Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

An Economy of Greed

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: Spirituality, Politics, recession, financial crisis, greed, sin, Barack Obama, John McCain,

Trinity Church on Wall StreetGreed has emerged as a unifying culprit in the current financial crisis and recession in the United States. John McCain blames the situation on “unbridled corruption and greed.” Barack Obama’s campaign has presented a plan to reform the “greed and excesses of Washington.” Not far beneath this rhetoric is the implication that both presidential candidates are ostensibly rejecting the Gordon Gekko, Wall Street mantra of “greed is good” for a more moral and less sinful worldview.

Although it is a sin, greed does have its benefits, according to Dr. Rebecca Blank, interviewed on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. “It's greed that makes people work harder, be more productive, and helps the economy grow,” Blank says. Greed also may not have been behind every decision that led to the crisis. Blank points out that there were “a lot of people at the very beginning of this, the whole sub-prime crisis that started this off, who saw themselves as providing more funds for low-income families. They were doing a good thing.”

The problem isn’t that people don’t care about each other, Rabbi Michael Lerner writes for Tikkun, it’s that people “don't feel ready to trust their own desires and think that they would just be making a fool of themselves to imagine a world in which people really took care of each other.” Americans continue to be generous right now, even when surrounded by excess and greed. People need to acknowledge and cultivate that altruistic impulse in others, instead of giving up on the government and the market as inherently evil.

The American economy has benefited millions of people, while tapping into a selfish and materialistic impulse inside of humans at the same time. Some people believe that the free market will work itself out on its own, but Jim Wallis writes on the God’s Politics blog, “left to its own devices and human weakness (let’s call it sin), the market too often disintegrates into greed and corruption, as the Wall Street financial collapse painfully reveals.” The government, according to Wallis, must figure out a way to encourage innovation, but reign in the greed.

It’s up to the American people to push elected officials in that direction, toward good regulation and away from unbridled greed. Too often, according to Lerner, politicians keep the “discussion in vague and technocratic terms that avoid the central ethical issues that are always at the heart of the economy.” Lerner writes that politicians, including Obama, need to directly address the moral and ethical issues facing the country, not just the economic ones.

Image by Galaksiafervojo, licensed under Creative Commons.

shawna
4/8/2009 12:27:07 AM

It seems that greed is the root of all evil. Because of it, some people will do anything just to have what they want even though it is already against the moral standards and values of the community and it is already against the law. The Blagojevich indictment – we all knew it was coming. Federal prosecutors are expected to file the Blagojevich indictment for multiple counts of political corruption. The former Illinois governor was ousted late last year, amidst an arrest for several felonies and a long history of shady fundraising. He won't even be able to get payday loans for a lawyer, because he is technically unemployed. Hopefully he doesn't need payday loans to maintain that ridiculous hair, but the head it sits atop is dealing with the Blagojevich indictment. This site could give you the full information: http://personalmoneystore.com/moneyblog/2009/04/02/coming-rod-blagojevich-indictment/.


tony somera_2
9/29/2008 12:00:11 PM

Come now, the American Dream is one of never having to care about the other guy. Why else elevate high finance into the pride and joy of New York? The attraction of finance has always been a bottom line divested of complications like ethics and principles. There's no need to worry about the families left living on the edge when everyone only cares about your ability to make a profit. And, good news, as James Reston used to say, being powerless will corrupt as surely as being all powerful. Soon circumstances will make us all as corrupt as Wall Streeters and their Republican lackeys.


digitalzen
9/29/2008 11:18:38 AM

With regard to corporate greed, I believe we need to take into account the emotional issues -- perhaps even pathology -- of corporate leaders. Martha Stout, in "The Sociopath Next Door," and other sources state unequivocally the opinion that those who manage to claw their way to the top of the corporate ladder are often sociopaths. This means, in effect, that they possess no vestige of the emotional mix that we refer to as "conscience." Considered in the context of people who use success for their only emotional satisfaction and "more" as a way of scoring their success, the situations that seem to arise whenever the powerful get things too much their way are not only understandable, but predictable.