In his Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith wrote about the Invisible Hand of markets. The Invisible Hand can allocate resources without specific, direct action.
I don’t have to order gasoline from an oil company weeks ahead of time, I show up at the gas station and it’s ready to be purchased. The Invisible Hand works through self-interest, supply and demand and competition and is guided by price and buying signals.
In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith also writes about four sources of moral approval that keep our behavior in check. Those sources of moral approval are our senses of prudence, propriety, benevolence and justice. These four sources govern our interactions with others.
I consider this an extended Invisible Hand. Our behavior toward one another is guided by signals from others that let us know how well we are applying our four senses of moral approval.
While watching ABC’s What Would You Do? this evening, it occurred to me that the idea of the show is to push beyond the edge of the envelope of our senses of moral approval and see how others in the area react.
What happens is that we see the Extended Invisible Hand in action. Other people act as a check on behavior that is deemed inappropriate.