2014 ended as if America was fraying at the seams, but Bryan Caplan points out all is not gloomy.
Superficial observers will see further evidence that economists can't shut up about selfishness. But on reflection, the logic of collective action is compelling evidence for the power of altruism. How so? Because actual human beings often engage in collective action despite the strong selfish case for inaction! Many people give blood without the slightest recompense. Many people voluntarily join the army when they see their country in danger, despite high risk and low wages. Many people donate to charity even though eligibility for charity has nothing to do with their donation history. If altruism is not their motive, what is?
Sure, true believers in ubiquitous selfishness can grasp at straws to protect their dogma. Perhaps people donate blood for the free cookie, join the army because they might run for office one day, or give to charity in order to make business connections. Or maybe millions of average joes are clueless enough to believe that the blood supply, the safety of the free world, and the availability of charity hinge on whatever they personally choose to do.
Anything is possible, but that doesn't mean that anything is plausible. Once you grasp the logic of collective action, basic economics strongly supports a conclusion that economists rarely advertise: Genuine altruism is all around us. Benevolence doesn't explain why bakers bake bread for paying customers, but it does explain why blood donors give blood to strangers for free.