Posts Tagged greed

Occupy Yourselves: Targeting the Evil, Greedy 100%

The attitudes and actions of the Occupy Wall Street protesters have inspired many others to join the streets in outrage, leaving those of us at home to wonder what the point of it all may be.

And let me assure you: there is indeed a point.

I’ve been struck by the moral arrogance that permeates the crowds — a sort of pretentious, self-absorbed judgmentalism, self-anointed to invade the souls of the rich and expose their moral failings. Such supposed vice, we are told, must be stopped, and it is these brave oracles of materialism and greed who shall stand in its way.

There are, of course, a few problems with this. One is that “ending corporate greed” requires privy knowledge of who is greedy and who is not. We can certainly trust the discernment of the guy smoking pot in the sleeping bag next to the sewer drain, but even if he gets it right, how might we convince Mr. Fat-Cat Richiebottoms to alter his moral outlook?

“Just take his money away,” they’ll say.

Yet if I threw Billy Goodheart’s “Everyone is greedy but me!” sign in the garbage, my hunch is that his ability to produce quality picketing art would only improve. There he’d be, the very next day, with the same attitudes, the same platitudes, and the same distasteful propensity to blame the Man.

Reality alert: You cannot change the world by blaming others, and you cannot change moral behavior by yelling.

With particular precision, David Brooks sums up the issue nicely:

If there is a core theme to the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is that the virtuous 99 percent of society is being cheated by the richest and greediest 1 percent. This is a theme that allows the people in the 99 percent to think very highly of themselves. All their problems are caused by the nefarious elite.

And problems do abound. Yes, there are structural issues with the status quo. Yes, corporatism is out of control (which is not the same as “capitalism,” mind you). Yes, banks and businesses were/are reckless. Yes, people were/are greedy. You woke up on the right planet.

The question is, “What can we do about it?”

In a free society, one thing we can control is our own lives. If we don’t want to be beholden to greedy misers or enslaved to high-interest credit cards, we can say “no.” If we don’t want to be tied to 10 years of student-loan debt that we can’t afford, we can go to a trade school or demonstrate some basic upfront frugality. If we’re looking for our dream job and can’t find it, we can continue to increase our skills and standing, no matter how frustrating the process may be.

If, however, we are trying to “be the change we want to see in the world” by sleeping in a gutter for weeks on end, we should be prepared to receive our prize.

What we need is what John Witherspoon once called a “return to duty” — an introspective moment that leads us to “hearken the rod” rather than disdain it, to return to Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

36 Comments

Anti-Capitalism Christians: Confusion or Hypocrisy?

capitalism, Christianity, values, American, free market, Public Religion Research InstituteAccording to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, “a plurality of Americans believe capitalism [is] at odds with Christian values.” Among Christians in the U.S., “only 38% believe capitalism and the free market are consistent with Christian values while 46% believe the two are at odds.”

This week at Common Sense Concept, I weigh in on the results, noting first that the news is not all that surprising:

Christians are well aware that greed and selfishness are absolute sins, and we are constantly told — albeit falsely — that such sins are the very drivers of capitalism. With pro-capitalism folks like Ayn Rand affirming such myths, it’s no wonder that Christians defer to the stereotype. Such a fundamental misunderstanding comes about for a variety of reasons, but from my experience, it’s typically rooted in one or more of the following: (1) an overly simplistic and all-encompassing view of greed, (2) a materialistic view of wealth, (3) a failure to distinguish between selfishness and self-interest, and (4) a belief that God has something against material inequality.

Yet there is indeed something peculiar about all this. Most particularly: How do these Christians sleep at night if they are actively supporting a fundamentally un-Christian system?

Are they all homeless?

It is on this question that I focus the bulk of my critique:

Of the 46% of Christians who believe capitalism is “at odds” or “inconsistent” with Christian values, how many are themselves actively engaged in the capitalist system? Of the 61% of Americans who believe regulation is necessary to ensure “ethical” business activity, how many truly believe they need to be regulated in order to ethically trade an apple for an orange? Of the 55% of white evangelical Protestants who believe that income inequality is “one of the biggest problems in the country,” how many have a higher income than someone else? Indeed, if any of these folks are simply working in America today, aren’t they profiting from, indeed encouraging, the very capitalistic system that opposes their religious convictions?

Or, in shorter form:

Just as the anti-communism Christian should probably avoid the role of communist dictator or violent proletariat rebel, the anti-capitalism Christian should probably avoid the role of capitalist.

My guess is that most of these Christians are actually at peace with the capitalistic system as it plays out in their own personal lives, and I would wager that the disconnect has more to do with Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments

It Takes a Civilization: Trade, Talents, and Toasters

Thomas Thwaites recently gave a marvelous talk at TED about his quest to build an electric toaster entirely from scratch.

The idea was sparked by an instance in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in which the protagonist comes to a new planet only to realize that his knowledge and technological prowess are useless without the advanced civilization to back it. As Thwaites summarizes: “He realizes that without the rest of human society he can barely make a sandwich, let alone a toaster.”

Thwaites’ response: “But he didn’t have Wikipedia.”

Watch the video here:

The basic message of the talk, as interpreted by economist Donald Boudreaux, is that “through trade, millions tap into the talents and knowledge of others.”

It is a simple message, and you’ve most likely heard it before (my personal favorite is Milton Friedman’s pencil example). Such a message is only worth repeating because so many people still fail to see the fundamental value in free trade and globalization.

The only thing I want to add is Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , ,

7 Comments

Meltdown: Moral Hazard and the Financial Crisis

Meltdown by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.We are all aware of the current economic crisis. Whether we’ve experienced job loss, a devalued mortgage, or simply a higher price tag on our groceries, we all know that uncertainty is in the air.

In such extreme circumstances, it’s hard to maintain a clear perception. We all feel wronged, and we all want someone to blame.

It may be fitting, then, to begin by playing a little blame game.

First of all, it’s the bankers’ fault because they’re greedy. They lent too much money to people who made too little, and they should’ve been stopped. Then again, maybe it’s their customers’ fault. After all, isn’t it a bit greedy to buy a house you can’t afford? But wait a minute, aren’t the financial speculators to blame? Just think about it. There they were, crouching like vultures, waiting to feed on the failures of poor innocents.

Conclusion? (Duh!)

“The problem is greed.” says Politician A (or Media Pundit B). “And we all know who we can thank for that. Capitalism!

It this confused, muddled mess that Thomas E. Woods hopes to permeate with his recent book, Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse (quite a laborious subtitle, if you ask me).

As far as my fun little game goes, Woods thinks there is plenty of truth behind it. Indeed, the narrative is filled with people who were overly hasty, downright foolish, and yes, excessively greedy.

But not all bankers loaned unwisely and not all homeowners went beyond their means, so why did such greed manifest so suddenly, and why didn’t we have this problem before? If bankers are Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments

Up from Feudalism: Cultivating Culture in the Status-Free Zone

Feudalism

When status competition was limited, people were more likely to turn to status-free zones.

Michael Knox Beran has a hearty piece in this month’s National Review discussing the cultural implications of status competition (“Status Hiatus”). In the article, Beran discusses the evolution of such competition throughout human history, focusing primarily on the West.

Beran explains that in the feudalistic societies of old, status was organized through “state-enforced hierarchies” of one kind or another, whereas in today’s free(r) societies there is a great deal of status competition.

However, despite the advances we’ve made in making status mobility more universal, Beran sees a fundamental problem that will always exist:

The difficulty is that every tremor of satisfaction we feel when we look down (upon those who are lower than we are in a particular hierarchy) is counterbalanced by the pain we feel when we look up (to those who are higher). The farther one climbs, the more vexing the problem becomes.

There are two basic approaches to “managing” status, both of which present their own problems. First, we can make status primarily about merit (which we have done in America), but by doing so we will risk the marginalization of society’s lower-skilled members. Second, we can try to destroy all hierarchies by force (via government “equalization”), but this route will surely lead us backwards toward feudalistic containment (not to mention the resulting miseries).

To solve the problem, Beran tries to determine which approach leads to more human flourishing. Based on the historical record, Beran concludes that as silly as our status pursuits may be, they do indeed lead us to Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

Milton Friedman on Greed: Where In the World Do You Find These Angels?

This classic Milton Friedman interview has now been seen by many on the Web, but since it deals with topics commonly discussed on this blog I thought I’d post it for your weekend enjoyment.

Watch the video here:




Donahue’s first question is this:

Did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism, and whether greed is a good idea to run on?

Friedman responds with this:

Is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? …The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus.

Friedman goes on to point out a few of these achievements (e.g. Einstein’s theory of relativity, Henry Ford’s automobile), and emphasizes that Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 Comments

Moonshine or the Kids: Greed as a Poverty Trap

If you had $12 extra, would you buy a few drinks or send your kids to school?

Nicholas Kristof recently wrote a column discussing an often-ignored detail about poverty-stricken cultures — that the poor are prone to the same vices as the rich.

The poorest of the world certainly don’t have much to live on — the World Bank claims it’s as little as $1 a day — but what is even more startling is how wasteful people can be when they have so little.

Kristof sums up the problem this way:

“[I]f the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed. Much suffering is caused not only by low incomes, but also by shortsighted private spending decisions by heads of households.”

We often hear about how the West is prosperous because of unfettered greed, but what many fail to see is how greed is an inherently human characteristic that rarely leads to any sustainable good.

Kristof provides several instances where the extremely poor choose to put self-indulgent (and self-destructive) habits in front of basic necessities (e.g. education, mosquito nets, medicine, etc.). For one Congolese family, the Obamzas, the father chooses to spend $12 a month on alcohol rather than pay $2.50 a month for each of his children’s school tuition. He also refuses to pay $6 for a mosquito net, even though two of his children have already died from malaria.

In this case, it appears that irrational self-interest is the primary culprit. The socio-economic conditions of the Congo Republic are bad enough as it is, but here we can see how one man’s greed is Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Comments

Foreign Aid: Charity, Justice, and Bono’s Anti-West Prejudice

Bono at the World Economic Forum

Bono says that Africa remains poor because the West is greedy and prejudiced.

Every time I hear Bono talk about Africa’s problems, his passion makes me want to be on board with his mission. The problem is, whenever I hear about his actual solutions, I realize that the guy cares more about having compassion than achieving success.

Bono loves to talk about justice and equality, but the conversation is always entirely based around materialism. For Bono, Africa’s plight is primarily about a lack of resources, and thus it is simple enough to be solved by 40 cents here and an iPod there.

Bono & Co.’s efforts in Africa have been ineffective and counterproductive, as plenty of critics have pointed out (e.g. here, here, and here), but what I’d like to focus on at the moment is the false premise behind those efforts, which holds that success in Africa is dependant on the financial benevolence of Western governments.

The Cato Institute’s Marian Tupy recently wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal focusing on this video’s assertion that financial aid to Africa is “not about charity. It’s about justice.” The video is pretty light on specifics, but Bono has since adopted the language on several occasions, offering a bit more illumination on why he thinks our donations are a matter of justice rather than charity.

My first reaction would usually be, “Of course the solution to poverty is justice,” but Bono and the ONE campaign consistently misconstrue the word “justice” by applying it to Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 Comments