Gimme some greed

Published 3:39 pm Thursday, November 18, 2010

Before things degenerated into a joke-a-thon on that Saturday afternoon here at Birdland, Jim, Jeff, Maria and I were having a serious discussion about greed. When we look at our culture, the most egregious fallacy is snowballing greed. Too many people are willing to sacrifice all sense of decorum manners, empathic treatment of others, ways of disagreeing, order to support making more money. In the last decade we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of millionaires and even billionaires.

Whats the real point of this kind of accumulation? Do the rich buy another set of luxury automobiles? Another house perhaps? Or do the super rich simply increase the size of their savings accounts or portfolios?

It should be obvious that if wealth concentrates into the hands of the few, there is less to go into the hands of the many. This phenomenon breeds class mentality and divides the population. Too much concentration in a smaller and smaller sector leads to the kind of slow down in the economy that we are now experiencing in the United States . That formula isnt that hard to see we have found a cheaper source of labor in under-developed countries, in order to increase profits (and therefore to satisfy the dividend demands of shareholders) jobs are funneled overseas, unemployment increases here, not as many people can afford to buy goods and services, more unemployment ensues, and the few benefit at the expense of the many.

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A less visible advantage gained by the greedy is the ability to influence the outcomes of the electoral process by throwing more and more money into advertising for candidates who will support the on-going pursuit of increasing the disparity between the rich and the poor. In other words the rich pay to brainwash the poor into voting for candidates who ultimately will work against the interests of the poor themselves. In 2001 Andrew Greely encapsulated this circumstance in the Chicago Sun – Times:

It should be no surprise that when rich men take control of the government, they pass laws that are favorable to themselves. The surprise is that those who are not rich vote for such people.

While that might have been surprising in 2001, in todays political arena the practice was assimilated into the body of the American electoral experience when the US Supreme Court recently endorsed the right of the rich to spend unlimited amounts of money on election contributions.

One area of conspicuous greed that is beginning to strain the patience of even the most brainwashed among us is that of CEO compensation. In 1998 the president of G.E. was reported to have earned a salary that translated into a wage of $50,000 per hour or 2,500 times the typical wage of the people who were actually producing the goods that earned the companys profits. It is absurd to believe that any man (or woman) is worth that amount.

Arguments about too much wealth in the hands of too few should not be construed as being in opposition to success, but rather as a petition for common sense and a return to norms of society that are more equitable. Plato recommended that no one should make no more than five times the wage of the poorest in society. J. P. Morgan argued for 20 times the lowest wage.

Religious writer Burt Bhatty said that, Greed begins when a man takes home more than his neighbor. Those are some disparate numbers. What the fair and proper relationship between a CEOs compensation and the wages of his workers should be isnt clear yet and isnt represented by any of the above examples, but the national conversation is at least beginning to be heard.

Another theme in this national conversation regarding the distribution of wealth is taxation. Conservatives are still beating the drum that lowering taxes will grow the economy and lower the national debt. Thus far it has not worked. The nation had 12 uninterrupted years of this Reagan (and subsequent G. H. W. Bush) boondoggle and the debt rose precipitously. Trickle down just doesnt happen. Greater rewards should pay the greater cost.

Teddy Roosevelt advised that: The man of great wealth owes a peculiar debt to the state because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government. This maxim reverses the mentality so often heard from the well to do that public services should be curtailed and their (the richs) taxes should be lowered. The rich seem to believe that they no longer use public services and therefore shouldnt have to pay for them. Not so! The benefits of public service to the rich are numerous and high dollar items a standing military, highways, airline regulation, customs protection, commerce regulations, local law enforcement and fire protection, and much, much more.

Finally, we need to examine the lament of the rich that the poor are distastefully begging for something for nothing in accepting welfare. I dont know a single welfare recipient who thinks that he or she is living the good life. The rich follow this lament with the suggestion that If I can work hard and get it, so can anybody else. I supposes that the rich are unaware that in every human characteristic from intelligence to skills levels to personality to communication half the population is, by definition, below average i.e., not as capable but just as worthwhile. As Larry King said, The biggest welfare recipients in the United States are the richest people.

Don Weathington is a retired psychotherapist and business owner who lives in Gillette Woods at a place called Birdland.