Guest Post : Who Benefits? by Wyatt B. and Lachlan M. / by Anthony Gibbins

It is with considerable excitement that I introduce to you Legonium’s second (and third) guest posters. Wyatt and Lachlan are two Form VI pupils at the School in which I teach. They are currently studying Cicero’s pro Roscio Amerino and each has a keen interest in the history of economic theory. Enjoy!

But, before you begin, you may wish to reread this post on the expression cui bono?

In the pro Roscio Amerino, Cicero sets out to convince the jury of his client’s innocence. His client is Sextus Roscius, and the crime of which he stands accused is the murder of his own father. Cicero hangs his defense on two word - cui bono to whom is it a benefit? – a technique he claims to have inherited from an advocate of the previous generation. Cicero’s argument is that Roscius, a poor farmer (poor by the standards of the capital, at least), is accused of murdering his father for personal profit. Yet when Cicero asks cui bono?, it becomes clear who has benefitted most from the old man’s death. The accusers themselves have acquired large wealth by corruptly purchasing the father’s property at a ludicrous 0.03% of its worth: the defendant, meanwhile, has lost his father, his wealth, and his pride.

Cicero’s cui bono? is based on a belief that people act primarily for rational reasons, and aim primarily toward self-benefit. And it is cui bono? that enables Cicero to dismiss the accusations against Roscius as ridiculous. Cicero asks to whom is it a benefit? demonstrating that Roscius, who stood to gain nothing, could not reasonably be considered the murderer. The prosecution, on the other hand, would have been acting in rational self-interest by murdering Roscius’ father, since it gave them unfettered access to his estate. They, therefore, are more likely to be the guilty party.

This position, that humans are more likely to act out of self-interest than emotion, is at the heart of the work of Adam Smith, an 18th Century philosopher who proposed, in a line similar to Cicero’s, that most humans act out of a desire to further their own self-interest. In his manifesto, The Wealth of Nations (1776), Smith explains the concept of the division of labour, and argues for the necessity of personal motivation in meeting the most pragmatic of society’ needs. He explains that the production of a woolen sweater, for example, relies upon a division of labour into numerous disconnected activities; for the spinning of the wool, the workman’s tools, the spinner’s clothes, the farming of sheep, and so on. It is evident that even basic production relies on vastly divided resources and labour. And yet, somehow, this all requires coordination. What exactly drives this myriad of interactions? Smith suggests that personal profit is the only efficient motivator;

Man... will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them... It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

Monas, meanwhile, is not trying to solve the problems of human motivation, only to find a missing suitcase. But it is a suitcase full of cash. And, if he can determine who appears to be benefiting from its content, perhaps it will lead him to its discovery.

With the sun setting, Monas meanwhile is sitting on the balcony of the restaurant thinking about Ravena and the suitcase. ‘To whom is it a benefit? To whom is it a benefit?’ he turns over to himself in his mind.