How can we be sure that free people will not act selfishly in ways that further their own individual interests at the expense of the general welfare? One part of the answer is that in fact we do expect people to behave in their own self-interest. In a market economy, producers want to become as wealthy as possible, but to do so they must compete against each other for consumers’ patronage. This system rewards success at pleasing consumers, and punishes, with economic losses, the failure to do so.
Another part of the answer is the rule of law—a system of rules that are impartial and applied equally to everyone. Rules of the highway, for example, hold all drivers impartially to the rules of the road, so every driver forms a reliable set of expectations about how other drivers will act. What’s true of the rule of law on the roads is true of the rule of law more generally. This equality does not guarantee equality of outcomes. But it does mean that no person’s or group’s interests are given extra weight or are singled out to be discounted.
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