10 Examples of Adam Smith's Invisible Hand

Mar 11, 2023

The concept of the invisible hand is the idea that, under the right conditions, the pursuit of self-interest can lead to outcomes that benefit everyone without the need for a central authority to direct or control the actions of individuals.

Adam Smith's concept of the invisible hand is the idea that the self-interested actions of individuals in a free market can result in benefits for society as a whole, even if those individuals had no intention of those benefits.

To help you understand the concept, here are 10 examples:

1 - In a school cafeteria

Suppose that a group of students decide to set up a cafeteria during the lunch hour in order to sell snacks and drinks to their fellow students. Each of them is motivated by his or her own self-interest: to earn extra money and gain business experience.

The students who run the cafeteria may begin to compete with each other to offer better snacks, lower prices, and more convenient service as the cafeteria becomes more popular and profitable.

Students may also begin to innovate. They may introduce new products or change the layout of the cafeteria to make it more attractive to customers.

As a result of this competition and innovation, the quality and availability of school snacks may improve and students may have more choices at lunchtime.

2 - At home

The invisible hand can be observed in the home. The self-interested actions of family members can benefit everyone.

Let's imagine that one member of the family decides to get up early and clean the kitchen before the rest of the family wakes up.

He may have a desire to start the day with a clean kitchen, and perhaps he also has a desire to have some quiet time in the morning.

When others see that the kitchen is clean each morning, they may begin to appreciate the effort this family member makes and begin to help by keeping the kitchen clean throughout the day.

It is also possible that other family members will begin to develop the habit of getting up earlier and doing chores before others wake up. This can lead to a more harmonious and efficient household.

The invisible hand is the ultimate explanation of why a free-market economy creates prosperity and why attempts to manage or control the economy inevitably fail
Thomas Sowell
invisible hand in the market

3 - Driving a vehicle

Driving on a congested highway, a driver is trying to get where he wants to go as quickly as possible and avoid congestion.

Instead of swerving aggressively to gain a few seconds, the driver may choose to drive more cautiously and maintain a safe distance from the car in front.

Over time, other drivers will notice the safe and cautious driving of the first driver, so it is possible that they will soon begin to adopt the same driving behavior, resulting in a smoother and safer flow of traffic.

In addition, all drivers on the road will benefit because drivers who are now safer and more predictable may be less likely to cause accidents or contribute to congestion.

4 - In the cafeteria

A coffee shop offers a variety of coffee blends and flavors to appeal to the different tastes of its customers. By offering attractive, high-quality products, the owner hopes to attract and retain customers.

As customers enter the coffee shop and try the different blends, they may begin to talk to each other and share their preferences.

As a result, the coffee shop owner can begin to see which flavors are most popular with customers. He can then adjust his offerings accordingly.

This feedback loop between customers and the coffee shop owner can lead to a more refined and diverse selection of coffee blends, benefiting both the coffee shop and its customers.

In addition, the coffee shop can attract more customers and increase its revenue as it becomes known for the quality and variety of its coffees.

This success can lead to a more competitive and innovative coffee shop market, as other coffee shops in the area are inspired to improve the quality of their own products and services.

5 - In Artificial Intelligence

A company develops a highly effective AI system to analyze and interpret large amounts of data. The primary goal is to deliver a product that is competitive and profitable in the marketplace.

Over time, this sparks interest and competition in the field of artificial intelligence, leading to an increase in research and development.

New and improved AI technologies that benefit a wide range of industries and applications can result from competition and innovation.

As a result, there is a growing need for ethical standards and guidelines to ensure that these technologies are used responsibly and in the best interests of society.

This demand may lead to the creation of industry-wide standards and regulations that benefit the field of AI as a whole.

6 - Pricing of goods and services

The invisible hand can be seen in the way prices are set in a free market economy. When demand for a product or service is high, the price tends to rise, which encourages producers to increase their supply.

When demand is low, the price tends to fall. This encourages producers to reduce their supply.

This dynamic helps ensure that resources are allocated efficiently and that goods and services are available to those who value them most.

7 - Job creation

The creation of a business that is profitable increases the likelihood that the business will expand and hire more workers.

Conversely, if they become unprofitable, they may be forced to downsize or go out of business.

This dynamic helps to ensure that labor is allocated efficiently and that workers can find employment opportunities that are a good match for their skills and preferences.

8 - Politics

A politician runs for election to gain power and influence and makes a decision to advocate policies that benefit his or her local community.

He becomes more likely to be elected and more likely to influence policy decisions as he gradually gains popularity and support among his constituents.

This makes other politicians aware of his success, so they decide to adopt similar policies and behaviors to attract their own constituents, leading to a more responsive and effective political system.

Society as a whole benefits as a result of citizens demanding accountability from politicians.

These benefits were not the primary intention of the politician, but arose as a result of the unintended consequences of their actions, which is the essence of the invisible hand concept.

9 - Innovation

Innovation and technological progress are encouraged by the invisible hand.

It is observed that when new and better products are created, they attract customers and thus increase profits.

This in turn encourages other firms to innovate and improve their products. This can lead to greater efficiency and productivity throughout the economy.

10 - Philanthropy

People can inadvertently contribute to the greater good of society when they are free to donate to causes they care about.

An individual may unknowingly help fund the development of new treatments that benefit society as a whole by donating to a cancer research charity.

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