Lambert here: Funny, I’ve just been thinking about how Bernard Mandeville, who wrote The Fable of the Bees — the moral of which is that “the pursuit of self-interest robustly benefits the common good,” just as Wilson puts it — actually knows nothing about bees, and so would do very well in today’s neoliberal economics departments.
In a previous essay, I announced a new concept of the invisible hand to replace the old and erroneous idea that the pursuit of self-interest robustly benefits the common good. The new version is based on examples of the invisible hand that exist in nature, such as cells that benefit multi-cellular organisms and social insects that benefit their colonies. These lower-level units don’t have the welfare of the higher-level units in mind. They don’t even have minds in the human sense of the word. Instead, they exhibit behaviors that have been winnowed by higher-level selection to benefit the common good. Higher-level selection is the invisible hand.
I have stated the new concept of the invisible hand in terms of evolution, which provides the strongest and most general theoretical foundation that one could ask for. However, the concept has also been formulated by others from different perspectives.