Posts Tagged ‘Greed’

A Few Words About a Word: Greed

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Caricature or Fact?

I think of all the words in the English language, the one we should live without for a while is the word “greed.” This word has so many vastly different meanings to so many people that it can mean anything and nothing, simultaneously.  It’s become much like the overuse of the term “Nazi” to describe anything and everything with which one might disagree in a moment of heated vehemence, and what it really serves to accomplish is to inject hyperbole and undue emotion into any argument.  Since there is no way to ban the use of a word(at least not in the US, yet,) I decided I might just as well give you my definition, so that on the rare occasion I toss it about, you will understand my usage.   Many consider the brand of “greed” as good as the mark of the beast, and properly defined, it might well be apt to view it in such light, but all too frequently, the word is used to smear something else, and frankly, I’m tired of it.

Greed is most commonly invoked at the thought of lust for money and wealth, but I submit to you that real greed is hardly confined to the gain of material riches.  I also submit to you that it is not merely the desire for riches that constitutes greed, but instead the desire for wealth in material or prestige to which one has no natural entitlement.   If you own a thing, and you came to own it by your own efforts, these are the fruits of your labors, and it was neither greed that gave them to you, nor greed that permits you to hold it.  It is your natural right to  your property that justifies your ownership, and no warrant of greed may be logically attached.

On the other hand, if you gain wealth by fraud or deception, or by theft most commonly of all, this along with your desire to keep it constitute actual greed.  A thief or an embezzler or a cheat is motivated by greed.  A person who demands the labors of others go to support him is motivated by greed.  In a civil society, this sort of greed is generally punished as crime, but no form of greed is greater than a society that collectively employs greed against a minority, however constituted.  Socialism, and indeed any form of statism is the greediest sort of system of all.  The notion that one is entitled to the fruits of a neighbor’s labors is abominable, and that there are laws to enforce it is the stuff of true greed.

Greed is commonly associated with the rich, but I tell you it is the manner in which wealth is gotten that answers the question as to whether there had been greed.  Was there coercion?  Was there monopoly or oligopoly?  Or was there merely the productive efforts of minds equal to the task of satisfying the wants of many people?

All too often, the word “greed” is substituted in place of another concept, precious to capitalism, called “rational self-interest.”  This is the motive power of capitalism, and it’s the reason most of you rise to work each day, toiling to earn your daily bread.  You do not work as a matter of charity to others.  You do not tote that barge or lift that bale in order to fill the bellies of your neighbors’ children, but your own.  The worst and most greedy amongst us are those who find one excuse after the other to lighten the burden of your wallet at the point of a gun in the interests of combating greed, and yet the truth is that none are greedier than these alleged agents of anti-greed.

You might well ask me what I had meant about those who seek an unearned prestige.  I will explain to you that these are the most dangerous of the lot, and none are more greedy than these parasites on human spirit.  These are the grand Utopians who claim not to want any reward for themselves, but instead seek your wealth as a matter of enriching their reputations as the doers of vast public good. If you wish to see a crowd of these in action, you need only tune in to C-SPAN when Congress is in session.  There, you will witness a freak-show of the greediest people on the planet, who hold in their hands the power to strip you of your wealth, all the while claiming the justification of some alleged “public interest.” Worst of all, as has recently come to light in such texts as “Throw Them All Out,” by Peter Schweizer, while they posture as the protectors of the downtrodden, they use the force of their legislation, and their inside knowledge about what it will do to markets in order to make profits they could not have made by any other means.  Who among you believes that most of these people so-engaged could make a fat nickel without the power over your purses and wallets, and the laws that govern your enterprises and corporations besides?

Of course, there are those who seek no immediate financial compensation for such efforts, but instead seek other forms of wealth, in the form of an undeserved prestige.  How many buildings, post offices, and lamp-posts in West Virginia bear the name of Robert Byrd?  He will have been in his grave one-hundred years, and still his name will curse the landscape of that state like a plague.  Sadly, some larger number of the people of that state afford him this prestige, because what he did to gain it was to redistribute money from others to their purposes and support.  Just as you can buy a good deal of welfare or votes, so too can you buy prestige in bulk with other peoples’ money.  The desire for that prestige is an insatiable greed that may stretch to the boundaries of one’s imagination, and more evil has been birthed by those seeking to build monuments to themselves in this fashion than by any pursuit of material wealth.

When people use the term “greed,” I listen carefully for the context, and the reason is simple: All too often, the term “greed” is thrown about with casual indifference to the actual meaning of the word.  When I see a businessman who has made his money by honest pursuit, the fact that he wishes to keep it or earn more does not describe greed, but when I see a petty shop-lifter who stuffs a pack of gum into his pocket at the check-out line, I know I am seeing the material form of greed in progress.   When I see a woman enjoying her retirement by spending some of her life-long savings and investments into something purely for her own pleasure or amusement, I do not see greed.  When I see men demanding a benefit to which they have no natural entitlement, I know I am seeing greed on a vast scale. When I see politicians offering the wealth of some to the pockets of others, in the name of some benevolent purpose he claims will be in the interests of all the people, I look at the ruined lives of the people from whom they will take the necessary cash, and know that I have witnessed a greedy monster.

When you hear the word “greed” you would do well to listen intently to discover the context and meaning of the speaker, so that you can discern his actual intent.  If what is being offered is really nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on property rights, you should run for the hills.  Statists love to use the word greed, because while many people have a sense of the word, few have spent much time considering its meaning.  A statist will argue that if you will not surrender your whole wealth and property and person to the state, it is because you are greedy, and the more wealth you obtain by natural rights, the louder their denouncements of your greed will become. Nobody is greedier than these, and the motive of their attack is to convince you to submit to their claims on your person.  These parasites know the difference between greed and rational self-interest, but they hope you do not.

The Deadliest Sin

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Let's Talk About Five of Them

I was asked today by one gracious writer what I thought was the worst problem we face as a country, and I hesitated, but then answered unreservedly.  Of all the things that confront us, none are more corrosive, intractable, or widespread than that which I consider the deadliest of all sins: Greed.  You might wonder if I hadn’t slipped a gear and shifted into liberal-loony-land with rants about erroneously defined greed, but if you’ll permit me, I’ll be glad to explain.  No other human failing leads to more suffering.  It has been true through all of the history of mankind, and it is to be found in Western civilizations greatest texts, but one of the worst problems about greed is that nobody seems to agree what it is.  It’s my intention here to offer you my own definition, so that you may measure it against your own, and draw your own conclusions.

I hold that greed is the desire for the unearned in material, prestige, reality, or spirit.  In truth, you could simply say “the unearned” and let it go at that, but for the fact that many will neglect the other aspects and focus solely on material matters.  Let’s consider one of Western civilization’s great texts, and examine the Ten Commandments: Four are with regard to man’s relationship with the Almighty, but six are with respect to man’s relations with other men.  Of these six, five could be reduced to a single concept using the definition of greed I’ve laid out.

  • You shall not murder.
  • You shall not commit adultery.
  • You shall not steal.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
  • You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

I realize you might wonder how greed is related to murder.  One who commits that act does so for some purpose, but what is it that makes it an expression of greed?  Sometimes, that motive is robbery.  That’s plain enough.  Sometimes the motive is to silence the victim.  This is a  desire for an unearned reality.  Sometimes, a murder is committed for sport.  This is to steal a life for one’s own pleasure, and therefore clearly an act motivated by greed.

Like murder, adultery seems a little challenging on the surface, but under closer examination, it fits the same criteria. People who commit adultery do so generally not wishing to be discovered. This permits them to pursue the pleasure they seek, while maintaining the appearance and respectability of a faithfully married person.  The person who wants this obviously wants what has not been earned, or once earned, discarded and forfeited by their own choices.

Stealing is clear enough.  It doesn’t take rocket science to see the application of greed as a motive in theft.

Bearing false witness is just another way of saying “lie.” To lie to another is an attempt to fake reality. It has widespread applications, but the desire for a false reality is clear evidence of greed.

As with stealing, covetousness is also clearly a matter of greed.

Having established these as instances of behavior driven in some way by greed, let us now consider together the motive of a person who wishes to live without effort and at the expense of others.  Is it not greed?  What of the politician who seeks the prestige of an office and the votes it takes to arrive and remain there without providing the actual service for which he or she was elected?  Is this not greed?  What of the rich man who defrauds his many customers, lying about his products and services to gain more than he would had he been honest?  Is this not greed?

Let us now consider what is not greed.  Is it greed for a person to wish to keep what one has earned by his or her efforts?  Is it greed to wish to be able to employ one’s talents in pursuit of profit?  Is it greed to charge a customer what they are willing to pay for precisely that which they expect?

Do situational ethics come into play?  For instance, we all agree that theft is wrong, and clear evidence of greed, but is it still greed if one were to steal a loaf of bread to feed one’s starving family?  Here is where some controversy will generally arise, because there are those who will say proudly that they will do anything to provide for their families, to include begging, borrowing, or stealing.  Conveniently omitted from that list of “anything” is murder, but you can bet that for some, its omission is a matter of pleasantry but not fact.  My response is that theft is theft, and while you can wrap it up in the pretty bows of necessity all you like, if you resort to theft, you are a thief, and by definition, greed is your motive.  You are seeking the unearned.

You might well wonder how I came to this topic, among all the things people have emailed to me today, and I suppose I owe an explanation.  Simply put, I was asked by a friend about a teen-aged child’s desire for a cellphone.  Apart from all the other reasons I tend to oppose the widespread issuance of cellphones to children, one that has stuck with me these last few weeks was the story from early 2010 about cellphones as a new welfare benefit available to the poor.  Those under the mistaken impression that the poor are somehow incapable of greed really ought to get back in touch with reality.  Much as my friend might like to get his teen a cellphone, he can’t afford one, and economics has ultimately answered the question.  Apparently, however, this need not be an obstacle, unless you happen to work for a living.

What sort of culture have we become when a man who works 60 hour weeks cannot afford a cellphone for his kid, but we now see the government issuing cellphones to others, gratis?  My friend is now in the position of paying for somebody else’s cellphone, but he can’t afford one for everybody in his own family who he thinks may need one.  Ladies and gentlemen, you may wonder why I would wish to talk about greed, and being Sunday morning, this may be one sermon more than many of you are willing to endure, but I must ask you again:  When did the unlimited wishes of the poor become a command to which we must all now answer?

This isn’t merely an entitlement mentality, but a sheer, unrestrained form of greed.  Our government and its bureaucrats now coerce or extort companies to provide free Internet service.  What else, that you or I pay for, is to be issued to others “for free?”

You and I know there are no free phones, no free Internet, and no free lunch, yet we are permitting more and more people to become accustomed to free everything.  Is a cellphone now an indispensable part of the “safety net?” Is Internet service too? We know by now that education, food, shelter, health-care, utilities, and even transportation are part of this widening net.  Where does it end?  Free video games?  Lottery tickets?  Travel allowances?  Vacations?  Golf clubs?  Green fees?  Pet food?  Pet-care?

As I said, the list is endless, and all I want to know is this:  How much of what I have earned will I be forced to do without so that others may have every wish fulfilled and every “need” met?  I think it’s long overdue that we began a national discussion.  I don’t know anybody who would not offer help to those in desperate need, but most I know are tired, exhausted and weary from providing the unlimited wants of those who never seem to manage to earn anything, except lately, a growing contempt.