Greed is not good

Submitted by Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns.

gordon-gekko In the 1987 movie classic Wall Street, the sinister protagonist Gordon Gekko played by Michael Douglas gives this famous quote:

In the last seven deals that I’ve been involved with, there were 2.5 million stockholders who have made a pretax profit of 12 billion dollars. Thank you. I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.

Since that time, this quote has become famous as the “Greed is Good” philosophy of capitalism.  Gekko symbolizes an era in which it is believed that the free hand of market capitalism will steer the economy efficiently and effectively with little need for government intervention or regulatory oversight. Instead, so the theory goes, we are each allowed encouraged to pursue our manifest destiny of getting filthy rich. Screw everybody else.

Well, let me tell you something greed is not good.  Greed is corrosive and it is tearing at the very fabric of our democracy. A generation ago most people in America worked for a few institutions in their lifetimes.  Many had employer-paid healthcare and employer-financed defined benefit pension plans.

But, since the 1980s the moorings have come off and set us adrift in a world of economic insecurity.

  • Job insecurity has increased dramatically, especially as reflected in part work statistics(see here and here). This has resulted in deteriorating health and declining work safety.
  • The healthcare debate is front and center in the US today. Yet, incongruously, the focus has mainly been on how ‘socialist’ proposed remedies appear.
  • And defined benefit has been almost completely replaced with 401(k) plans, leaving retirees to face potential economic hardship in old age.

This is “the Great Risk shift” in which corporations in pursuit of shareholder value (remember ‘greed is good’) have sloughed off as many economic risks onto ordinary Americans as they could reasonably get away with. This is crony capitalism, not free market capitalism. And a anesthetized American public has put up with this. I continue to ask myself why.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was very much on display earlier in the year as we entered the worst of this financial crisis. Everyone felt vulnerable. But now that recession is over, it does seem that America is returning to business as usual, both on Wall Street and on Main Street.

What I find most galling is that just one year ago Barack Obama was saying, “Elect me! Elect me! I am change you can believe in. But, no sooner does he enter office and he continues the massive bailout of the financial services industry that was begun by the predecessor administration. And today there are really no substantive regulatory changes on offer by this Administration. It was this same support for the financial elite at the expense of the middle class which has led to a widening gulf in income and wealth.

And by the way, if you haven’t noticed, real incomes are lower now than 36 years ago.  So, this is certainly not change I believe in…yet. And given many of the players today are the same as they were before the crisis, don’t expect any real change. Apparently the only thing that is going to induce change in Washington (or London) is a horrific depression.

So, what about greed then? Roger Bootle takes this on in his latest book, “The Trouble with Markets,” which I highlighted earlier in the week. Here is how the Telegraph quotes him:

The free-market vigilantes are already rushing to defend the unfettered market system. Their defence is based on one or other of three arguments. First, the market solution is to let failing financial firms fail. If the state intervenes to stop this, the blame for the resulting mess cannot be laid at the door of the market system. Second, banking has been a heavily regulated activity. The regulators have failed in their job. Third, the monetary policy authorities should have paid more attention to the growth of money and credit and the resulting inflation of the property market bubble.

In this way, they try to argue that what seems on the face of it to be a failure of markets is in fact a failure of government. So the solution, they say, is not less freedom for markets but more.

These people are dangerous. The idea of letting the financial system implode and then waiting for the market to bring spontaneous, healthy revival out of the wreckage might read well on the pages of a book, but in the real world it would bring human misery on a gigantic scale. In today’s society, people simply will not tolerate it. If that is what the market system is about then they will have none of it; and rightly so.

Have a go at the full article linked below. Bootle makes some very good points. I liked his last book, “Money for Nothing”. So I suspect his new book is a good read too.

Greed isn’t good– it’s dangerous – Telegraph

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This entry was posted in Banking industry, Corporate governance, Free markets and their discontents, Guest Post, Regulations and regulators, The destruction of the middle class on by .

About Edward Harrison

I am a banking and finance specialist at the economic consultancy Global Macro Advisors. Previously, I worked at Deutsche Bank, Bain, the Corporate Executive Board and Yahoo. I have a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College and an MBA in Finance from Columbia University. As to ideology, I would call myself a libertarian realist - believer in the primacy of markets over a statist approach. However, I am no ideologue who believes that markets can solve all problems. Having lived in a lot of different places, I tend to take a global approach to economics and politics. I started my career as a diplomat in the foreign service and speak German, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish and French as well as English and can read a number of other European languages. I enjoy a good debate on these issues and I hope you enjoy my blogs. Please do sign up for the Email and RSS feeds on my blog pages. Cheers. Edward


  1. Hu Flung Pu

    Greed, generically, is neither good nor bad. I would argue that “disciplined, enlightened self-interest” (still a form of greed, let’s be honest) is generically a good thing. Conversely, “unfettered greed” without any thought of consequences to others is a bad thing.

    The major flaw with the “(all) greed is bad” mantra is that there just aren’t that many advancements that we see around us that are a result of altruism. A few, sure. But the VAST majority of the advancements that we’ve seen over the last 200 years came because somebody wanted to make a buck. That is, they were greedy. That’s reality.

    Now, I’d completely agree that in the financial arena, greed got out of control. Completely. And we need a new regulatory structure to curb that.

    But I can’t agree that all greed, in all its forms, which is really just self-interest, is bad.

    1. Lavrenti Beria

      Greed, son, is one of the seven Cardinal or Deadly Sins. It is so destructive of the spirit that an act of God is required to correct its trajectory and annul its effect. You may want to begin giving consideration to the opinion of experts on the question, something rarely done in a culture that today does most of its educating on morality in college dorm room discussions. You’re worth more than that kind of abasement, eh? And, in any case, who wants to sound like a schmendrik.

    2. Fed Up

      “Now, I’d completely agree that in the financial arena, greed got out of control. Completely. And we need a new regulatory structure to curb that.”

      The best regulatory structure is higher interest rates and positive real “earnings” growth for workers and savers. Tighten up the labor market along with shifting the “fungible” money supply to a lot less debt and see if that works.

    3. Vinny G.

      Yes, but those who truly made a buck during the past 200 years also generally produced a useful product or service that the masses found useful. As such, they contributed to the good of the human species.

      Now, would you kindly please explain to me what good has AIG, Goldman, Citibank, Enron, brought to the human species? They only imply exploited weaknesses in the system and corrupted our elected leaders in order to satisfy their pathological greed.

      Let us not lump truly great people like Thomas Edison together with scum like Lloyd Blankfein or Ken Lewis, shall we.

      Vinny G.

    4. Hu Flung Pu

      Beria, you lost me at “son.”

      Vinny G., yes, that’s why I noted that things had gotten out of control in the financial sector.

  2. chad

    “The major flaw with the “(all) greed is bad” mantra is that there just aren’t that many advancements that we see around us that are a result of altruism.”

    I agree. Life as a biological process is in itself highly competitive and greedy. The greedy want to pass on their genetic material and will out right kill competitors to get there. This competition to be king of the mountain manifests itself in humans everywhere, you can’t exactly turn greed off like a switch.

    1. Vinny G.

      Well, how about science, art, music, literature? How many rich scientists, artists, musicians, writers (and I mean classic writers, not Stephen King) do you know? How rich was Shakespeare? How about Mozart? Or, how about Einstein, or Bohr? None were rich. How about great philosophers and men of faith. How rich was Jesus before crucifixion? And Jesus changed the world as we know it.

      As I wrote below, I maintain that greed is a tendency of the inferior members of our species. It is altruism that truly changed the world, not greed. Even entrepreneurship is not essential to progress. In fact, entrepreneurship is a relatively new phenomenon (and very American at that).

      It is altruism that is essential.

      Vinny G.

    2. Vinny G.

      And, by the way, your equating greed with the process of natural selection and evolution is unbelievably simplistic and very erroneous. Neither evolution, nor natural selection are as simple as commonsense may make it sound. Biology is not an easy or straightforward science, my friend.

      Vinny G.

  3. Edward Harrison Post author

    No greed is not ‘bad’ anymore than greed is ‘good.’ But left unchecked, greed leads to sub-optimal outcomes. This is a view at odds with the central tenet at the heart of the prevailing view in economic orthodoxy.

    The question is whether we should let market forces (loosely defined by ‘greed and fear’) dictate substantially all economic outcomes in society. My answer is no.

    1. Fed Up

      “The question is whether we should let market forces (loosely defined by ‘greed and fear’) dictate substantially all economic outcomes in society. My answer is no.”

      The question(s) is(are) should we allow markets (spoiled, rich people) to exploit an oversuppplied labor market and should we allow the fed to skew the “fungible” money supply towards way too much debt to jack up asset prices and increase wealth/income inequality.

  4. DellaTerious

    It’s indicative of how far off-track we’ve gone when this argument even has to be made. Greed is not only one of the 7 deadly sins, it is THE deadly sin, the 6 others just being derivatives therefrom:

    Lust: greed for sex
    Wrath: greed for revenge
    Pride: greed for adulation
    sloth: greed for idleness
    envy: greed to have another’s talents/accomplishments as your own
    Gluttony: greed for food

    As such, greed, being a sin, is an evil, and gives new meaning and a new proud bearer of the rubric “Evil Empire”.

    By it’s own outlandish statements and self-congratulatory hubris, the USA has assumed the mantle of The Evil Empire as its own.


  5. Dennis

    “A generation ago most people in America worked for a few institutions in their lifetimes. Many had employer-paid healthcare and employer-financed defined benefit pension plans.”

    A generation ago more than half of the world was kept out of the free market by socialist/communist policies. So yes, people could work in a factory without a high school education and make 75 bucks an hour. It was a nice run while it lasted, but unless the rest of the world does America a favor for the third time in a row and uses up its industries on a value destroying global conflict well…it was just a nice break from reality…

  6. Rickster

    If the word “greed” means anything, it is an excessive, irrational desire for “more,” for oneself without consideration of others or other principals. Greed, as one of the deadly sins is by definition evil and destructive, both to society at large and to the individual soul it infects. Greed is a corruption of the self-love which is the root of all love and charity. In action, it corrupts the virtues of industry and frugality. I think the other are confusing the the more morally neutral emotion/passion of ambition.

  7. edwardo

    I’ll approach this issue employing the model of evolutionary psychology.
    Mankind ‘s nature, for thousands of years, has been understood as a composite, a duality, comprised of “good and evil” impulses that battle each other for supremacy of mankind’s soul and corporeal being. The struggle is constant, and neither impulse wins though there are periods (in the life of civilizations and individuals) when one or the other is, as it were, dominant.

    Evolutionary psychology understands the more primitive construction of “good and evil” within the context of behavior that furthers the species well being and that which does not. Clearly both individual strivings and group initiatives are necessary for the advancement of our species, and equally clearly, when there is too much of one and not enough of the other, the safety of the entire group is threatened. I think it is safe to say, as Edward Harrison essentially argues, that when the well being of the entirety of the U.S. population is assessed, there is a surfeit of the sort of behavior (call it greed if you like) that benefits the individual at the expense of the group.

  8. Sigmaseek

    Everyone is greedy in some way. The government along with the bing banks created the constructs for greedy people to lay risk on taxpayers. Someone is going to try to find a way to make a buck no matter what. If there are abstract rules, they will be gamed or manipulated in order to achieve an end by people seeking some sort of competitive advantage. If there are no abstract rules other than no lying, no stealing, no fraud, then everyone has to play by the same rules and that is the whole point of the free market. Is it so hard to see that the regulatory structure allowed what happened to happen or am I just losing my mind?

  9. Roberspiere

    “which corporations in pursuit of shareholder value”

    We can only wish. CEOs and BODs care as much about their shareholders as they care about society in general. They consistently lie to the shareholders while at the same time give themselves outrageous salaries and bonuses. Make no mistake this is not capitalism this is outright corruption aided by government regulators and elected officials on both sides.

  10. rd

    Greed for money by itself is not the problem. The biggest problem is that money has become the only score card of value. It has over-ridden other values so that it is now operating in a vacuum.

    As far as I can tell, the phrase “business ethics” has become an oxymoron in the world of finance, especially as practiced in NYC. The concept of morality appears to have gone by the wayside to the point where it appears that they actually believe that the person with the most money is the most moral.

    I think that one of the reasons that the Canadian banking system survived intact is because the bankers themselves believed that they had an ethical duty in how they ran their businesses.

    A true “free-market” system as the “greed is good” cultists would like, would actually imply that there is no need for courts and prisons becasue everybodies self-interest is ultimately to the society’s greater good. People are inherently good and so we do not need to regulate, police, or sequester them. Apparently, they believe in More’s Erehwon as being a real utopia. If only they could figure out that “Erehwon” is actually derived from “nowhere” and the greedy people need regualtion even more than the non-greedy people.

  11. Toby

    Greed is actually not something that is easy to define. That does not mean the standard definition is not simple — excessively more than you need — but that making accurate measurements of instances of greed can hardly be a scientific affair.

    How much of a thing does someone need? And when you really DO need something, you tend not to be “greedy” for it, like air or water; we get enough of both and are satisfied. Greed for food is more likely greed for taste, or greed for advertisement-driven or cultural associations with various foods, or even some depression/self-esteem related issue. So the very definition of greed is problematic. We tend to be greedy for things that we do not need, like status symbols, or power. We “need” neither, therefore having more than needed is impossible to measure, even illogical.

    As to all life being greedy and competitive, I’m not at all sure. How can life be competitive? What is the competition being “won?” How can a non-sentient process understand competition and victory? To call life greedy and competitive is a projection, a distortion of how things really are, which we may never be able to discern. Cooperation, for example, can be equally well discerned in life processes. The human animal, the beastliest of them all, cooperated well enough to come up with language and culture and cities etc. How would that have been possible had we been greedy and competitive alone?

    Competition and cooperation are survival tactics I guess. I suggest cooperation is the more effective. And greed, whatever that really is, gets in the way of enjoying life, because it is compulsive and unhelpful.

  12. Zap

    “These people are dangerous. The idea of letting the financial system implode and then waiting for the market to bring spontaneous, healthy revival out of the wreckage might read well on the pages of a book, but in the real world it would bring human misery on a gigantic scale. In today’s society, people simply will not tolerate it. If that is what the market system is about then they will have none of it; and rightly so.”


    So propping up failed financial, markets and homeowners (well again financials because they would boot the poor “little guy” right out the door if the banks weren’t on the hook for the mortgages)and creating ever larger bubbles in the process until our country is at the point of utter and complete bankruptcy is the solution?

    They should have let them fail, insure the depositors and put the companies in receivership, sort the assets and sell the companies.

    Who bails us out of this next catastrophe coming, coming precisely due to these current bailouts and monetary policy….God?

  13. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    I believe in balance.

    To me anyway, a little greed is healthy unless you have cenral bankers blowing bubbles constantly.

    I am trying to confirm if Greenspand and Bernanke were both sent home in grade school by their teachers for chewing gum and blowing bubbles all day long.

    Regardless, we need to institute a ‘3 bubbles and you’re out’ law against these serial bubblists.

    1. Lavrenti Beria

      “I believe in balance.”

      The weight of 2000 years of moral reflection casts greed as a grave sin, meaning that if it remains unconfessed at the time of one’s death, life ends then and there. Explain please how it is that we’re to factor “balance” into this equation since God would not seem willing to.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Tovarish Beria,

        I am not sure how to put it, but I think if I have to explain my every joke, I have failed as a comedian.

  14. Graphite

    The idea of letting the financial system implode and then waiting for the market to bring spontaneous, healthy revival out of the wreckage might read well on the pages of a book, but in the real world it would bring human misery on a gigantic scale. In today’s society, people simply will not tolerate it. If that is what the market system is about then they will have none of it; and rightly so.

    What a bunch of twaddle. If “people” (including Bootle) think that losses can be conjured away simply by propping up sick banks and keeping Goldman Sachs shares worth $190, they’re in for a very rude awakening.

    Jim Grant is just one free-market type who spent decades warning about the consequences of the debt binge. And now I’m supposed to believe he’s “dangerous.” Right.

  15. Jerry

    I can’t tell you how glad I am that the market and gold are soaring….oh, just a minute I work at the state unemployment office during the day and we now have 100 people always waiting in the cue….now what was I saying, Oh yeah..go for it, get all you can for yourself…oh just a minute, this guy told me today like so many others, he’s at the end of his line, lost his job, so lost his house, doesn’t know what he’s going to do, he’s 55…so what:)! go ahead get as much as you can, climb over these peoples backs or ignore them…you deserve it):! don’t you???….hum

  16. proton

    Thanks Yves for pointing the truth. It is plain and clear. Unfettered capitalism in America has robbed its working citizens from their basic rights. No worker in this country is safe from being treated as a disposable item. American workers have no security, no social safety net. Millions unemployed, many more take a lower paycheck, afraid even to lose that…Meanwhile, corporations, especially the large ones, the politically connected ones, have never had it better. Privatize the gains, socialize the losses…

    1. Zap

      “Is Bootle saying we needed to prop up bankrupt institutions as we have done? That is not how I read it at all.”

      Yes in fact he is sating that………..

      “The idea of letting the financial system implode and then waiting for the market to bring spontaneous, healthy revival out of the wreckage might read well on the pages….”

      If they had let LTCM fail, if they had let the market tank after 2001, if they left interest rates alone and stopped pumping money into the system, if they had let the free market work in the Austrian School sense all along, we wouldn’t need these regulations, we wouldn’t need these bailouts and we wouldn’t need to AGAIN create the preconditions for the next mega bustout, which unfortunately will prove to be the mother of all bustouts.

      Monetarists and Keynesian are not free market thinkers or doers, another thing I object to about this article.

      Austrian School (the only economic school that anticipated all thats happened)

      Mother of all bustouts!!?

      Sadly, yes.

      Find out why at………

  17. Edward Harrison Post author

    Is Bootle saying we needed to prop up bankrupt institutions as we have done? That is not how I read it at all.

    He is being realistic about what happens in a depression, which is what one would see if we allowed more Lehmans. Rather than seeing polemical statements about his argument, it would be nice to see some one actually put something cogent together as a rebuttal.

    What should have happened according to Bootle? Prudent regulation of excessive credit growth. Perhaps then the excesses would have been far less.

    Moreover, I would add that the first regulatory reform we need is an adequate resolution process for too big to fail institutions. The right approach to Lehman would have been a controlled liquidation administered through this resolution process.

    Instead, what we have seen is a propping up of bankrupt institutions that socializes the losses and creates moral hazard down the line. I agree 100% with Bootle that this too can’t work.

    1. rd

      I think that Bernanke’s actions last fall were imaginative and necessary to prevent a nasty implosion. I think Paulson fumbled his way to something that wasn’t too bad at the time given the circumstances.

      Obama, Geithner, Frank, Schumer, Dodd et al have failed miserably in taking those crisis actions and moving forward into good interim reform legislation last spring to force bank and financial holding companies to improve their balance sheets and leverage ratios.

      I recognize that it would be virtually impossible to turn a Citicorp into a Canadian bank in six months, but there should have been firm milestones in a three-year schedule to get their balance sheets under control by unwinding many things. One of the outcomes of that would have been to force the bonuses that are being thrown around right now to move onto the bank balance sheet instead of into employees’ pockets. Instead, the Democrats have followed in the Republican shoes and simply given all of these cretins a license to loot the American taxpayer.

  18. Spectator

    Greed is a sideshow. The main event is the belief that government can bend the rules, selectively steal from it’s citizens, and rescue destructive entities, as long as it’s for some misguided attempt at helping everyone avoid hardship.

    Few realize how almost every one of these misguided policies end up costing us many times over, and leads to deep moral decay and deeper misery. So yes, avoid the pain at all costs – that’s what politicians do best. But don’t complain when the financial crooks and wizards rob us blind.

    1. Zap


      They could have easily done #1 in the way you suggested in #3 since they did not do that they are now CREATING the exact scenario that you mention in #1.

      The US dollar will fail and the US will default on its debt there will then be Armageddon and hell to pay.

  19. Edward Harrison Post author

    And for the record i am making the following argument:

    you have three choices:

    1. Allow these companies to fail spectacularly and face financial Armageddon, hoping the chaos does not produce war and famine.

    2. Prop these companies up unjustifiably through bailouts, creating a moral hazard so that it can happen again.

    or 3. Stop poor lending and excess credit growth and risk in the first place to prevent a spectacular bust. But, if presented with a bust, allow institutions to fail and be liquidated in a controlled resolution process.

    In my view, 1 is anarchy, 2 is crony capitalism and 3 is true free market capitalism.

    1. jc2012

      No. 1: That’s what they did last year with Lehman to extract free money from gov’t in the form of a bailout. All points out that letting Lehman fail was a premeditated move on the part of Treasury and Fed. The house of cards was falling down, no one was there to be coerced to buy Lehman (as in JPM-BS and BofA-ML cases). So, Lehman had to bite dust, send shocks through the system, and Paulson and his cronies could be made a whole through AIG. Pure genius!!! That no one is in prison is beyond me…

  20. Jerry

    The new worldview is if it’s good for me, (and I get to decide that,) then it’s o.k., same worldview as those in China that tainted the milk for babies…..not o.k. to say —love your neighbor as yourself…those are private thoughts to be kept to ourselves …not to be used to direct our actions toward others…only for fools):! or are they???….hum…

  21. Jardinero1

    Greed has very little to do with it. Greed has a correcting mechanism called business failure. The problem lies with the desire of both political parties to prevent much needed failures. Don’t socialize the losses and let the failures occur.

    People worry too much about big banks failing. The banking system is a legal fiction. It is the easiest thing to reconstitute after a complete meltdown. History is replete with complete financial meltdowns. Russia and Argentina, most recently. The world didn’t end. Buildings didn’t collapse and society marched on. We would all be better off with a meltdown and a fresh start. I suggest we give failure a chance.

  22. Yakkis

    Greed is the scapegoat for what is in reality criminality.
    The freemarketeers are indeed among the most dangerous people–proof that a little knowledge, a lot of factual distortion and a kind of ideological wankery is a very dangerous thing.

  23. MarketInvolvementOptional

    I like Bootle but, in claiming that..” The idea of letting the financial system implode and then waiting for the market to bring spontaneous, healthy revival out of the wreckage might read well on the pages of a book, but in the real world it would bring human misery on a gigantic scale,” he’s quite content to wave the old City/Wall Street banner that threatens that, unless they keep the ATMs filled up, society will fall apart in a a few days.

    Rubbish. There would be huge shock and turmoil, some riots and some deaths. But people would adapt, rebuild and find a way forward.

    Of course, they wouldn’t wait for “the market” as it’s understood by creatures of the system such as Bootle. People would start from scratch with a blank canvas. As a result, the existing central financial and political elites would lose their grip on all their levers. THAT, is Mr Bootle’s real idea of untold misery.

    So the pols will ALWAYS bail out the banksters, no matter how stupidly, venally, piggishly, childishly, obscenely, recklessly, tiresomely, vacuously, pointlessly, twattishly greedy they are and no matter what harm they wreak on society as a whole.

  24. Michael

    “And a anesthetized American public has put up with this. I continue to ask myself why.”

    Being a democracy, this is probably the most important point of the whole article.

    Although the US has no monopoly on the ignorance of its populace, it does seem to have done a particularly good job of it. It seems that the education system trains people to work hard and not think too much by overloading them with facts and figures and words. Whilst this is happening they are being bombarded with incessant images telling them that the path to happiness is simply owning stuff (and looking beautiful). By the time most finish their education after secondary school they are well trained as consumers and mindless conformist workers.

    What I find most curious is how the popular culture projects a completely opposite picture in a couple of respects.

    1. That by working hard you can make it to the top. Land of opportunity and all that. This also implies that whomever has money or power must deserve it; the scepticism to question unreasonable success isn’t there. This helps lead to an overly credulous population.

    2. That ‘one freak can make a difference’. i.e. that non conformists are important, if not the most important part of society. A particularly insidious theme that permeates some children’s entertainment (e.g. antz, happy feet). Or for adults that ‘one crazy cop/lawyer/doctor can save the day’. In reality of course non-conformist children and adolescents are ostracised to the point of madness and non-obedient workers aren’t in employment for very long. And being sacked in the USA is particularly nasty.

    3. Christianity. Apparently ‘greed’ (and hence ‘materialism’) is a sin, and apparently much of the US is deeply religious and supposedly fearful of sin. Of course, the Abrahamic religions require cognitive dissonance to even function, so provide great mental training for this apparent contradiction. Believing in invisible sky faeries is a good first leg on the boat-ride to credulous island too.

    1. Yakkis

      Re 3: One you believe in the faeries, there is very little you won’t believe.
      1.) The Faeries promote wars. Of course, “just wars” which are “just” precisely when YOU start them.
      2.) The Faeries endorses the stock market and real estate since he wants YOU to be wealthy. This at the height of the bubble.
      I could go on. It goes a long way towards explaining things though.

  25. Hugh

    Wow, greed really strikes a nerve, doesn’t it? Even more interesting are the defenses being made for it, especially in the context of a series of ripoffs, all in the largest in history class, and with severe depression still the most likely end result. Greed is by definition “excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves.” What is hard to understand about this? Have we been so inculcated with the propaganda of con artist marketeers that it is those who condemn greed who must defend themselves, and not those who practice it?

    The idea that greed is “biological”, that it is about passing on one’s DNA? Seriously, is that why birth rates are highest in the developing world and lowest in industrial countries? Are all those Third Worlders being greedy? If we are going to echo the Social Darwinists, can we at least be consistent? Oh, and Samuel Butler wrote Erewhon. Thomas More wrote Utopia.

  26. Vinny G.

    That Michael Douglas “greed is good” speech is so flawed in so many ways, I wouldn’t know where to begin to debunk it. So I will only focus on his statement, “greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit” with emphasis on these two words: “evolutionary spirit”. That statement is so absolutely wrong, so against all evolutionary theories, and so against common sense, it’s both ignorant and laughable at the same time. Anybody with a high school-level education should know that the essence of anything evolutionary on this planet means one thing: “the good of the many outweigh the good of the few, or the one”, if I may quote the great Mr. Spock here. In evolution it is not the individual organism that matters, it is the community of similar organisms that are important. Therefore, greed, selfishness, and uncooperativeness, which are fundamentally addressing the needs of “the one” are completely undermining the process and spirit of evolution.

    If anything, greed-driven organisms like these Wall Street vermin are nothing more than genetically degenerate mutants that instead of evolving, have devolved back to more primitive states.

    Fortunately, evolution also involves the process of natural selection, which always removes the deleterious mutants out of a given species.

    Vinny G.

      1. Vinny G.

        Thank you, DownSouth. Indeed, these are very interesting lectures.

        BTW, I teach psychology and psychiatry also. Although my teaching is oriented more toward the clinical and applied aspects of training clinicians.

        Vinny G.

    1. Toby

      Hi Vinny G.,

      in case you haven’t read it, Peter Kropotkin’s “Mutual Aid” is excellent on this topic.

  27. Jerry

    When most of us find ourselves unemployed like the people I talk to everyday, I pray we find ourselves in the “love your neighbor as yourself” camp as we will need to reach out to each other to insure those less able make it…If you run into someone named Jerry, just ask, and I be there for you…Blessings to all of us from the One that loves us all..

    1. Vinny G.

      Great words, Jerry. I talk to a lot of downtrodden people too, most very ill and helpless. People who have lost everything, including their health. And them I turn on this lying tube to hear about some overweight old fart bitching that he/she may lose some of their Medicare benefits. I wonder how many of those old people who were shouting and screaming at those townhall meetings last summer have children and grandchildren who cannot afford health insurance.

      And there are more and more downtrodden people every day, it seems. I ride the EL (Chicago’s outdated subway system) every day, and I can see how during these past few years there are more and more people who just look very poor, ill, marginalized, and (hopefully) angry. One does not usually see those people by driving to work, which I almost never do anymore. And downtown Chicago, where I work, there are more and more homeless folks on the streets. It’s getting cold in Chicago now, but if you take a walk after 9 pm in the “Loop” (downtown area where most banks are), you see hundreds of people sleeping on the sidewalk in broken sleeping bags or dirty comforters. A few weeks ago I was having dinner at a restaurant with a sidewalk terrace, and every 2 minutes or so there was another person that stopped to ask me for money. Most did not look homeless. I really don’t know what kind of country we are becoming, leaving so many fellow citizens behind.

      We are so far removed from “love your neighbor as yourself”… God have mercy on us.

      Vinny G.

  28. Simon

    It all boils down to the fact that if a lot of people are getting rich and are not producing anything then the production economy MUST be paying some how. Lets count the ways.. no lets not there are too many.

    This is the failure of capitalism. It has put the ability to destroy productivity and get rich at the same time into the hands of the finance industry. Is this good? not really. What can be done? I don’t know. But if someone comes up with a way to defeat them and improve the lot of the productive sector they will deserve to get very rich indeed.

  29. SidFinster

    My Lenochka-Zmeyuchka pointed out that stupid people honor agreements and work.

    Intelligent people cheat and steal (and of course demand that others maintain the purest ethical standards).

  30. mechanic

    Really, it is much worse than stated. Not only do we envy greedy winners, We despise the victims as slothful.

    Why aren’t we in the streets ?

    Raising the marginal tax rates on the big paychecks is really the most direct way for us all to share the wealth. The effect of marginal rate tax cuts are non-linear, positive when the rates are high and incomes are moderate (low wealth concentration) , but utterly disasterous when rates are low and incomes are high (high wealth concentration).

    Tax all earned income the same, no more free ride for the idle rich.

    Tax the hell out of unearned income icluding, and especially, inheritence and gifts and gambling winnings.

    The tax law is the most direct form of control of the elite by the masses.

    Pass a national health bill that guarantees health care through a public health service. Delete the so called health insurance model from the landscape. It doesn’t work.

    1. Edward Harrison Post author

      mechanic, you say “Really, it is much worse than stated. Not only do we envy greedy winners, We despise the victims as slothful.”

      In a new post furthering this discussion I quoted the following:

      “Greed is something that can never be satisfied. Greed and slothfulness have similarities in definition. The greedy and slothful both crave material goods as well as they have no desire to work for or to exchange anything of value for the object of their desires. The slothful will not work even for basic necessities much less add value to the world around them. The greedy will use deception to acquire material goods. The greedy will lie and use false pretenses to acquired goods at the expense of others.”

      It is the greedy who are slothful, not their victims. But, I’m sure that’s why you find it galling that the victims are labelled as slothful.

  31. guttersnipe

    IMHO capitalist greed alone, up to a point, is not necessarily bad provided that a level playing field is maintained. What has made greed so evil and destructive today is the obvious fact that certain participants have access and advantages that others do not (i.e. elitist bankers, et al). When a select few are permitted to construct and/or change the rules of play at any time to their benefit, and to the detriment of others, you get greed combined with corruption. This is evil at its finest and ultimately leads to destruction of the entire system.

  32. Richard S

    The idea that ‘greed’ is a part of the free market should never come from anyone that pretends to be an educated person with respect to economics. This line of rationalization however helps me understand the motives and ultimately the validity of authors comments and arguements. This is a quasi-socialists mantra designed to arque for and in support of government control and requlation of the economy. The following statement, in addition to the greed ~= free market, is very telling with respect to the position and desire of the author: “What I find most galling is that just one year ago Barack Obama was saying, “Elect me! Elect me! I am change you can believe in.” Who in their right mind would ever place any hope in the statements of any individual who claims to be the person who can save everyone from the bad/evil people who control and make alot of money by being exactly the same as most other presidents (the person who has all the answers and we should just trust that they will do the right thing). Exactly who do you think controls who is elected to the highest office in the nation? By the way, there has probably been no president (except Ronald Reagan) since the 1800’s who believed in the free market. The following statement is also telling: “A generation ago most people in America worked for a few institutions in their lifetimes. Many had employer-paid healthcare and employer-financed defined benefit pension plans.” Again, who in their right flipping mind would ever want to place the control of health care or retirement to someone or some entity who they do not know from a peasant farmer in China. It is just plain stupid and a part of the problem that has built over the generations not something to be admired. The only thing an employee should get from an employer is a check for the hours worked as agreed upon at the time of employment. We should get back to a true free market system where the government does not give a damn about health care, the financial system, what type of car is made, where we buy our oil from (including domestically) so that people can pursue their own self interests (much different a concept than greed) and when time get tough rely on family, friends, and neighbors for support. Imagine the type of society we would have if you knew from the earliest age that if you behaved like an irresponsible jerk for most of your life and at some point needed help because of some misfortune it may not be there in the manner that is required. Enough of the rant but the financial commentary that expects different results just because someone else is in control is flat moronic.

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