

Thus it is that free societies are not only richer, but they are also more honest, more generous, and their people braver, and, I would add, from my own statistical analysis, more happy, intelligent, healthier, and beautiful.

Clifford F. Thies, a professor of economics and finance at Shenandoah University, resides in Winchester.