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July 17, 2008


Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

It must be an election year. I'm noticing more references to "greed" than usual.

Greed seems to be a perennial topic with emphasis on it ebbing and flowing, but never coming close to being absent.

I recall acquaintances bemoaning greed at one point during the Reagan years, and they were tying greed to Administration attitudes and policies. This is typical. People on the left have a strong tendency to see greed as being either a right-wing or an AmeriKKKan phenomenon or both. Presumably non-righties and non-Americans are exempt from greed.

Me? I've always assumed that greed is a human constant. Unless we're Hindus, we only live one life, right? So why not make the most of what circumstances hand us? Not all people are in a Go For It mode, but apparently enough have been so over time that there was hand-wringing over greed long before there were RepubliKKKans or AmeriKKKa.

Does that make greed good? Not necessarily. But critics do need to calm down and realize that it's part of human nature.

Or maybe they know that already and are using greed as a club to score political points while they ponder buying one Cadillac Escalade versus three Priuses this fall.



posted by Donald at July 17, 2008


Lefties will either cry "greed" or "poverty/inequality" as conditions permit.

No one ever deserves the money they have. It's all luck, dontcha know? Hard work and intelligence have nothing to do with it.

Posted by: blah on July 17, 2008 2:39 PM

The Democrats have been beating the class-war drum for decades. This year, they see economic trouble (which they've been salivating for) and hope to persuade Americans that Evil Rich People are at fault.

(Arguably, they are - the Democrat cronies at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Hollywood zillionaires who have normalized bastardy, the rappers who glorify crime, the rent-seekers promoting "global warming"...)

Besides, the liberals have long ago internalized the socialist ideal of general altruism. The way Communism was supposed to work. Self-interest is vaguely distasteful. By accusing others of following it, one takes the moral high ground.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on July 17, 2008 4:32 PM

If you cut through all the differences in how liberals and conservatives see the world (e.g. whether global warming exists or whether taxes are above or below the most efficient spot) the fundamental difference is that liberals believe the wealthy should be forced, via taxation, to share the wealth while conservatives believe that everybody should be able to keep as much of his money as possible. When we're talking about the wealthy, then, it's true that conservatives are more greedy than liberals.

Posted by: JewishAtheist on July 17, 2008 4:33 PM

"When we're talking about the wealthy, then, it's true that conservatives are more greedy than liberals."

And of course liberals entitle themselves the role of determining who exactly is wealthy.

Posted by: James M. on July 17, 2008 6:37 PM

Jewish Atheist, I think you might find this interesting.

Posted by: Slumlord on July 17, 2008 6:38 PM

Righties will either cry "laziness" or "stupidity/incompetence" as conditions permit.

Everyone deserves the poverty they have. It's all self determinism, dontcha know? Class, family wealth, social circumstances and luck have nothing to do with it.

Posted by: fester on July 17, 2008 7:41 PM

It must be election season. 2Blowhards has gone into full court press mode with a series of posts attacking liberals and their wacky ideas. Here it's a thread about greed, complete with tweaking the supposed illiberal-ness of liberals through the sarcastic use of RepubliKKKans & AmeriKKKa.

Let's see, we've just had two terms of a man from the right. The national debt is at an all time high, the gap between the very rich and 80% of the rest of us has grown dramatically. Big corporations, especially oil companies and the like, have seen record profits, aided by tax breaks targeted primarily at big business and the very wealthy. All this while we have a shooting war in the Middle East being fought by an all volunteer military drawn primarily from the lower classes and the general economy is in freefall.

There has been class warfare in this country at least since the Reagan years and the rich are definitely winning. As for "blah's" comment, when all citizens are constrained from supporting or passing on wealth to their children past the age of eighteen, perhaps then the notion that wealth is always the result of hard work and intelligence will make sense, dontcha know. As it stands, when one eighteen year old gets a hearty handshake from the 'rents upon his graduation while another gets a BMW, a heritage slot at Harvard, and the first installment of his eight figure trust fund I'd say "luck" plays a hand.

While I know anecdotes serve limited purposes, here's one to consider. At one point while with a client whose family would be considered "Old Money" he was talking to a friend about a child just a year or two older than my daughter. Said offspring had not yet found a calling in life. My client was exploring giving him a subsidiary company, the thinking being that owning and being responsible for his own business would help him in that regard. Meanwhile, my wife and I were despairing because we couldn't afford to help pay for another semester's tuition to a Community College for the Daughter Unit.

Not that I'm accusing my client or his son of greed, far from it in fact. I admire them both very highly and find my client to be an extremely fair and compassionate guy. But to think that greed is somehow absent in the political equation when financial advisors and hedge fund managers are getting bonuses in the seven figures (let alone what they make in salary and commissions) while supporting political candidates and lobbying efforts, or that "greed is good" as the Michael Douglas character's line went in the movie Wall Street, is foolish.

Posted by: Chris White on July 17, 2008 8:03 PM

You, citizen/child of God/ignoramus, are so greedy, doing as you see fit with your time, and with the after-tax money you've been able to non-coercively motivate people to give you. Stop being so greedy. Do with your time and money what WE want you to do. We are selfless. We don't observe the world around us, identify the alternatives available to us, and make choices based on what we perceive as maximizing the realization of our own goals/values. Only serfs/satans/idiots like you are that crass.

Me: [beep-boop-beep, ring, ring]Hello, US embassy? I'd like to make an appointment to apply for my CLN, please.

Posted by: Yakking Guy on July 18, 2008 8:28 AM

Greed is not a part of human nature. If it were, then everyone would be out to screw everyone else. The fact that there are so many more people who see their one chance at life as an opportunity to make it as good as possible for the majority of people, rather than an opportunity to "get all they can" is proof enough of that. Greed is a quality of those that already have more than they already need.

Chris White: it's good to see another rational visitor to this site. I'm going to have to stop back and see how your lucid response is shouted down as "liberal propaganda". To think that someone should feel some level of responsibility to those whose backs he stepped on to get to the top is just hippie, bleeding heart silliness.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to head to my annual review where I can expect my standard 3% raise that's given to everypeon in the company, regardless of work quality ("Pete, you're fantastic, here's 3%. John, you suck, here's 3%") Mmmmmm....nothing like incentive to get ahead. I'm hoping to sometime get to the point where I get 100%, $2.5 million raises like our new CEO...while presiding over the lowest increases in revenue, profits and stock price in the history of the company.

Posted by: Upstate Guy on July 18, 2008 8:56 AM

OK, Chris, let's assign the same standard to you that you assigned to me as a musician.

I guess that you are just a resentful jealous "nobody" because you didn't make it. Why don't you get some "genius" and get your ass out there and become a hedge manager, instead of whining? You just weren't good enough. You remind me of all those whiners out there who just can't hack it.

Many of Bob Dylan's former employees, by the way, are living in trailer homes and losing their teeth. I know them. Of course, Dylan's a ramblin' gamblin' man who's got to reinvent himself constantly so as to maintain his genius. This means that he's got to constantly dump musicians to move onto the next stage of his storied career. But, we certainly wouldn't accuse him of greed, would we?

The arts demand Dylan's genius.

My CEO friend, who employs thousands of people continuously and pays very good salaries with benefits... well, he's just a greedy bastard. Although, I have to say that because of those benefits my teeth are in very good shape and I own my home.

So, I've got to ask you again, Chris. Why in the fuck does the left admire in artists what it condemns in businessmen? Why is the arts community so determined to change the rest of the world and so completely uninterested in the carnage within its own world?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on July 18, 2008 9:40 AM

Shouting Thomas, I am increasingly worried about your mental health. You misrepresent, distort or ignore what I actually write in favor of creatively misreading things I do write to bolster some point you are trying to make. If it makes you happy I'll take your word for it that Bob Dylan is a greedy bastard; I don't know him. This goes back to a discussion about the Todd Haynes film "I'm Not There" and my appreciation for Dylan as an artist. Just as I might express admiration for Steve Jobs for his contributions to personal computers without knowing whether or not HE is a greedy bastard. And if he is I may find that lamentable or detestable without transferring my distaste for Jobs to his products. Although I will admit that the more I know and dislike about someone personally, the more likely I am to transfer that to their products or performance in other areas. So, if you know Dylan and know he's a greedy bastard and therefore don't like his music, fine. So what?

Since you brought up Dylan and the fate of certain musicians who worked with him in the past let me ask this, if you were hired for a session or a tour by a well-known musician do you expect them to keep you on the payroll for life, assuming they have the cash flow to do so? Do you, as a tech savvy subcontractor, expect that someone who hired you to do something and paid you well for that to either keep you working on new projects indefinitely or to be directly responsible for your well-being the rest of your life?

I admire in artists their art. I admire in individuals their honesty, courage, generosity, sense of humor and similar traits. I admire in those leading businesses their ethics, how well they treat their employees, the quality of their products and so on. And if you think I care nothing for about changing negative practices in the arts you really haven't a clue about who I am or what I think, you're just using me as a screen on which to project your own ideas about what "lefty arts types" think, drawn, no doubt, from a pool of Woodstock characters you despise.

Posted by: Chris White on July 18, 2008 1:42 PM


I don't hate Dylan, nor do I care whether he's a greedy bastard.

I work precisely as you say. Clients pay me when I work for them. I routinely turn down two to three jobs a day in my media business. Bands hire me when they need me. I'm in great demand as a keyboard player. I'm auditioning for four show bands in the next two weeks, because it's time for an upgrade in money and venue. No, I don't expect lifetime security. Some artists do offer this to the core musicians they work with... for instance, Willie Nelson.

I don't give a damn what Dylan does, or what CEOS make. I mind my own business and don't concern myself with fixing their businesses.

You're the one who want to stick his nose in other's business and fix the world according to your social theory. I go about my business, accept the world for what it is, and do my best to make as much money and to have as much fun as possible.

So, the onus is really on you. You seem to suffer from some sort of megalomania. You seem to know how to run major corporations, even though you're having a hard time coming up with the scratch for your kid to go to school. On the other hand, I'm not interested in telling any businessman or artist how to make a living. If Dylan wants to call tomorrow and offer me a tour, the only questions I'll ask him are when and how much. While I worked for him I would smile and put on a hell of a good performance. I don't bite the hand that feeds me.

Ever heard of live and let live?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on July 18, 2008 2:36 PM

I find many areas where the best policy, and the one I follow, is live and let live. If you like blues and not free jazz, fine with me. If you prefer Filipino women who disdain feminism, that's fine, too. Now that's one area where you seem more than eager to argue that you are right and those who more friendly to feminism are wrong, but let's let that slide for now. In fact, many of our tussles here are over points where you seem only too eager to attack anyone who doesn't share your views. Why is that not an example of your own unwillingness to "live and let live"?

As noted in passing on a different thread covering similar territory, it seems to me that where we really part company is over the issue of whether or not "no man is an island." I believe that we are all part of a larger community and we need to have laws and mores that assure a degree of fairness and so forth. The issue here (greed) is about what those who have been successful financially owe, if anything, to those who struggle to merely survive. Are we to assume that everyone who does succeed does so entirely due to their own skill, intelligence and hard work or can we assume that some luck, boosts from family wealth, favorable public policy decisions, or other external forces also play a hand? I think the latter is most often the case.

It seems to me that the real topic of this thread is what kind of social services should be paid for through taxes versus how much should be left to families or private charity. Is it fair to accuse those business owners of greed who increase their own wealth by choosing to downsize workers, send major parts of their operations offshore, use flags of convenience on their ships, contribute to pollution without paying for cleanup, and the rest of the familiar litany of bottom line enhancing tools? The answer, I think is yes, and they can and should be called greedy.

Posted by: Chris White on July 18, 2008 4:32 PM

"Is it fair to accuse those business owners of greed who increase their own wealth by choosing to downsize workers, send major parts of their operations offshore, use flags of convenience on their ships, contribute to pollution without paying for cleanup, and the rest of the familiar litany of bottom line enhancing tools?"

OK, Chris, so you label them as greedy. Then what do you do?

I need to have a major medical procedure performed. No, I'm not sick. It's preventative. The cost here in the U.S. is probably between $5,000 and $10,000.

I can fly to the Philippines for $1,300, have this same procedure performed by a very competent technician for probably $500, and have enough money left over for a very nice vacation. Or I can just fly back home with a few thousand dollars in my pocket.

Since I am self-employment, the payment will mostly come out of my pocket.

The U.S., and the West in general, has priced, litigated and regulated itself almost out of business. In the coming years, this reality will assert itself with a vengeance. We haven't even begun to see the repercussions of this new reality, but we will as the economies of the Far East take off.

Tell me the solution to this. Your post, believe it or not, posits that you have a solution.

In my media business, I have found only one solution. I am in direct competition with media shops in India. I had to find a niche in which immediacy and greater human contact gave me an edge. How do you stop a businessman from looking for a price advantage? If you try to do this by legislation and regulation, smart people will just find a way around it.

Do you have any idea how much money is transferred from the U.S. to Indian and the Philippines (and vice versa) each year via offshore banks to avoid taxation of business endeavors?

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on July 18, 2008 6:11 PM

What on earth is ST getting so apoplectic about? Dylan? Wha?

Back to the issue -- I think it relates not so much to greed per se, but about corruption and the inordinate influence over the political process to achieve personal gain. If a leftie government had enacted broad and expensive entitlements for mid to lower class folks no doubt the commentators on this blog would be shrieking about greed and theft.

And greed itself does have a dubious status. Isn't it one of the 7 deadly sins? Seems folks around here would focus on sloth as the single deadliest sin and convert avarice gluttony and greed into virtues. I do find it hard to reconcile the right christian-capitalist ideology with any sort of Christian notions like, oh, compassion and charity.

Anyway, most value systems would treat greed as an undesirable attribute that should be minimized in one's personal behaviour. And before we get all shirty about the distinction between religion and state, I'll make the point that religion and social value systems to a large extent historically have been instrumentalist and central to political and social ordering in societies. The original law n' order.

Now we have recast greed as a personal virtue and a pillar of citizenship. I think it a little sad that the only socio-economic system we can seem to make work is based on something that for generations we considered to be a sinful quality. And that any attempt to inject compassion or minimal safety net for those less fortunate or capable, or any attempt to create a better framework to create equal opportunity is rejected out of hand through some doctrinal knee jerk cynicism that appears to be mostly a complete loathing of other people. Sad and stunted.

Posted by: fibro on July 18, 2008 6:39 PM

Chris White; why is it your right to have a share of your client's income? After all, relatively speaking, you are probably much richer than the standard sub-Saharan African, shouldn't they have a right to your wealth?

I'm by no means a proponent of dog eat dog capitalism, but the old socialist proposition that there is automatic injustice when there is significant wealth difference is wearing a bit thin. In all western countries starvation has disappeared, shelter is available to all and nearly everyone can access basic medical care despite a raising level of economic disparity over the past two decades. If the world was full of poor people who had all of their basic needs catered for and a few rich, would that be wrong?

Where I and the Left differ is in the definition of "basic needs". The left definition of basic needs seems to me to mean "the same as the rich" whereas most normal people would define basic needs as just that, basic needs. If you want more, go work for it.

Posted by: Slumlord on July 18, 2008 7:44 PM

A propos of nothing but a pet personal rant of mine ...

I get mightily annoyed when a certain dichotomy gets set up: greed vs. idealism. It's as though in the view of the judgemental the only thing that saves someone from the label of "greedy" is if/when he summons up a lot of active idealism.

Bullshit to that.

We all have to look out for ourselves, and doing so isn't by any means greedy. Is brushing your teeth greedy? Is making money and paying the bills greedy? As the Boy Scouts used to teach: you can't help anyone else if you aren't in decent shape yourself. And taking care of your own self and your own business takes up an amazing amount of time and energy. 90% of life often seems to be taken up with basic maintenance.

As for idealism, well, it seems to be one of those things many people learn with time: do-gooders often do more harm than good. They're often interfering, nosy, morally bossy, power-hungry hysterics. A few exceptions here and there noted, of course.

Anyway, it's one of my life's goals to get people to throw out this dichotomy. It's so tiresome ... We all need to look out for ourselves -- nothing morally repugnant about it. Most of us feel a desire to look out for those who are near and dear to us. Many feel some attachment to neighbors, or countrymen. Beyond that reach, many people feel a kind of generalized, well, bless 'em, but really I've never met 'em, and life's too full already to get obsessed by it.

Happy to agree that some people qualify as "greedy," by the way. But the word gets slung around much too much, IMHO. And it's often slung around by people and for reasons it's wise to be wary of. When someone challengingly says "Prove you aren't one of the greedy people," maybe it'd be good to answer with "No. First you prove you aren't one of the arm-twisting power-hungry self-proclaimed idealists who does more harm than good. Then maybe we'll start to talk."


Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 18, 2008 11:51 PM

Greed, as it is being discussed here, is both a personal failing and a political talking point.

As a personal failing it might apply to a ten year old who insists on hoarding all his Halloween candy rather than sharing any of it with his friend who had a cold and couldn't go trick or treating. It could apply to a minimum wage earner who only socializes with those whom he expects will pay for his share of the festivities regardless of either his own ability to pay or whether he actually likes the person he's socializing with. An individual making multiple millions a year may personally be generous and caring, giving time and money to charities, supporting various family and friends and so on without a hint of greed in his character. I'm happy to leave this topic to the clergy.

As a political talking point greed is about how wealth is used to secure power and perpetuate wealth accumulation. It is about individuals and companies who do business in, for example, the financial sector contributing support to politicians and lobbying to gain regulatory concessions that enable them to greatly increase their profitability and wealth at the expense of the general public and the health of the overall economy (see S&L bailout, sub-prime crisis, etc.). It is about balancing changes in tax policies designed to decrease the taxes paid by the very wealthy by reducing services to citizens on the lower end of the economic spectrum (see estate tax changes & reductions in food stamp and energy assistance programs).

I would suggest that slumlord's notions about access to medical care, food and shelter are myopic at best. Perhaps he assumes that the news reports about the medical difficulties of the uninsured and under-insured, the drop in available contributions to food pantries coupled with an increase in those seeking assistance due in part to the rising cost of food, and the overcrowding in many homeless shelters is all a MSM propaganda campaign. Perhaps he wants to see starving beggars dying in the streets from preventable diseases before considering there is a problem here.

And, Michael, like Shouting Thomas you seem to be suggesting the "everyone is an island" philosophy. Should we do away with all taxes put everything done by government on an individual "pay as you go" basis? Would the world be better, safer, more secure if we did away with the military and instead had mercenaries paid for by the businesses that have interests operating abroad with NRA members formed into militias for defense at home? Would the country be better off if all roads were paid for by tolls or maintained by the property owners beside them? Do you suggest doing away with the police and fire departments in favor of private security forces and for profit fire departments that would submit a bill when the fire is out?

If not, then we return to the issue of what types of needs do we want met collectively, which is to say through government programs paid for by taxes. And to the question of how those taxes are going to be levied. Take health care as one example, the US is spending more per capita for a system that produces lower results in areas like infant mortality and life expectancy than most industrialized nations. Furthermore, it is a system in which access is widely different based primarily on personal wealth. Most of those nations doing better than ours in overall quality of care have some version of universal health coverage. What are different here are the high profits seen in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Are the profits for those industries and their shareholders a greater good than the overall health and lifespan of all our citizens? Is it annoying to you to suggest that the system we have might be discussed in terms of greed vs. idealism? Am I an " interfering, nosy, morally bossy, power-hungry hysteric" for suggesting that we in the US should consider adopting a health care system that actually works better for nearly everyone, even if it means the wealthy may need to wait a few extra weeks or travel to the Philippines for elective surgery and that private insurance companies lose profits and control over who receives what kind of care from which doctors?

Yes, it is an election year and, after a two-term administration that has been particularly egregious in elevating the wants of the few over the needs of the many, you're going to be hearing a lot about the role greed has played in problems that need different solutions than what we've been seeing out of Washington.

Posted by: Chris White on July 19, 2008 10:18 AM

"Greed" has become what Tom Wolfe once referred to as a "vacuum word," by which he meant a word that has been emptied of any real meaning and which can be filled with any meaning the speaker gives it. One man's greed is another man's rational self-interest. "I need the $70,000.00 I earn a year--but those selfish pigs earning $100,000.00 per year, boy are they greedy!" How many sneering editorials and articles have I read about the Eighties calling it a Decade of Greed--many written by very well-paid columnists and editorial writers.

Posted by: Bilwick1 on July 22, 2008 3:10 PM

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