Economics

NYT Asks: "Could Greed Be Good?"

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ABC's John Stossel is probably the most widely-recognized, most be-mustached libertarian out there. He sneaks all kinds of Econ 101 and pro-freedom lessons into his 20/20 segments and special. The Ur-episode is the one in which he asks, with faux shock, after examining the benefits of capitalism: "Could greed be good?"

It seems that The New York Times is asking itself the same question.

In light a dismal fiscal future, the Times has brought in new board members, "two exceptional individuals," in the words of Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., one from Wal-Mart and one from Chevron. The New York Sun takes a look at the few choice words from the editorial board on Wal-Mart in the past:

One, Dawn Lepore, served as a director of Wal-Mart from 2001 to 2004. While Ms. Lepore was serving as a Wal-Mart director, the Times was denouncing Wal-Mart for a series of supposed sins. A November 15, 2003, editorial thundered, "This Wal-Martization of the work force, to which other low-cost, low-pay stores also contribute, threatens to push many Americans into poverty. The first step in countering it is to enforce the law. The government must act more vigorously, and more quickly, when Wal-Mart uses illegal tactics to block union organizing. And Wal-Mart must be made to pay if it exploits undocumented workers." It went on, "Wal-Mart likes to wrap itself in American values. It should be reminded that one of those is paying workers enough to give their families a decent life."
An April 11, 2004, editorial, also written while Ms. Lepore was serving on the Wal-Mart board, warned, "the entry of such an especially tight-fisted employer in a community compels competitors to whittle at their own labor costs. That translates into lost jobs and smaller paychecks for everyone."

Say it with me (and John Stossel) now: Could greed be good?

Via American Thinker

Cross-posted at reason.tv 

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  1. I recall watching Stossel in the classroom in middle school. Was that part of the Reagan effect?

  2. Eric Dondero has a much more libertarian moustache! Stossel is a left wing libertarian! He works for the MSM! He never picked up Ron Pauls dry cleaning!

  3. Ha, ha!

  4. David Mills of the RationalResponders.com site kind of looks like Dondero with a bad douchey fro.

    I think I’m gonna go as Dondero next Halloween, to scare all the kiddies. I just hope I don’t get maced for sporting the molesterstache.

  5. No one quoted Gordon Gecko yet?!

  6. Who is this Dondero guy you all keep on talkling about?

  7. I think he’s some performance art that highnumber made up.

  8. Greed:

    Some quick dictionary definitions:

    excessive or rapacious desire, esp. for wealth or possessions.

    excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves
    2. reprehensible acquisitiveness; insatiable desire for wealth (personified as one of the deadly sins)

    a (too) great desire for food, money etc

    So, given that all of these definitions seem to center on the “excessiveness” of the desire, then by definition greed is not good, although a desire for more wealth may be. To count as greed, the desire needs to have a negative valance.

    It is like comparing gluttony to hunger.

  9. Neu Mejican:

    It is like comparing gluttony to hunger.

    I don’t think that’s an accurate analogy. The reason being is that greed is actually a net producer as opposed to gluttony which ends up consuming without giving anything in return.

    A more accurate representation might be one of those birds that eats lots of berries and in turn shits out the seeds causing more trees to grow and more berries to exist.

  10. greed is actually a net producer as opposed to gluttony which ends up consuming without giving anything in return.

    That fall flat.

    Gluttony is consumption.
    Consumption requires production.
    Greed is acquisition.
    Acquisition requires production.

    Your claim is that the greed is good because it increases production. So does gluttony.

    I would say that gluttony is just a sub-species of greed…greed for food.

  11. To be clear.

    The collateral good that is created by greed does not make the greed itself a good.

    A murder in a corn field may lead to a better corn crop the next season as the body feeds the soil. That doesn’t make the murder a good even if the extra corn saves more than one life…yadda yadda.

    Greed by definition has a negative valance.
    If it is not negative, you are talking about something other than greed.

  12. fall flat = falls flat.

    Never type without coffee first.

  13. Andrew Carnegie was a rapaciously greedy industrialist who donated more than 2500 libraries to communities around the world.

    He also provided jobs for thousands of people, and stimulated the economy, creating, in turn, thousands of other jobs for people who provided goods and services for his employees. What if he had said, “well, I’ve got ‘enough’ now, I’m going to the beach.”

  14. NM: I take it you didn’t watch the video. Truly greedy people will try to use their assets in order to get more assets as they are never satisfied. Using their assets to try to get richer has an effect of making other people richer in the process. You are right in that gluttony has no effect of producing assets, its simply consuming wealth, not trying to acquire it.

    While a glutton might eat all of his corn, a greedy person will save some and plant it to have more in the future. The desire to acquire more will be the driving factor, not the desire to consume more.

    As a note most of those people in the video were complete pricks and I wouldn’t want to work for one.

  15. The problems is that the left uses ‘greed’ as a language weapon in their war on profit making.

    To them, the possession of wealth is evidence of ‘greed’ regardless of how or why it was acquired.

  16. Sam Grove,

    Indeed.

    I am arguing that the use of the word “greed” to indicate a virtuous desire to improve one’s lot and gain assets is a distortion of the word’s connotation. I understand the motivation to change the words connotation, but I find the negative valance to provide a valuable distinction.

    On the other side, however, the use of the word “greed” to describe a healthy desire to improve one’s lot and gain more assets is disingenuous.

  17. For the record,

    Sam Grove uses the word “left” as a language weapon…I think he should use “pinko.”

    =/;^)

  18. ABC’s John Stossel is probably the most widely-recognized, most be-mustached libertarian out there.

    Which is too bad, because he’s an intellectual lightweight and a tool.

  19. You are right in that gluttony has no effect of producing assets, its simply consuming wealth, not trying to acquire it.

    It’s an imperfect analogy, as all analogies are, but let us consider the poster child of gluttonous wealth consumption, Paris Hilton.
    Ms Hilton has no aptitude of which I am aware for creating wealth on her own behalf (being paid to show up at parties doesn’t count). However, her gluttonous consumption of the wealth of previous generations of Hiltons creates wealth for rapaciously greedy dressmakers, cobblers, and makers of specialty distilled spirits, not to mention the manufacturers and repairers of Bentley automobiles. Her wealth is transferred to energetic, innovative, individuals who are able to put it to better (that is, their own) uses.

  20. Bingo,

    While a glutton might eat all of his corn, a greedy person will save some and plant it to have more in the future.

    A glutton will do just as much to shore up his supply of products to consume as a greedy person will do to shore up his sources of increasing assets.

    They have the same collateral effects.

  21. For a more tangential take on this.

    Greed is bad for the person who is greedy, even if it is good for others.

    In the same sense that being gullible is not good for you, but may benefit others, being greedy is not good for you, but may benefit others.

    That does not make being gullible a virtue.
    And likewise, being greedy is not a virtue.

  22. I believe in the free market but I don’t believe in union-busting. Wal-Mart has improved living conditions for tens of millions of Americans, but it’s also engaged in union-busting and hiring of illegal aliens employ at exploitation wages, and Wal-Mart executives under pressure to deliver outstanding results have adjusted time clocks, underpaid employees, etc., etc. Big Wally’s got a few warts.

  23. Alan V,

    And were those bad behaviors the result of greed rather than a healthy desire to improve one’s lot and increase assets?

    Seems like a good way to characterize the motivation to me.

  24. he’s an intellectual lightweight and a tool

    Let’s not forget disingenuous and dishonest.

  25. metonymy is a powerful trope in political discourse.

    To characterize the whole of your opposition by referring to them with the label of a part of opposition associated with negative feelings is a powerful way to discredit the larger group.

    So, for instance, when Sam Grove says the left is at war with profit making, he is using the fact that those who are at war with profit making can be described as on the left to indite all of those on the left, whether or not they are part of the war on profit.

    Likewise, those who use the term “greed” to describe legitimate activities designed to increase profits are using metonymy to attach the negative valance of the term to the legitimate activity.

  26. NM: Are you unable to discuss the differences between the desire to acquire and the desire to consume without assigning moral values to them? I’m halfway trolling here, but calling something a “virtue” or “not a virtue” when talking about net effects seems a little disingenuous, no?

    In any case, many very very rich people are quite frugal when it comes to spending money on themselves. Warren Buffet drove a Lincoln Towncar as his primary automobile until very recently. Most of them have lots of money but only use it in ways that will make them more money (in other words: investing). Investing is the quickest way to make more money, not buying TVs, fancy cars, or huge houses. It would seem to me that investing is an act of greed, not an act of charity and certainly not an act of gluttony.

  27. indite = indict

    sheesh…

    Off to get coffee

  28. Bingo,

    When the discussion is framed with the question

    “Could greed be good?”

    You are in the realm of discussing the moral value of greed.

    Your description of Warren Buffet does not sound like a description of greed.

    As for the greed/gluttony distinction…

    It is, of course, meaningful. Greed is the less restrictive term, but the terms seem to have very similar collateral benefits (as P Brooks describes well).

    Maybe the term greed needs to be restricted to activities that could be considered “hording” whereby the wealth is not used to its fullest potential because the greedy person is hording it. They may be investing enough to keep the stream of assets coming, but under-utilizing the assets due to greed…

    Just blathering at this point, btw.

  29. Bingo,

    calling something a “virtue” or “not a virtue” when talking about net effects seems a little disingenuous, no?

    No more disingenuous than trying to polish the stain off of a vice by pointing to the collateral benefits of the vice.

  30. Yeah coffee is needed here too, hahaha.

    Yes, I see what you’re saying about hoarding, but I don’t know if that falls under the definition of greedy. At that point, aren’t you satisfied with your wealth and therefore unconcerned with getting more? As an example, in the video the one guy who was worth 8 figures and founded a billion dollar microchip company but still worked 15 hours days. Obviously he could retire and live how he wanted but he is so greedy he keeps working and trying to make more money.

    Also I don’t think greed and gluttony are mutually exclusive concepts, you can be greedy by wanting to acquire more assets and then gluttonously consuming them at the same time.

    You can also be gluttonous without being greedy. Think of a trust-fund baby who has no desire but to spend the $100,000-a-year his rich uncle left him. No desire to start a business or acquire more, he’s satisfied with his assets and merely wants to consume as much as he can.

  31. Yet another drive to recast “greed” as “a good thing”?

    Is greed still good if it involves lowballing employee wages to the point that (too) many employees are on the government welfare dole, drawing tax dollars in the form of food stamps, rent and utility bill assistance, medical assistance, daycare subsidies…etc?

    It reads like fun-house mirrored socialism to me. The taxpayers are conned into underwriting labor costs for wildly profitable corps that are greedily seeking to keep their profits private while socializing as many of their expenses as can be manage.

  32. Bingo,

    re:Hording/hoarding…

    Isn’t gluttony the excessive desire to acquire consumption history assets, or something, and therefore a form of greed?

    Clearly the two terms are not entirely pleonastic, only closely related.

    Kinda like hording and hoarding.

    Both involve gathering things together, but one is the correct term for what I meant (hoarding) and the other a related term that my spell checker recognized…

  33. highnumber:

    that was probably before Stossel reformed and recanted his liberalism

  34. The taxpayers are conned into underwriting labor costs for wildly profitable corps that are greedily seeking to keep their profits private while socializing as many of their expenses as can be manage.

    But doesn’t the world make more sense if businesses are in the business of producing products and hiring people at whatever wage level makes sense for their business models, and it is the larger society’s concern to provide a safety net for the poor?

    We’ve evolved this system where we expect businesses to nurture their employees. It’s a natural conflict of interest — employers ultimately view employees as a cost of doing business.

    As a libertarian, I’d like to see a world where society voluntarily takes care of poor people. Even so, I think government-provided safety net makes much more sense than shoving the problem off onto employers.

  35. I should have said: “We’ve evolved this system where we expect low-margin businesses to nurture unskilled employees.”

    Higher-margin businesses that hire skilled employees usually offer great benefits. Even in this case, it’s weird for one’s health insurance to be tied to one’s employment. It would make more sense if the employee were paid a bit more, and bought his or her own insurance policy that he or she could keep for life.

  36. Companies like Wal-mart will never treat their employees as valuable until they cannot find anyone else willing to work for the wages they pay. We have a glut of labor in this world. As long as we have more laborers than jobs, they can low-ball all they want. But for the same reason, taxpayers should not be financially responsible for people who don’t make what some people think they should make.

    Maybe people should stop having kids they can’t afford. Then, if they are poor, they only have to worry about themselves. They can work as many jobs as they want and not have to worry about daycare or healthcare except for themselves. They can work and still go to school to increase their chances at a better paying job, then have kids once they’ve improved their own situation. People’s poor decisions are no one else’s responsibility.

  37. So, given that all of these definitions seem to center on the “excessiveness” of the desire, then by definition greed is not good, although a desire for more wealth may be. To count as greed, the desire needs to have a negative valance.

    It is like comparing gluttony to hunger.

    Gee, Neu Mejican, some liberals working at a dictionary-publisher say “this here is the meaning of greed”, and that’s it, case closed?

    If the defined New Mexico as “a useless sparsely populated hellhole” would you nod your head and say, “yup, that must be true, cause aome authority figure said it — time to ignore the evidence of my eyes that I live in a beautiful state.”

  38. People’s poor decisions are no one else’s responsibility.

    Etch that in stone and put a spotlight on it.

  39. prolefeed – Dictionaries are pretty good at documenting actual usage and meaning.

    Neu Mejican – Is a 1200 sq ft home greedy whne you can easily raise a brood of six with 1000 sq ft?
    2000 sq ft?
    10,000 sq ft?
    Is a Monet greedy when you can get the print for $20.00?

    We know what greed is. Somebody else’s sin.

  40. Speaking of greed is good i got an e-mail form an Ex who is French and is a socialist….you guys are all libertarians…how do i respond to this while trying to convince a socialist that she is wrong and that free markets are good?

    here is the letter:

    You might be interested in the theories of Serge Latouche, french economist about the market and growth as a weapon of mass destruction. You care about environment, the beautiful land of Washington State… I’m sure you have some theories about that, and you probably have made the link between capitalism and earth slaughter early. He made the link in the ’70.

    I have no idea who Latouche is…my guess is he is the French version of (population bomb, i am wrong about everything) Erlich

  41. As I understand it, greed is a moral shortcoming.
    However, in a capitalist system the societal effects of legal greedy behavior, by creating wealth, are a net positive. Greedy people, by selfishly increasing their wealth, expand the economy thus increasing happiness for overall society.
    Therefore greed is a sin, but it is also good.

  42. joshua corning –
    Here is a short piece of his thinking. Since you’re a regular around here, I imagine you know the libertarian responses.

    Internet + Google = Appearing smart.

  43. how do i respond to this while trying to convince a socialist that she is wrong and that free markets are good?

    Who cares. Just get down on your knees every morning and thank the Good Lord that she’s your Ex and you don’t have to listen to this type of ranting every day.

  44. One further irony. The candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination endorsed by the New York Times served on Wal-mart’s board of directors from 1986 until 1992.

  45. “It reads like fun-house mirrored socialism to me. The taxpayers are conned into underwriting labor costs for wildly profitable corps that are greedily seeking to keep their profits private while socializing as many of their expenses as can be manage.”

    There is a con going on all right, but it’s not Wal-Mart or the other corporations doing it.

    Wal-Mart didn’t create those social programs that are costing taxpayers money – the politicians did.

    It wasn’t Wal-Mart that dreamed up the idea that everyone is “entitled” to all sorts of things regardless of whether they can pay for them or not and the that the taxpayers should be required to provide them – the politicians did.

    Wal-Mart isn’t “socializing” it’s expenses because none of those things were ever legitimately it’s expenses to begin with – just as they aren’t legitimately the taxpayers expenses.

    Whether the taxpayers pay for social programs directly or indirectly by the government making Wal-Mart pay for them (which will then raise it’s prices to all it’s customers to cover it) makes no differnce. It’s still government mandating charity in either case. And it’s something that government never had any legitimate Constitutional authority to do in the first place.

  46. Andrew Carnegie was a rapaciously greedy industrialist He was? I don’t think that’s true, as …who donated more than 2500 libraries to communities around the world.

    If he was greedy, he would not have made those donations. Or, rather, he was not entirely greedy, and sometimes did things out of an impulse that are the polar opposite of greed, charity.

    Greed is a term used to describe the elevation of ordinary self-interest to a pathology. No, it is not good to elevate natural, universal impluses to a pathological level, whether we’re talking about the sex drive, hunger, or the profit motive. It requires that one distort or eliminate other natural, normal drives, leaving one an incomplete person, and therefore more likely to harm others.

  47. J sub D,

    Part of the capitalist system is a system of laws and practices that prevent people from pursuing their greed to the detriment of others, and compel them to attenuate their greedy impulses. Laws against fraud and theft, for example. Taxes for public goods.

  48. Part of the capitalist system is a system of laws and practices that prevent people from pursuing their greed to the detriment of others, and compel them to attenuate their greedy impulses. Laws against fraud and theft, for example. Taxes for public goods.

    joe –

    Thanks. I wondered why I referred to “legal greedy behavior”, as opposed to “fraud and theft”. Sheesh.

  49. the innominate one,

    Just as well, since I can’t remember a bit about the shows we watched in class.

    I have an urge to ask if you have a nickname, but I can’t bring myself to do it.

  50. You might be interested in the theories of Serge Latouche, french economist about the market and growth as a weapon of mass destruction.

    A.) He’s not much of an economist. His words read as if a biologist lamented at the existence of life.

    You care about environment, the beautiful land of Washington State… I’m sure you have some theories about that, and you probably have made the link between capitalism and earth slaughter early. He made the link in the ’70.

    He begs the question. He assumes capitalism is a form of depredation in order to link it to the “depredation” of the earth. Depredation of the earth has more to do with a Tragedy of the Commons scenario than with free markets, and such scenario is more present in anti-capitalist societies than in capitalist societies (i.e. private property owners and free markets).

  51. Neu,

    The collateral good that is created by greed does not make the greed itself a good.

    Well, greed is not a good, it is a behavior.

    A murder in a corn field may lead to a better corn crop the next season as the body feeds the soil…

    Well, anybody who argues that is arguing from the broken window fallacy, so your criticism of such argument is redundant. Also, a murder is not the product of a greedy mind, but of an irrational mind – true greed is rational.

    Greed by definition has a negative [b]alance.

    “By definition”? Which definition? The one you gave before? Why would it have a “negative balance”? Against what? Compared to what? Parting from where?

  52. Greed is a term used to describe the elevation of ordinary self-interest to a pathology.

    What is the “ordinary” self interest? Where is the line, the threshold between ordinary and “greed” (pathology)? Point is, what is “ordinary self interest” and “pathology” is in the eye of the beholder (especially if the beholder is a Marxian). Can you say without risk of being prejudiced if my baseball card hording is “pathological”, or the result of “ordinary self interest”?

    What I believe is happening is that by arguing from envy, Marxians call “greed” what is simply productivity. A productive person will be able to receive more compensation for his or her services/goods than a less productive person. For some reason, a person that pursues economic accumulation by way of producing goods or services that people want is called “greedy” by the Marxians. This is pure envy, which is in my mind the worst of all sins, since it makes a person irrational and dumb.

  53. Francisco Torres,

    Greed by definition has a negative [b]alance.

    The word is valence.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valency_%28linguistics%29

    I was typing without coffee.

    prolefeed.

    Some liberal dictionary editor?

    That’s pure comedy gold.

  54. JsubD,

    Someone else’s sin?

    I think that the idea that a normal process, desire, aspect of human nature taken to excess can be a vice is pretty common-sensical. So the Monet or the 12,000 square foot house are not definitional to the concept of greed. Even though they might be used as evidence in specific cases.

    It seems that greed is more about the why the what.

    c.f., the thread on terrorism.

  55. Francisco Torres,

    true greed is rational

    I would say that once it reaches the level of greed it is irrational…see my discussion of the valence of the term above.

    You are talking about something other than greed.

    prolefeed,

    If the defined New Mexico as “a useless sparsely populated hellhole” would you nod your head and say, “yup,…

    No.
    I would say, how long were you in Hobbes?

  56. Crap…too little coffee this morning.
    Too much beer tonight.

    It seems that greed is more about the why than the what.

  57. It seems that greed is more about the why the what.

    Would you agree that it’s better that our laws are concerned with what a person does rather than getting into the whys of what he does?

  58. Francisco Torres,

    Here’s a better reference to explain what I mean by the negative valence of the term greed…
    “greed”http://polorovereto.unitn.it/~colombetti/docs/GC_AppraisingValence05.pdf

    It should be noted that, in contrast to chemical valence, which is only positive, psychological valence or a psychological valence may be either positive (attracting) or negative (repelling)…[e]vents, objects, and situations may possess positive and negative valence; that is, they may possess intrinsic attractiveness or aversiveness’ (p. 207).

    Negative mental factors (anger, attachment [LETS ADD “GREED”) disturb the mind and should be avoided; emotions such as loving-kindness and wishing well for other beings should be cultivated.This distinction is primarily ethical, but is at the same time intertwined with the consideration that virtuous emotions improve one’s overall well-being, whereas non-virtuous ones disrupt it. Positive, virtuous emotions are wholesome, and negative, non-virtuous ones are unwholesome.

  59. Mike Laursen,

    Yes, for the most part, I would agree.
    But I think the concept of mitigating circumstances has an intrinsic element of “why.”

  60. The difference between manslaughter and murder would include an element of why as well.

    As does the difference between negligence and vandalism, perhaps.

    And I think those are proper distinctions.

  61. By the way,

    I don’t know that there is any reason for their to be laws related to greed. Being greedy may have a negative valence, but it isn’t something that should be outlawed given that the negative aspects are internal to the greedy person. I can’t think of any laws related to greed in the real world. Can you?

  62. Legal uses of why, continued:

    Self-defense
    Defence of others
    Sexual Assault vs. S&M play

  63. I can’t think of any laws related to greed in the real world. Can you?

    No, but there are people who would like there to be, which is why we’re talking about it on this political blog.

  64. Nick you are right on. People act as though labor shouldn’t be affected by the laws of supply and demand, even though every other resource on the planet is.

    We just don’t need a bunch of people who aren’t skilled at anything but scratching their own asses, but we have that anyway, and they all expect to make great money.

    I say the same thing about people having kids they can’t afford. You know if they quit doing it, poverty would disappear in a single generation.

  65. It should be noted that, in contrast to chemical valence, which is only positive[…]

    Off to a bad start…

    psychological valence or a psychological valence may be either positive (attracting) or negative (repelling)…[e]vents, objects, and situations may possess positive and negative valence; that is, they may possess intrinsic attractiveness or aversiveness’ (p. 207).

    Reads like someone’s opinion, Neu.

    Negative mental factors (anger, attachment [LETS ADD “GREED”) [Let “us” add “Greed”?? Why??] disturb the mind and should be avoided; emotions such as loving-kindness and wishing well for other beings should be cultivated.This distinction is primarily ethical, but is at the same time intertwined with the consideration that virtuous emotions improve one’s overall well-being, whereas non-virtuous ones disrupt it. Positive, virtuous emotions are wholesome, and negative, non-virtuous ones are unwholesome.

    Give me a break… Next you’ll want me to read Dianetics.

  66. Francesco Torres,

    As with any other human pathology, it’s impossible to draw a line about when a drive becomes pathological without looking at the specifics. We know there is social drinking, and alcoholism; yet it’s impossible to cite a bright line of when the one turns into the other.

    And while you might be right about Marxists, very few people in this country are Marxists, while most would recognize that there is something called “greed,” and that it is a bad thing. Even most people who despise Marxism.

    So simply shooting down what you think the Marxists think about greed, or noting that greed cannot be tested for like lead, doesn’t eliminate the fact that greed exists.

  67. J sub D,

    I didn’t think my point was that obscure, but I guess I have to lay it out. Sheesh.

    The fact that there are laws necessary to restrain people motivated by greed within the capitalist system means that capitalist exchange is not, by itself, enough to make greed harmless.

  68. As with any other human pathology, it’s impossible to draw a line about when a drive becomes pathological without looking at the specifics.

    Joe, you are begging the question – what makes YOU think, first of all, that “greed” is a pathology? This is why I asked you the question: who decides what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to accumulating wealth? You? Me? Where do you draw the line, and how do you avoid being subjective when establishing that line?

    very few people in this country are Marxists, while most would recognize that there is something called “greed,” and that it is a bad thing.

    I would not presume to know what most people think, Joe, and it is irrelevant to the extreme – the Ad Populum argument does not stand.

    My argument is that people use the word “greed” in a negative way to refer to people’s productivity or success in creating wealth.

  69. Joe, you are begging the question – what makes YOU think, first of all, that “greed” is a pathology?

    Because of its definition and standard usage. Francisco, is this a language thing? Are you just not familiar with how the word is commonly used, and how its definition and connotation differ from “self-interest” or “the profit motive?”

    who decides what is acceptable The same people who decide the difference between gluttony and hunger; every single one of us, depending on the situation.

    Where do you draw the line, and how do you avoid being subjective when establishing that line? You don’t avoid being subjective. While the difference between greed and ordinary self-interest is clear in theory, like the difference between pornography and art, and it is relatively easy to put most things into one category or another, there is a good-sized grey area in between the poles, and every person (or even the same person at different times) is going to draw the precise line a little differently.

    the Ad Populum argument does not stand Actually, when we’re talking about the definition of a word, yes, it does, since that’s how words’ meanings are determined – by they meanings most commonly given to them through people’s usage.

    My argument is that people use the word “greed” in a negative way to refer to people’s productivity or success in creating wealth. And your argument is nonesense, since virtually nobody uses the word “greed” to refer to productivity or success in creating wealth.

  70. I mean, by that last sentence, that the use of the term greed to mean “productivity or success creating wealth” is much, much less common than its use as “inordinate or insatiate longing, especially for wealth; covetous desire.”

    Note the adjectives in there – ordinary longing, even for wealth, that is not “inordinate” or “insatiate” is not greed. Greed is a subset of the desire for wealth, a particular type characterized by being so overweening as to rise to the level of a pathology.

  71. Francisco Torres,

    Reads like someone’s opinion, Neu.

    It is an article discussing the various opinions on the meaning of the word valence in psychology, so, yes, it is one of the opinions about how that word should be used. Much of academics is about delimiting the usage of a word so that a meaningful discussion of the concept can ensue.

    When I said greed had a negative valence, I was using the common connotation of the word to delimit the concept for discussion.

    You (and Stossel) want the word to lose its negative valence. But what you are really doing is conflating a normal desire to improve one’s lot and and gain assets, a concept with positive valence, with a related concept, greed which has a negative valence.

    You have yet to present an argument for why the distinction between the concept with positive valence and the one with negative valence should be lost in the language. The term “greed” provides a mechanism to make the distinction.

  72. joe, we have contract law, we have environmental regulation, we have insider trading laws, we have anti-trust laws, etc. I assume these are the types of laws you are referring to. These are laws concerning acts that may be motivated by greed, but they all have other rationales for existing.

    I assume you don’t think we need “laws … to restrain people motivated by greed” per se, to make a capitalist sytem work. Or do you?

  73. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that greed helps everybody across the board. Sure, a rising tide lifts all boats. But it drowns people who don’t have boats. I wonder how many of the Africans making slop in that village really care that Michael Milken made quick fill-ups at 7-11 possible.

    Pretending that greed works better than philanthropy fails to understand that many areas aren’t able to benefit from rising tides and boats.

    Still, I think Stossel was making a generalization. After all, he did note that there is a long list of CEOs who were criminal (like Ken Lay), and that too many CEOs make huge salaries even though their companies are hemorrhaging jobs. I’m not sure how reducing the number of jobs, reducing income from stock ownership and shrinking the company benefits anybody.

  74. I’m not sure how reducing the number of jobs, reducing income from stock ownership and shrinking the company benefits anybody.

    The best that can be said about such cost cutting is it can keep a company solvent, preventing zero jobs, zero income, and zero benefits. (In no way should this be interpreted as a defense of Ken Lay or Enron.)

  75. In my line of business, it seems that layoffs often are used to get rid of a bunch of people that they would like to fire. Normally, it’s hard to fire someone without risk of legal hassles, but in a layoff they don’t have to give any reasons. Often, they’ll lay off a bunch of people and turn right around and go on a hiring binge.

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