Caricature or Fact?

I think of all the words in the English language, the one we should live without for a while is the word “greed.” This word has so many vastly different meanings to so many people that it can mean anything and nothing, simultaneously.  It’s become much like the overuse of the term “Nazi” to describe anything and everything with which one might disagree in a moment of heated vehemence, and what it really serves to accomplish is to inject hyperbole and undue emotion into any argument.  Since there is no way to ban the use of a word(at least not in the US, yet,) I decided I might just as well give you my definition, so that on the rare occasion I toss it about, you will understand my usage.   Many consider the brand of “greed” as good as the mark of the beast, and properly defined, it might well be apt to view it in such light, but all too frequently, the word is used to smear something else, and frankly, I’m tired of it.

Greed is most commonly invoked at the thought of lust for money and wealth, but I submit to you that real greed is hardly confined to the gain of material riches.  I also submit to you that it is not merely the desire for riches that constitutes greed, but instead the desire for wealth in material or prestige to which one has no natural entitlement.   If you own a thing, and you came to own it by your own efforts, these are the fruits of your labors, and it was neither greed that gave them to you, nor greed that permits you to hold it.  It is your natural right to  your property that justifies your ownership, and no warrant of greed may be logically attached.

On the other hand, if you gain wealth by fraud or deception, or by theft most commonly of all, this along with your desire to keep it constitute actual greed.  A thief or an embezzler or a cheat is motivated by greed.  A person who demands the labors of others go to support him is motivated by greed.  In a civil society, this sort of greed is generally punished as crime, but no form of greed is greater than a society that collectively employs greed against a minority, however constituted.  Socialism, and indeed any form of statism is the greediest sort of system of all.  The notion that one is entitled to the fruits of a neighbor’s labors is abominable, and that there are laws to enforce it is the stuff of true greed.

Greed is commonly associated with the rich, but I tell you it is the manner in which wealth is gotten that answers the question as to whether there had been greed.  Was there coercion?  Was there monopoly or oligopoly?  Or was there merely the productive efforts of minds equal to the task of satisfying the wants of many people?

All too often, the word “greed” is substituted in place of another concept, precious to capitalism, called “rational self-interest.”  This is the motive power of capitalism, and it’s the reason most of you rise to work each day, toiling to earn your daily bread.  You do not work as a matter of charity to others.  You do not tote that barge or lift that bale in order to fill the bellies of your neighbors’ children, but your own.  The worst and most greedy amongst us are those who find one excuse after the other to lighten the burden of your wallet at the point of a gun in the interests of combating greed, and yet the truth is that none are greedier than these alleged agents of anti-greed.

You might well ask me what I had meant about those who seek an unearned prestige.  I will explain to you that these are the most dangerous of the lot, and none are more greedy than these parasites on human spirit.  These are the grand Utopians who claim not to want any reward for themselves, but instead seek your wealth as a matter of enriching their reputations as the doers of vast public good. If you wish to see a crowd of these in action, you need only tune in to C-SPAN when Congress is in session.  There, you will witness a freak-show of the greediest people on the planet, who hold in their hands the power to strip you of your wealth, all the while claiming the justification of some alleged “public interest.” Worst of all, as has recently come to light in such texts as “Throw Them All Out,” by Peter Schweizer, while they posture as the protectors of the downtrodden, they use the force of their legislation, and their inside knowledge about what it will do to markets in order to make profits they could not have made by any other means.  Who among you believes that most of these people so-engaged could make a fat nickel without the power over your purses and wallets, and the laws that govern your enterprises and corporations besides?

Of course, there are those who seek no immediate financial compensation for such efforts, but instead seek other forms of wealth, in the form of an undeserved prestige.  How many buildings, post offices, and lamp-posts in West Virginia bear the name of Robert Byrd?  He will have been in his grave one-hundred years, and still his name will curse the landscape of that state like a plague.  Sadly, some larger number of the people of that state afford him this prestige, because what he did to gain it was to redistribute money from others to their purposes and support.  Just as you can buy a good deal of welfare or votes, so too can you buy prestige in bulk with other peoples’ money.  The desire for that prestige is an insatiable greed that may stretch to the boundaries of one’s imagination, and more evil has been birthed by those seeking to build monuments to themselves in this fashion than by any pursuit of material wealth.

When people use the term “greed,” I listen carefully for the context, and the reason is simple: All too often, the term “greed” is thrown about with casual indifference to the actual meaning of the word.  When I see a businessman who has made his money by honest pursuit, the fact that he wishes to keep it or earn more does not describe greed, but when I see a petty shop-lifter who stuffs a pack of gum into his pocket at the check-out line, I know I am seeing the material form of greed in progress.   When I see a woman enjoying her retirement by spending some of her life-long savings and investments into something purely for her own pleasure or amusement, I do not see greed.  When I see men demanding a benefit to which they have no natural entitlement, I know I am seeing greed on a vast scale. When I see politicians offering the wealth of some to the pockets of others, in the name of some benevolent purpose he claims will be in the interests of all the people, I look at the ruined lives of the people from whom they will take the necessary cash, and know that I have witnessed a greedy monster.

When you hear the word “greed” you would do well to listen intently to discover the context and meaning of the speaker, so that you can discern his actual intent.  If what is being offered is really nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on property rights, you should run for the hills.  Statists love to use the word greed, because while many people have a sense of the word, few have spent much time considering its meaning.  A statist will argue that if you will not surrender your whole wealth and property and person to the state, it is because you are greedy, and the more wealth you obtain by natural rights, the louder their denouncements of your greed will become. Nobody is greedier than these, and the motive of their attack is to convince you to submit to their claims on your person.  These parasites know the difference between greed and rational self-interest, but they hope you do not.