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Greed is a two-way street

July 5, 2011

No word is more misunderstood in the English language than that of “greed” (given all the Top 100 appearances of Michelle Obama on magazine racks, “beauty” would be a close second).  The populist class warfare armchair generals of the world use greed as a charge against capitalism, industry, individual companies, or whoever dictates the monetary value of their paychecks.  It is often cited as the sole motivator for all marketplace interactions, conveniently replacing the actual motivator of “profit” with the much more emotionally charged and seven-deadly sin evoking religiosity of the “G” word.  Understandably, the two words have become synonymous in most people’s lexicon.

Profit is good.  Greed is bad.  The first is the reason for doing business, the second is the reason some businesses become exploitative.  The naiveté to equate the two is predicated on a jejune concept of a free-market economy – since free markets are amoral, the player’s must be amoral as well.  This is wholly false.  The amorality of a free-market is one of its biggest virtues, it allows corn from the “Islamophic” country of America to be sold in the numerous markets in Saudi Arabia, the capital of Islam.  It allows communists to sell to capitalists and vice-versa.  It allows Palestinians to sell to Jews.  Indians to Pakistanis.  Blacks to whites.

But the second half of the naive argument – the player’s must be amoral as well – is where the true confusion between profit and greed is to be had.  Business people, entrepreneurs, or the kid down the street selling lemonade are not amoral.  It’s very possible they could be immoral, but on no greater scale than anyone else in society.  Profit, does not make one immoral.  Greed though, is a result of immorality.  But one is immoral before they are greedy, not the other way around.

Do businesses pollute?  Certainly.  Do they overlook safety concerns to make more money?  Certainly.  But neither of these facts can be extended to include the whole market, nor are they compelling arguments to conclude that the market induces such actions.  For every polluter in the market, there is another company that is going above and beyond to not do so, and they advertise that fact to gain customers.  For every unsafe working environment, there are other companies that pride themselves in their safety records.

The true argument of the decriers of greed is not that the system promotes the less desirable activities of certain companies, it’s that the market allows any such activities to happen in the first place.  Obviously, we are getting out of the realm of free-market economy and venturing into the realm of government control of business, no matter how small.  Many progressives falsely accuse proponents of a free-market economy as “laissez-faire” capitalists, just as many on the right accuse proponents of a centrally-planned economy of being “Marxists” – if you take anything out of this post, it’s this;  both philosophies are theoretical only.  Neither has ever been implemented to its fullest extent, so they can only be judged on their theoretical merits.  Of note ironically, is that free-market supporters don’t mind being called “capitalists” but central-plan supporters certainly hate being called “socialists”.

Our current “free-market” economy is chock full of so many regulations, price controls, price caps, taxation and subsidies that makes the claim of “free” rather ludicrous.  “More free” would be a better description, or maybe “less centrally-planned”.  But where do all those regulations, price controls, price caps, taxation and subsidies come from?  Government for sure, but what was their incentive, their motivation?  That is almost wholly attributable to greed.  The greed of a politician who overlooks his duty and obligations to line his pockets, the greed of truly atlas-sized businesses seeking monopoly by fiat that only the government can grant, the greed of the labor unions who seek wages and benefits valued above their output, the greed of the common citizen who “deserves” a house, a car and a “living wage”.

So as our economy becomes more and more “less free”, the reasons are most certainly due to greed, often couched in flowery terms like “justice” “equality” and “liberty” to quote the French.  In a recent article in Yes! magazine titled Greed is Not a Virtue, the author David Korten had quite a bit to say on the greed of capitalism, to quote him, “a faith called market fundamentalism—an immoral and counter-factual economic ideology that has assumed the status of a modern state religion.”

He continues to give us a laundry list of things attributable to the greed of the market:

  • It uses control of media outlets, advertising, and politicians to shape and spread a global culture of individualistic greed, material self-indulgence, ruthless competition, and moral irresponsibility.
  • Through the pursuit and celebration of financial gain at any cost, it provides role models for immoral behavior.
  • It undermines democracy and the legitimacy of government by buying politicians to do its bidding.
  • It uses student loan programs to get the best and brightest youth mired in debts they can repay only by selling themselves to jobs that serve Wall Street interests.
  • It buys up and monopolizes control of the world’s land and water resources in anticipation of extracting monopoly profits by charging what the market will bear as scarcity increases.
  • It uses its financial power and creative accounting skills to manipulate markets and obscure market signals, as when helping governments hide their debt or helping corporate CEOs hide their insider bets against the future of their own companies.
  • It buys the deeply discounted debt obligations of hapless underwater homeowners and countries on the open market and then demands full value payment from governments or philanthropists who step in to lend a helping hand to the afflicted.
  • It puts in place global rules requiring that if a government introduces regulations that prevent a foreign corporation from harming or killing people with its toxic products or discharges, the country’s government must compensate the corporation for the profits it estimates it will lose.

My favorite one is number three – “It undermines democracy and the legitimacy of government by buying politicians to do its bidding.”  As if politicians are stellar examples of the moral life, and are only corrupted by the evils of capitalism.  Poor crooked politicians.

The truth is, every single bullet point he lays down as claims of the immorality of capitalism and its greed are actually indictments of the government.  They are calls to constrain the government, not calls to constrain capitalism.  Unfortunately he is too confused to recognize this logic.

Student loan programs?  Yeah, government runs that business.  Monopolizing the world’s land?  Yeah, most land on the earth is owned by some government or other, even in America, only 60% of the land is privately owned.  It puts in global rules?  Uhh, not sure how you do that without the government leading the charge.

If our governments weren’t overstepping their constitutional constraints, these results of greed would not even be allowed to happen.

David Korten concludes his diatribe against capitalism with this:

Most psychologically healthy adults recognize in their heart of hearts the moral perversion of the old economy, but may fear to speak up because so many experts—including even some religious leaders—continuously assure us in so many words that greed is good, even that God wants us to be financially rich and financial wealth is a mark of God’s favor.

If all who share a mature moral consciousness find the courage to speak the simple truth that greed is driving us to collective self-destruction and cooperation is essential to our common salvation, we can put the perversion behind us and secure the future of our children.

So those who don’t recognize the moral perversion of the old economy aren’t psychologically healthy?  Damn, that’s harsh.  So I guess I shouldn’t listen to David Korten, since he obviously doesn’t recognize the moral perversion of the old economy.  You see, David is the founder and board Chair of Yes! magazine, their mission, “reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, we outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world. ”

They are non-profit too:

Most magazines make their money from advertising. But we don’t want advertisers to influence the content of YES! Magazine. That’s why we’re ad-free.

No ads, awesome.  definitely don’t want advertisers influencing content, or greed for that matter.  Well, no adds from outside advertisers it appears.  If one were to go to the page this article is posted on, RIGHT HERE, you would see no less than 14 ads to subscribe to Yes!, buy David’s books, buy posters, buy Yes! thermoses and other such sundry capitalistic profit-makers.

Being the inquisitive person I am, I decided to see about purchasing one of David’s books – his newest one titled Agenda for a New Economy.  Luckily for me, because of evil capitalism, I have numerous methods by which to purchase his non-greed oriented profit-producer.  I can do so through Yes!, either through becoming a partner (at a cost of $120 a year), ordering a multi-year subscription to the magazine ($44) or just directly purchasing the book ($14 – discounted from $17.95), or I can get it on for as little as a penny (no comment).  Hmm, $14 seems a little steep, especially for someone who hates greed.  After following the link to his publisher, BK Publishers I learned David has a ton of books available, all priced at the standard (greed motivated) price range of $18.95-21.95.

David, are you not greedy for charging such prices for your books?  Am I to assume that your books somehow are not making a profit, even though they are all priced at roughly the same price as profit-motivated books across the board?  Profit being greed in your worldview, aren’t you just as guilty of the crimes against humanity that you so vehemently profess free-market economies are culpable?

Considering your magazine focuses on advertising your books, aren’t you horribly guilty of bullet-point number one – “It uses control of media outlets, advertising, and politicians to shape and spread a global culture of individualistic greed, material self-indulgence, ruthless competition, and moral irresponsibility.” – most notably moral irresponsibility, since you hide your greed behind a veil of social consciousness?  What is more immoral than being greedy while claiming to denounce said greed as the evil of today’s society?

Speaking of control of politicians, David is a chairperson of the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-wing think tank that, to their credit, take no government funding, ‘Since it is difficult to “speak truth to power” if one takes funds from that “power,” IPS does not accept any government money.”  Unfortunately, they do take money from some  pretty greedy bastards, like George Soros and Ted Turner (I am a Braves fan, Turner is definitely greedy) through the former’s Tides Foundation and Open Societies Institute and the latter’s Turner Foundation.  For more on the IPS, check out America Rising who has an excellent history of them.  The IPS is not in the pocket of politicians per se, but according to that post, many politicians are in the pocket of the IPS.

What to say about such hypocrisy?  Obviously, David would defend himself by stating his goals are pure, or that his profit isn’t greed because he is a moral person (maybe, but I am using your argument, not mine).  If David practiced what he preaches, his books would not net him a profit, since profit in itself calls to question one’s motivations.  If his advertising of his books in his “ad-free” magazine were just a means to “get the word out”, couldn’t he just as easily send a free copy to every person in America?  Going broke to save the world would definitely put you on the moral high-ground Mr. Korten.

Like Gordon Gecko, David Korten believes that “greed is good”, but Korten is not intellectually honest enough to admit that to himself.  Sorry Dave, you are no Ghandi or Mother Theresa; you should probably keep your moralizing to yourself.

As to the grander picture, Korten teaches us an important lesson – greed is subjective.  A company that charges 6 bucks for a coffee is no more greedy than the employee who wants 10 bucks an hour for making that tasty beverage.  One man’s greed is another man’s worth.  True greed should be called out for what it is, but to accuse profit-motive as being immoral and a deadly sin is to deny the nature of humanity.  A nature even the greatest opponents of capitalism can’t seem to escape.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 5, 2011 3:36 pm

    Another brilliant post, Colin. May be some day you might write about the word envy.

  2. JustFacts permalink
    July 5, 2011 5:42 pm

    Just like Al Gore — Do as I say, not as I do. All of these people are so blinded by their ideology, that they can’t see the utter magnitude of their hipocrisy. It’s OK for me to make a profit or live in a non-green house, or jet all around the country to speeches about global warming, because if I don’t do it, who will save the world.

    Great post Fleece. We need more people like you to expose these people for the frauds that they are. Keep it up.

    • July 5, 2011 9:30 pm

      Thanks. =) Is it really that surprising that a super-leftist is a hypocrite? Half their philosophy is a hypocrisy in its own right.

  3. July 5, 2011 6:15 pm

    The truth is, every single bullet point he lays down as claims of the immorality of capitalism and its greed are actually indictments of the government. They are calls to constrain the government, not calls to constrain capitalism. Unfortunately he is too confused to recognize this logic.


    • July 5, 2011 9:31 pm

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting and for the thumbs-up. =)

  4. July 6, 2011 5:46 am

    Great post!

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