Saturday, January 18, 2014

Greed is

Greed is ...
  • Universal?
  • Evil?
  • Natural?
  • Good?
  • Unnatural?
  • Inevitable?
  • Genetic?
Columnist Peggy Noonan has been on a bit of a tear recently about moral issues. See her Wall Street Journal column Our Selfish Public Servants from today. She is concerned about an apparently rising tide of selfishness on the part of our public servants that has ill effects on society. She closes by saying
"Someday history will write of our era, and to history the biggest scandal will be the thing we all accepted in our leaders, chronic and endemic selfishness. History will be hard on us for that."
OK, greed. Greed is bad. We know that. However, what is new here is that this is about government greed, not private greed. We think it is important for the people to realize that their government can be as greedy as any corporation, can cover up like any corporation, and can abuse the people like any corporation. See our previous post Relief for Manufacturers: Cambodia. Instead of working with the people and the manufacturers to raise garment workers' wages, the Cambodian government broke up the strike and restored the situation by ordering the workers to go back to work without any wage concessions.

There is a problem with the term "greed," however. It is just a pejorative label, not a measurable quantity. It is a "scarlet letter" that we pin on our enemies in the attempt to punish them socially. In truth, the difference between greed and need is not clear sometimes. Also, those with the ability to manage more resources should be allocated more resources. Are they greedy if they demand resources commensurate with their abilities?

This plays out differently in different systems. In socialist terms, just using the phrase "making a living" can evoke thoughts of "making money," "the profit motive," and "production for profit." Those are unacceptable ways of thinking and speaking in many socialist systems. Saying such things might even be against the law. Good socialists would not even think in terms of having to "make their livings." They are confident that heir needs will be taken care of by society. What good socialists should think about is how to contribute according to their abilities.

Even in egalitarian socialist societies, however, some have more ability to manage resources than others. Therefore persons with more ability will be given control of more resources. Also therefore they will live privileged lives compared to others, conditions commensurate with their contributions. This is necessary to keep morale high and support the continuation and quality of those contributions. Social stratification and hierarchy are natural and expected results even in supposedly egalitarian socialist societies.

The end result of stratification and hierarchy in socialist systems is of course the person who is supposedly the best resource manager of all. This person becomes the chief executive and chief administrative officer, and is of course the one who lives the most privileged life of all. This person directly and indirectly controls all of the society's resources. "The people" end up on the bottom again, and may live in conditions that are even worse than those that the worst capitalist system would impose on them.

Despite the fact that these individuals at the top of the socialist heaps control more of their societies' resources, with tighter control and less risk than any capitalist, it is difficult to apply the term "greedy" to them and make it stick. They do not own much as individuals, if anything, in a technical legal sense. They may not "make" any money at all in a technical legal sense. Thus they can argue that society has only temporarily assigned them so much power and privilege because they have shown that they are the best caretakers for their societies' resources and for their societies' visions of the future.

The sad fact is, however, that these persons live lives that are comparable not to any wealthy capitalists, but only to the kings and emperors that were supposedly relegated to the dustbin of history by social progress. They even find ways to pass their powers on to their sons and make their families hereditary rulers, as has been done already. For example, it has happened in what is called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Socialism in practice has come full circle and become what it claims that it hates.

The way sees it, these societies use "political currency" rather than money to carry out transactions at the higher levels. This has many advantages, the greatest of which perhaps is that the leaders are not accountable except to their own leaders, who will be reluctant to discipline lest they themselves be disciplined. Without ownership or money at the higher levels, the leaders cannot be punished for fraud, extortion, embezzlement, or other acts against individual ownership. They can just take what they want, something that leaders in capitalist societies must be wary of. How many politicians have been brought down in capitalist societies for example for misusing campaign funds? Many, but it will almost never happen in socialist societies. That is one reason why leaders tend to prefer socialism over capitalism. In a socialist sysem, one can rule. Under capitalism, one must lead, and leading is harder than ruling.

In any society, however, there are those who must be ruled and those who must be led. That is why there is inevitably a bit of socialism in capitalist systems and a bit of capitalism in socialist systems. recognizes that reality and incorporates it in our suggestions. Instead of awkwardly bolting bits of socialism onto capitalism and creating a Frankenstein result that still has major problems, we want to avoid those problems by seamlessly integrating socialist elements into a capitalist superstructure.

Finally, about greed, our readers will find that we rarely use the term. We think we have shown that greed operates just as much in socialist systems as in capitalist systems, but also that the accusation only has real political impact in capitalist systems. To us that means that the term is politicized and biased by nature. That is, "greedy" is just an epithet without foundation in reality. Its use makes rational decisions more difficult, not easier. Generally we will not use the term because we find it a stumbling block to keeping things "real."

The way capitalism should be.

Socialism for the socialists and capitalism for the capitalists.

TheOtherSideOfCapitalism (

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