On Greed and Capitalism

In answer to the charge that capitalism is fueled by and promotes greed, I answer that:

a) Greed is an inescapable part of the human condition. The extent to which it exists depends on the spiritual condition of the people, or to say it differently, on the will of people to be self-governing – to live by a set of moral standards.

b) Greed is present in capitalism, but it is also present in every other economic form. Why? Because it is not the economic form that is its source, but the people.

c) Since greed is a reality whose intensity is governed by the self-governance of individuals, and we see it in all economic systems, we need to evaluate the systems based on other more weighty factors, not solely on greed.

d) Since greed exists, we need to ask, is it better to have a capitalist system where freedom and liberty exist, and have the greed (which is not the majority report) decentralized, where it can be more easily detected and addressed, or do we want the greed centralized in a controlling authoritarian state that holds the power of the sword, where it cannot be challenged or eradicated?

e) Until men’s hearts are changed and they become self-governing, greed will exist. The question is where is it best for it to exist? And what system provides the best opportunity for all people to be prosperous according to their abilities, and attain their dreams. Our Founding Fathers knew the answer to this; history knows the answer to this. The answer is clear:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.

f) Men were created to be free – created equal by God and endowed with unalienable rights. Government is instituted by the consent of the governed to uphold liberty, not suppress it. Rights are not to be taken from them by other men, nor are rights and liberty to be taken from one group and given to another. When the government ceases to perform its designated duties and becomes a tyranny, it is the right of the people to abolish it.

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commented 2012-12-10 15:20:13 -0500 · Flag
The Editor writes:

J.C. I would strongly dispute your claim. Generations of Roman Catholic immigrants were assimilated with great success into the predominant “Protestant values” of the U.S. Republic. I will also remind you that Marx, Engels, and nearly the entire nomenclature of the Collectivist ur-intelligentsia was of Protestant denomination.

I would rephrase your dictum thusly: It is difficult to promote Western Values (i.e. based on the Protestant Socio-Economic ethos) to immigrants from lands and cultures unfamiliar with these values.
commented 2012-12-10 15:18:58 -0500 · Flag
J.C. writes:

Its difficult to promote protestant values to roman catholic immigrants
commented 2012-12-10 15:10:28 -0500 · Flag
Delroi writes:

jim — i agree with you almost entirely. your essay is most consistent with the founders’ thoughts on human nature, and the ubiquitous presence in human nature of greed. they intimately knew their locke and hobbes. and that’s why they constructed a constitutional republic, with all it’s checks & balances and protections of non-majoritarian views. unfortunately, as the founders wrote repeatedly, for a constitutional republic to work, for it not to devolve into a majority-duped tyranny of rabble, you need informed and participatory citizens, which we entirely lack. we lost the culture, via an education system that creates ahistorical, illiterate, indolent, uninvolved ‘buyers of stuff’. we have an education system that creates a society of spectacle and idiot appetite. not what franklin hoped for, but certainly something he feared.
commented 2012-12-10 15:04:00 -0500 · Flag
Ed writes:

Good points. The Darwian drive for preservation of the species runs deep in all species, so greed of the individual is not the only driving force. The fact that human beings have doubled in population in our lifetimes suggest that that the species is thriving as enlightenment replaces is irrational beliefs in more and more communities. In the last 50 years, the percentage of the population dying from starvation and war is the lowest in human history (even with weapons of mass destruction). I read Ayn Rand’s “Virtues of Selfishness” (and Ive read much of her work) as saying that man is basically good not evil. I think we are too in the weeds of the present political power but ultimately if the dogmas of religions to sacrifice the worldly self for some future eternal life in nirvana continue to be stripped away, and overextending governments run out of promises, that man would not destroy each other but strive to preserve the species.

Im not sure I believe it myself (being a believer in some dominion force) but it does appeal to the rational mind and it makes for optimistic view for my kids world.
commented 2012-12-10 02:06:22 -0500 · Flag
Spartacus writes:

Base Behaviour has been with mankind since cavemen sought out fellow travelers
hooch, what has occurred in the United States these past twenty years is a well thought thru two step process that has produced today’s chaos, which is exactly the aim of the progressive agenda and corresponding Government policy response to everything.

Regulatory Capture (translation institutionalized corruption) Bubba Clinton ushered in this era, it initially starts out as there version of well intentioned social engineering (but always with a hidden agenda), of course none of it is grounded in enlightenment or genuine welfare it is a means to an end, the consolidation of Power and permanent majority status.

Reagan is continuously tarred as the dunce who ushered in the the age of de-regulation and what we are reaping today is the end product of his one-dimensional world view.

Of course Nothing could be further from the truth, The who, what and why of where we are today is largely an outgrowth of Clintons ‘little green grocer’ understanding of economics & regulation.

Clinton, Rubin, Summers & Greenspan gave us the new age approach to ‘leverage’ as the economic answer to America’s future prosperity. The Fact that they have successfully escaped owning the Freak Show that they created & memorialized with regulatory capture in the nineties is by and large responsible for todays Crony-capitalism. The fact that the Public fails to understand this and believes to this day that Clinton is some kind of Economic Messiah shows just how financially ignorant 85 – 90 % of the population is.

Once the base behaviour of Greed has become embedded in society as an acceptable way of conduct, it unleashes that other time honoured Behavioral wild card, Narcissism, which has no time, regard, or concern for posterity, the right thing, or anything of lasting value which does not immediately serve the base view of ‘How Does This Serve My Immediate Interest’ ?

At this point, I only have the following conclusion: No Hope, No Change, which pretty much ensures the perpetuation of the foregoing ‘everyone for themselves approach’ thereby further reinforcing the destruction of community, values, norm’s and society leaving Government to fill the Void, this is exactly what Obama’s world view is, complete with self-appointed apparachiks in charge to administer the new politburo.

My personal resentment lies in the fact that it cheapens the entire human experience and time on this planet, for all of us, is short !
commented 2012-12-10 02:05:53 -0500 · Flag
J.R. writes:

No, I do not take that construct from a Stone film or a cultural meme. I actually read her books, all x-thousand pages of them, and made intense notes and highlighted the crap out of them. Most people that talk about Atlas Shrugged never got past the first 200 pages; I read it all and her other books. And guess what… I loved them. She was a prophetess regarding what we are experiencing. So when I talk about greed with her, I think I know what I am talking about. I have also watched all her interviews on YT. What I respect about her is that if you are going to be an atheist and evolutionist, then at least have the courage to embrace what that worldview leads to. She did (mostly), and that is why I reject her objectivism and thoughts on greed, because she has no moral foundation that is consistent and absolute to stand on. She can call it whatever she wants, but as she lays it out, I see her making greed a virtue. I can agree with her on most other things, but as a Christian, I don’t agree with her there. But I do agree that within her worldview it is the logical position to take.
commented 2012-12-10 02:05:23 -0500 · Flag
Beauforde Pusser writes:

I AM a “Randian”, and that philosophy has nothing to do with “greed”…that is a construct taken from a hyperbolic Oliver Stone film of the 1980’s. Ayn Rand did not speak of greed…she spoke of individualism and enlightened self-interest. You make the classic mistake of taking the cultural même created by the nit-wit Liberal Pop Culture glitterati (greed) and conflating it with what Ms. Rand elucidated in her writing. “Greed” has nothing to do with healthy, sustainable, and dynamic Capitalism…only with its virulent and deceased distant cousin…Crony Capitalism. I stand by my earlier comments.
commented 2012-12-10 02:05:02 -0500 · Flag
J.R. writes:

Greed is a sin, and as such, is part of all fallen humanity. I am not a “Randian” who believes that greed is a virtue. My point, is that since greed in humans is inescapable (meaning it will always be present to some degree and extent, even in those that fight against it), it will always be present in any economic system. Therefore our evaluation of such systems cannot be based on greed, but on the benefits a system can provide for any individual, and on how closely it tracks with our God given rights. Greed left unchecked in any sense, anywhere, will always lead to destruction.

I am not advocating for greed. I am advocating for capitalism as the system that best affords men with what I mention above. It is the system closest to the Biblical model of economics. Anyone interested in exploring that more, I recommend looking at Dr. Gary North or Gary Demar.
commented 2012-12-10 02:04:40 -0500 · Flag
JC writes:

the capitalism of today, or better stated, the corporate capitalism post 1950 has never been enlightened & never will be
John D Rockefeller or Andrew Carnegie were ruthless so much so they would be jailed for their buss ethics & tactics today but they also had a sense of community & charity. That is lost today when corporations & individuals give today what they are after are writeoffs & immortality. The titans & others prior to the income tax were driven by something altogether diff. The stench of corruption is overwhelming in todays society, most everyone talks out both ends of their mouth. There is no going back to that gop land of the past, that country is dead or dying. Society is stratifying in america into the wealthy & the rest. This is the norm the world over, the diff for the US is that we have a huge middle class & it will take a long time to impoverish them via higher taxation but that is the Dems plan.

Ask urself the following. Are we going to have more out of wedlock families or less? Is the mexican immigration issue going to be resolved by deportation? Are black family units going to become more traditional? Is the black prison population going to decrease meaningfully? Are ill educated other latins escaping the poverty & misery of guatemala, honduras, DR, put down whatever country u want going to be turned on by gop msg? Is the US going to do away w eng as 2nd lang instructions? What does america currently offer or enforce by carrot or stick to get this immigrant to buy into the american way? Learning english used to be a very effective tool but that is no longer required, dont believe me? Go ahead & dial chase 800# u will be offered a spanish option. I see dems treating latinos the same way they have historically treated blacks, and its working & that demographic is growing. Who do u suppose make up the bulk of the U6 underemployed?
commented 2012-12-10 02:04:08 -0500 · Flag
Benjamin writes:

I must take exception if capitalism is what I think it is – “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market”

Greed if it is man’s pursuit of reasonable self-interest is good and leads to Smith’s Invisible Hand. Excessive greed cannot survive long in a free market because free people will not put up with it, will not be persuaded by it. Why not? Because all people believe in the same good values and that their opposites are bad. We all know that real greed is bad and goes well beyond self-interest. If you are a Christian, their book says that the Holy Spirit put those values in us. I believe I proved that as a manager of people for over 30 years and those shared good values are why the Smith’s Invisible Hand works like a charm. I am equally certain God intended it to work that way since he made everything perfect.

But when markets are no longer free as pertains today, our self-interest becomes excessive greed as people strive to use power to get their way and satisfy their greed. In that case, they no longer need to persuade consumers, only gain power over them as did the ethanol lobby, or the farm lobby to get their subsides, or the politicians to buy votes via food stamps, or the lawyers to get class action suits, or unions to force people to join and pay dues, or ad infinitum.
commented 2012-12-10 02:03:39 -0500 · Flag
Beauforde Pusser writes:

Greed is pernicious. Greed is ultimately, in most cases, destructive. Greed in Capitalism is a corrosive, not a productive, force. When Capitalism is fueled and driven by greed, (as you claim) I believe that the process is intrinsically corrupted and ultimately self-destructive. The challenge is to turn the venomous human characteristic for greed (based on fear) into the term that best manifests the beneficent seed of Capitalism…enlightened self-interest. Only when Capitalism is driven by enlightened self-interest (which is based on wisdom rather than fear) does Capitalism achieve its most productive expression. Without the enlightenment — brought about by education, ethics, and a long-term perspective — self-interest (and its virulent cousin, greed) just corrupt Capitalism and manifest a self-defeating, conflict-generating dynamic.