Author Topic: In Praise of Greed  (Read 3768 times)

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Offline Astreja

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In Praise of Greed
« on: April 30, 2013, 02:22:24 PM »
In this thread, we're currently having a knock-down-drag-out fight in which one of the participants insists that greed is responsible for the majority of the world's ills.  I'm going to take the opposing stance and point out the many benefits that I received because I decided not to be content with the absolute minimum.

This is what I managed to accomplish in the last 20 years or so, when I came to My senses and started putting My own needs at the top of the heap rather than being a long-suffering helpmeet to people who didn't appreciate what I was doing for them anyway:

  • It all started when I dropped a volunteer bookkeeping gig and turned down overtime at work.  Reclaimed enough free time to pursue a business certificate at a local college  and graduated with GPA of 4.3.
  • Using the knowledge from the Sales and Marketing courses at the college, made successful application into an IT program a couple of years later.  Salary went up considerably.
  • The IT job gave Me the financial means to get safely out of a bad marriage and save up for a deposit on a new house.
  • Took driver's lessons and bought a car, rather than sticking with bus or foot travel.  In addition to making it easy to bring home groceries and cat litter, this facilitated music lessons and karate classes and enabled Me to take jobs that required a car.  (I also don't think I would have built the 25-foot-long dragon sculpture in My front yard without access to a car, either -- Kind of hard to carry bags of concrete on the bus.)
  • After quitting My most recent IT job because of health issues, I found work as a medical transcriptionist.  This was a part-time gig through a temp agency.  I went looking for a second part-time job in the field.  This opened doors, and I ended up with a full-time permanent job with another large pay hike and fantastic benefits, and for which I gladly left the original temp job.
TL;DR version:  Education, divorce, career opportunities, driving, big-@ss dragon sculpture, purple belt in Shotokan karate, playing music all over Southern Manitoba, and money -- More than enough to share or give away.

I think greed and selfishness get a bad rap because of a scarcity mentality -- The idea that somehow there isn't enough to go around, rather than lots for everyone.  I think the universe is more than big enough for the most grandiose dreams, and that it's better to pursue those dreams than play at being altruistic and resenting every moment.

Comments, please, and/or personal anecdotes on how greed has made *your* life better.
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Offline Nick

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #1 on: April 30, 2013, 02:31:46 PM »
I wonder if the greed of the many multi millionaire preachers counts?
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Offline Astreja

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #2 on: April 30, 2013, 02:35:34 PM »
I wonder if the greed of the many multi millionaire preachers counts?

Well, I can't help but think that their parishioners would enjoy a higher quality of life if the preachers encouraged them to invest their money in themselves rather than giving it to the church.  ;)
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Offline Tonus

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #3 on: April 30, 2013, 02:58:28 PM »
I recall a comment on a finance blog to the effect of "you know the best way to help the poor?  By not becoming one."  The statement, on its face, seems brash.  But I think the point was that if those with the means take care of themselves first, they are in a much better position to help anyone else who needs it.  I think that we have turned terms like greed and selfishness into pure black and white issues.  If you show any shred of selfishness or greed, then you cannot possibly be unselfish.  Selfishness and unselfishness are seen as very clear qualities that reflect what type of person we are.  Few people want to be described as "selfish" but most people would be flattered to be called "unselfish."

I think that its in our nature to be both, to varying degrees.  We seek out experiences that we will enjoy.  We are sympathetic and empathetic towards others.  We may occasionally put our own interests above those of another, and we may occasionally do the opposite.  Putting your time, efforts, and money towards bettering yourself may be selfish in the short term, but may allow you to be much more generous over the long term.

Offline Nam

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #4 on: April 30, 2013, 03:19:45 PM »
"If there weren't any rich people there wouldn't be any poor people." -- it's a metaphor.

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Offline bertatberts

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2013, 05:02:37 PM »
We theists have no evidence for our beliefs. So no amount of rational evidence will dissuade us from those beliefs. - JCisall

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Offline Astreja

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #6 on: April 30, 2013, 06:40:26 PM »
This seemed appropriate

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RyvYSV41t8

Very appropriate -- Life's too short to spend it doing things you don't want to do.

Ironically, today (April 30) is the Canadian tax-filing deadline.  If you go out to a restaurant tonight, you may notice one or more small clusters of visibly frazzled men and women -- Accountants and staff, trying to wind down after getting the last few client tax returns printed, signed and delivered to the Canada Revenue Agency.  I used to work for an accounting firm, so I was one of those people.  It was all too easy to get caught up in a sense of being needed by the clients, hopping from crisis to crisis and sacrificing evenings and weekends, all the while ignoring the fact that the person who needed you the most was you.  Acknowledging that, and resolving to fix the situation through whatever means necessary, was a life-changing experience.

...But I think the point was that if those with the means take care of themselves first, they are in a much better position to help anyone else who needs it...

...Putting your time, efforts, and money towards bettering yourself may be selfish in the short term, but may allow you to be much more generous over the long term.

Or to put it another way, "A lifeguard should know how to swim."



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Offline Hierophant

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #7 on: April 30, 2013, 07:00:14 PM »
I'm afraid I'll have to be the contrarian yet again, because I see nothing good in greed. Money is a social construct used mainly to get people to shut up and play along with the system. I see little that's meritorious in embracing this "shut up and play" philosophy voluntarily instead of coercively.

Quote
I think greed and selfishness get a bad rap because of a scarcity mentality -- The idea that somehow there isn't enough to go around, rather than lots for everyone.

Well, I don't believe in scarcity either, but I do think you're right to a certain extent on that. On things that are plentiful, like sunlight or air, hoarders are an annoyance but not really an issue. But insofar as money, which is kept artificially scarce, then greed should naturally arouse people's ire. If we accept the premise of money (which I do, personally, although I do think our monetary system is little more than tyrannical), why should anyone receive more than their fair share? 

I think we need to stop obsessing about money and we need to start obsessing more about the things that really matter... our free time, our well-being, our rights as human beings. Then we could cooperate in creating a society adapted to human needs, instead of greed.

Offline magicmiles

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #8 on: April 30, 2013, 07:56:04 PM »
our rights as human beings.

What are those, and how are they bestowed? And by who?

Aren't they social or human constructs just as much as money?
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Offline Hierophant

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #9 on: April 30, 2013, 08:02:41 PM »
Quote
What are those,
Principles of ethics which pertain to the circumstances in which coercion may be used (in order to defend ourselves from something or to gain access to something).

Quote
and how are they bestowed? And by who?
By the people who want them, either by protest or violence. No power elite gives away rights to its people willingly.

Quote
Aren't they social or human constructs just as much as money?
No, they are the result of intuitions, which are part of human nature.

I find it interesting that this is the part of my post you objected to, a side point, instead of the gist of what I said... Your reply was totally off-topic. Very rude to Astreja, if you ask me...

Offline Astreja

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #10 on: April 30, 2013, 08:07:52 PM »
Following up on Hierophant's comments about the artificial scarcity of money, I'd like to put forth the observation that the link has been broken between money and the labour value that it supposedly represents.  Two people can work with equal effort for an equal amount of time, and yet not receive equal compensation.

How do we fix this?  Can it be fixed?
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Offline Hierophant

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #11 on: April 30, 2013, 08:26:14 PM »
I like time-based currencies, based on the man-hour. Josiah Warren was successful in establishing time stores, which were entirely based on a time-based currency.

The basic idea is sound- the more you lend your time to society, the more you get... one hour is one hour is one hour. Although I do think people should also be compensated for their education, health care, and so on... either by making them free or by including their costs under people's wages.

Offline magicmiles

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #12 on: April 30, 2013, 08:41:11 PM »

I find it interesting that this is the part of my post you objected to, a side point, instead of the gist of what I said... Your reply was totally off-topic. Very rude to Astreja, if you ask me...

Was not totally off-topic, and why do you describe my questions as objections instead of, oh, I don't know...questions?

And unlike you, Astreja knows me well enough to recognise if I am being rude.
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Offline Hierophant

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #13 on: April 30, 2013, 08:45:42 PM »
I am not making any personal statement, merely noting that your response was off-topic, no need to be miffed about it.

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #14 on: April 30, 2013, 09:36:28 PM »
One way I look at it is that you have to be selfish in order to be altruistic.

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #15 on: April 30, 2013, 09:43:01 PM »
There is a big difference between wanting to have a decent life for yourself and wanting to have an excellent life for yourself at the expense of others.

I was once doing to work for a guy who was on the Forbes list of richest people (though towards the bottom as far as billionaires go) and I was fixing some problems on one of his vacation homes. His ranch manager had arranged the repairs, so the gentleman didn't know anything about the money part of my repairs. He was visiting his 50,000 square foot home nearby (which he did two weeks out of the year) and he wandered over to see how I was doing. He had no complaints about the work I was doing but he asked me how much I was charging. I told him $35 per hour. His response:

"Jesus Christ, you guys are going to nickel and dime me to death!"

Knowing what he was worth via Forbes, I calculated that I could indeed nickle and dime him to death at my hourly rate in a mere 9,700 years, if I could keep at it 24/7 for that long (really). So what was the source of his paranoia? Methinks it was the greed we are discussing. And Astreja, your success does not compare to the failure he was as a human, even as he succeeded in business.

Methinks we need to define greed a little better before we have heated discussions on the subject.

Not everyone is entitled to their opinion. They're all entitled to mine though.

Offline magicmiles

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #16 on: April 30, 2013, 10:25:10 PM »

Methinks we need to define greed a little better before we have heated discussions on the subject.

That seems sensible.
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Offline Hierophant

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #17 on: April 30, 2013, 10:29:03 PM »
ParkingPlaces, I'm fine with that. The issue, as you seem to describe it, is more about equal share versus hoarding. Because to me that is all that such people do, they unfairly hoard possessions and economic power, and waste resources that should be going towards rising the level of water, and by doing so, lifting all boats equally...

Right-wingers claim that they are responsible for their own wealth, when in fact they earned it on the backs of other people, as well as on the backs of all taxpayers, because the infrastructure benefits them more than it does other people.
« Last Edit: April 30, 2013, 10:31:01 PM by Hierophant »

Offline Astreja

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #18 on: April 30, 2013, 10:30:12 PM »
So what was the source of his paranoia? Methinks it was the greed we are discussing... Methinks we need to define greed a little better before we have heated discussions on the subject.

Based on your story, PP, I'm starting to think that there's an element of fear inherent in greed.  Some people make a few thousand dollars a year and are happy because they have more than enough for their needs.  Others have millions and are afraid to spend a cent of it lest their net worth go down instead of up.  (That ties in with Hierophant's "hoarding" qualifier, too.)

As for definitions, we do need to narrow things down a bit so that we can define the actual problem.  Not all material wealth is greed.  Not all greed concerns dollars and cents.  And unfortunately, as in the "Belief in God" thread, greed sometimes gets paired up with "minimalism"as its polar opposite.  One can have nice things without being greedy or exploitative about it, and one can be the undisputed king of the Über-Simplicity Minimalist Zen Spartan lifestyle and be a total rat-bastard.



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Offline screwtape

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #19 on: May 01, 2013, 08:30:35 AM »
"Jesus Christ, you guys are going to nickel and dime me to death!"

You should have stabbed him in the neck with whatever was handy.
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Offline Truth OT

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #20 on: May 01, 2013, 09:21:38 AM »
I'm afraid I'll have to be the contrarian yet again, because I see nothing good in greed. Money is a social construct used mainly to get people to shut up and play along with the system. I see little that's meritorious in embracing this "shut up and play" philosophy voluntarily instead of coercively.
 
...............

I think we need to stop obsessing about money and we need to start obsessing more about the things that really matter... our free time, our well-being, our rights as human beings. Then we could cooperate in creating a society adapted to human needs, instead of greed.

In many ways I agree with Gordon Gecko, Greed is good. It gets a bad rap, but if we are honest and open minded about reality, we must admit that greed is but one of the tools used to make an individual's self interests and a societies lofty aspirations become realities.

The whole money is the root of all evil mentality is a farce in my opinion. Money has been painted as somehow being a tool of evil when in fact it is simply a means of allowing trade. The more of it one has, the more trading one can do, the more freedom one has, the more one can invest in bettering their health, etc. When a society or nation has a lot of it we tend to see that even the poor among that society's number lives substantially better than the poor in societies that have little money. Money is but a means to one's desired ends.

We tend to obsess about that which helps get us to where we want to be, so it's quite natural that many folks obsess about money. Greed is but a way of people expressing the desire to have more of what brings them happiness and oftentimes the pursuit of this 'more' benefits others.
« Last Edit: May 01, 2013, 09:31:02 AM by Truth OT »

Offline Hierophant

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #21 on: May 01, 2013, 05:28:33 PM »
Well, as I said in the morality thread, I don't believe that self-interest has much to do with ethics. I think people who believe in self-interest as a code of ethics are simply mistaken. So any goals determined by self-interest are simply irrelevant.

Money is not a means of "allowing" trade, it's a means of "controlling" trade through a centralized money supply and central banks. Very different. There was trade millenia before the invention of money, and economies are on the whole healthier when they don't rely on monetary central planning.
« Last Edit: May 01, 2013, 05:30:32 PM by Hierophant »

Offline Astreja

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #22 on: May 01, 2013, 10:40:55 PM »
Thought I'd throw this into the mix:

Tonight on My way home I caught the tail end of Ideas, a show on CBC Radio.  They're doing a discussion on morality and social obligation, with another episode due next Wednesday night:  My Brother's - And My Sister's - Keeper.
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Offline Irish

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #23 on: May 01, 2013, 11:01:05 PM »
I'll chime in and voice my support for greed and selfishness.  I believe they are two words that have been taken down by society and made out to be "bad" words.  In a similar manner altruism has been lifted up into this god-like quality we're all supposed to strive for.  In all simplicity I'm an egoist. 

Greed and selfishness have so far got me a college degree and a spot in a professional school for my dream career simply because I want it for myself and not because I want it for someone else or someone wants it for me.  Greed makes me want to strive harder, farther, and longer simply because I want nice things for myself.  If people were honest with their self, greed would not be the demonized word it has become.
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Offline dloubet

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #24 on: May 02, 2013, 01:05:22 AM »
Self Interest is awesome! You just have to know what's in your best interest.
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Offline Hierophant

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #25 on: May 02, 2013, 01:51:53 AM »
Greed and selfishness have so far got me a college degree and a spot in a professional school for my dream career simply because I want it for myself and not because I want it for someone else or someone wants it for me.

No, you got them because of long-term planning. People who only think of themselves, like sociopaths, usually don't care about any sort of long-term planning, unless they are weakly sociopathic. Long-term planning is what's important, and the necessities of long-term planning lead to the necessity of ethics- treating other people well in order to prevent conflicts- which is altruism, not selfishness.

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #26 on: May 02, 2013, 05:54:08 AM »
The thing is, at every stage you have to weigh the short term against the long.

Example: my long-term plan might involve getting a degree.  In the UK, that's around £30,000 just for the tuition.  Before I start the course, I need to justify to myself why it is better to spend that 30k on me, than to give it to a homeless charity (for example).  How can I value their needs for food and shelter over me having a degree in 3 years time?  Opting for the degree is greedy and selfish, surely?

And yet.....if I had the degree, I could earn more, and - over time - be able to give MORE to the homeless than that £30k.  Probably - if I had a degree - I could afford to give more than £750 a year extra to charity over the rest of my life, which would just balance the £30k.  But unless I'm going to give significantly more than that, isn't it better to give them all the money right now?  The homeless guy today probably won't thank me for refusing him a bed today with the promise of probably a bed in 4 years time.
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Offline junebug72

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #27 on: May 02, 2013, 06:13:23 AM »
I wonder if the greed of the many multi millionaire preachers counts?

It counts a lot.
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Offline Hierophant

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Re: In Praise of Greed
« Reply #28 on: May 02, 2013, 06:19:49 AM »
Opting for a degree instead of giving all your money to a homeless person is not selfish. In order to help others, you must be in a state of being able to help. If you are looking at this purely from a charity standpoint, having a degree will enable you to give far more money to charity in the long-term than giving away all your money now. Therefore, if you associate altruism with charity (which is incorrect, but I'm assuming that was the gist of your comment), the altruistic thing to do would be to get the degree.

Personally, I am not particularly interested in the "egoism v altruism" debate, because I think they are oversimplifications and obfuscations. The real issue is what ethical principles we should adopt, and why. Self-interest and selfishness are not ethical principle, therefore they are not even under the purview of such a debate at all. Making the debate "egoism v altruism" is just a way to slip self-interest under the radar, when it doesn't even belong there. Altruism is also far too vague a term to deserve much attention, I think.

To me the issue is whether greed is virtuous. My answer is no, for reasons already mentioned. The fact that greed is not always selfish does not change that.
« Last Edit: May 02, 2013, 06:22:08 AM by Hierophant »