I recently posted a one-sentence thought about greed on several
social media sites. I decided to expand on this thought with a blog post. Here
is what the original post said.
“Greed can be
found more in the poor who demand the goods of others than in the wealthy who
earn their own.”
I have found that a number of people balk at such comments
and may think I have something against poor people. But just the opposite is
true. I want all of us to live in a society where it is possible for poor
people to become wealthy. I have nothing against poor people, but I do have
something against being poor. Therefore, to better understand my one-sentence
thought, let’s take a look at a typical definition of the word greed.
“An excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what
one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.” -- The Free Dictionary
Most people tend to concentrate on the first part of this
definition, “…more than one needs”,
rather than the second part, “…more than one deserves”. I tend to think of the former as a good type of greed
and the latter as a bad type of greed. Why? Because of the consequences of
each. Let’s take a closer look.
When someone says that another person is greedy because they
have a great desire to have more than they need,
a number of questions need to be asked. How much does a person truly need? Does
need end at the point of survival? Or does need mean having enough to live
comfortably? What do you consider to be an excessive desire as opposed to a
moderate desire? Does a person’s actions in pursuit of more possessions play
into the equation at all?
Here in the United States as well as other developed nations,
the free enterprise system has provided its citizens with the means to become
wealthy beyond our wildest imaginations. In countries where free enterprise is non-existent,
the populace tend to live in poverty. Sure, the leaders may live a life of opulence,
but the average person does not, and has very little chance of getting out of
his situation apart from leaving for a freer nation. Most countries today have
mixed economies, meaning that the economy is free to some degree, but
controlled by the government to some degree also. In general, the
wealth of a nation increases with the degree to which it is free.
So, what happens when a greedy
entrepreneur decides he wants more than he needs.
WEALTH! That entrepreneur, in order to gain what he so desires, must develop a
product or service that other people want and are willing to pay him more than
he put into creating it. That provides the entrepreneur profit. But it also
benefits the buyer because they needed or wanted the product or service more
than the money they paid for it. It also benefits all those people the
entrepreneur had to hire to design, develop, and produce his product. Most people
understand this. When people think of greedy people, most are probably thinking
of the ones that are willing to cheat or steal to get their wealth. Yes, those
actions are wrong. But one must keep in mind that it is not the greed that is
wrong, but rather the means by which
they went about satisfying their greed. Let’s simplify. There is nothing wrong
with my desiring to have a new flat screen TV, and there is nothing wrong with
me working at a job to earn the money to buy the TV. However, if I just went
down to Best Buy and took it without paying, that’s stealing, and it is wrong.
Yet, my desire for the TV was still not wrong, just the means I chose to
satisfy my desire.
This leads to the second definition of greed: an excessive
desire for more than one deserves.
What does one deserve? This should be easy. A person deserves whatever they can
obtain honestly. If a person has skills that only earns them $10,000 per year,
then $10,000 in goods and services is what they deserve. If a person has skills
where they can honestly earn $6,000,000 per year, then they deserve $6,000,000
in goods and services. To say otherwise is to create artificial boundaries. Yes,
it sometimes appears that there are a large number of people who become wealthy
by cheating and stealing. I personally believe this is mostly perception rather
than reality. The press writes a lot about rich crooks, but very little about rich
honest people. So, in our minds, we tend to think that a large proportion of
rich people got that way by cheating. But even if I am wrong, my point is still
valid. It’s the actions one takes to satisfy his greed that determines right
and wrong, not the greed itself.
So, can poor people be greedy in the sense of having an
excessive desire for more than they deserve. Well, of course they can. And they
can cheat and steal just like rich people can. They may not steal as much as
the rich, but the principle is still the same. It is wrong to cheat and steal
to obtain that which we did not earn. Acting on this type of greed almost
always requires one to do wrong. Why? Because how else can one obtain more than
they deserve? I can only think of one moral way. Charity. This is where people
voluntarily donate time, goods, and money to help those who got a bad break in
life though no fault of their own. Yet, there are quite a few people who
believe they are due more than they can obtain honestly or through charity and
are willing to commit a crime to obtain it. Or, and this is a big OR, they get
government to obtain their largesse for them.
Unfortunately, what we are seeing more and more of these
days are able-bodied people mooching off the working public via a
state-sanctioned welfare program. If one were to suggest that these particular
people should be removed from the rolls, many protests would arise because this
charity is now thought of as
So, let’s summarize. Desiring more wealth is not wrong in
and of itself regardless of your status in life. Call it greed if you want, but
don’t call it wrong. I call it wanting to improve your lot in life. Even if you
consider it wrong for the super wealthy to desire more, surely you can’t
believe that it is wrong for a person to desire more, even strongly desire more, if they live at subsistence level (meaning
they have just what they need and no more). Would you be willing to walk up to
a frail person in a third world country who is surviving, but not thriving, and
tell him he is greedy for desiring more out of life? If so, then shame on you.
All people should be free to pursue whatever status they so desire. And therein
lies the problem. The countries where the people do not thrive are the ones
where the leaders are oppressive. Most of these nations’ citizens probably
desire a better life, meaning more wealth. What they need are new leaders that
allow them to be free.
Now, back to my one-liner. “Greed can be found more in the poor who demand the goods of others than in
the wealthy who earn their own.” Here I am using the word “greed” in the sense
of desiring more than one deserves.
As such, I believe my statement to be true.