Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Nature of Greed

Teldar Paper, Mr. Cromwell, Teldar Paper has 33 different vice presidents each earning over 200 thousand dollars a year. Now, I have spent the last two months analyzing what all these guys do, and I still can't figure it out. One thing I do know is that our paper company lost 110 million dollars last year, and I'll bet that half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents. The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated. In the last seven deals that I've been involved with, there were 2.5 million stockholders who have made a pretax profit of 12 billion dollars. Thank you. I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.
Gordon Gekko, Wall Street (1987 Film)

Individual action is a wonderful thing. It has propelled humankind to living standards our ancestors could once only dream of. In countries that have generally allowed freedom for its citizens, we no longer know the meaning of hunger. We all own a plethora of entertainment devices, films, music, information all at the touch of a button. Travel once the pastime of the rich has now filtered to all sections of society, with foreign culture and holidays never being so accessible. A supposed common flaw of allowing individuals free reign of their lives is the character flaw of greed. Greed is mistakenly interchanged with con men, or criminal behaviour. Greed in its true definition is nothing to be ashamed of, nor something we should seek to avoid. We are all motivated by greed in some form or the other.

There is a popular phrase "Its always the next guy that is Greedy". Greed is always directed at other factions of society. The Bankers are Greedy, but not the Unions. Entrepreneurs are greedy, but not the workers. The traffic is bi-directional where Bankers may believe Unions to be greedy by raising their wages above market prices. Entrepreneurs probably think some workers are greedy as they pick up their pay-check giving sub-standard work. Greed exists in all of us. We all want better living conditions. We all want better for our children. I'm sure many in povery stricken nations could conclude that all of us who live in calorie surplus nations are greedy "They throw millions of tons of food away every year while we starve".

To believe otherwise, is to exclude yourself as a biological entity. Capitalism is falsely credited with creating greed, yet greed has existed throughout time long before humans existed. All biological life works on greed, the need to feed oneself, the need to prosper and to ensure your children prosper. Greed is a natural character trait that enables survival.

Greed is commonly misrepresented under the banner of fraud. For example landlords are usually commonly associated as greedly people ready to exploit tenants. I was a tenant for around eight years and had numerous landlords so I can speak from personal experience of the common misconceptions of greed. I had landlords who owned property empires, vast estates worth millions. Many people commonly associate this with a bad kind of greed "How much money does one person need?" (I'm sure poverty stricken nations look at pictures of our supermarkets and conclude "How much food do people need?"). However on the face of it all they were doing was offering a service, I would pay for use of a dwelling on a temporary basis. In exchange I had no maintenance responsibility of the property, could move quickly if I wished and needed little money to put down to live there.

The confusion comes over a landlord offering a service, in a mutual agreement between two parties and when issues arise. On two occasions I have had the classical sense of greedy landlords, ie landlords who step outside of the law to obtain more than what they are entitled too. Both disputes were on deposits and in both cases I obtained the full amount as the legal system amended this attempt at fraud.

You will always have individuals who try and go against the law and break contracts of agreement, but this is why the law exists, to uphold against such criminal activities. Gordon Gekko, the fictional character in the eighties film Wall Street, was quoted regarding greed however the character he portrays is not one of greed but he is ultimately a criminal. He broke these mutual laws and thus faced jail. It wouldn't matter which social economic system you lived in, Socialism, Fascism, free markets, such characters always exist as humans are imperfect. Limited powers and liberty limit such abuses.

A segment of society who are associated as greedy are bankers. With incomes many multiples above the majority its easy to play the 'greed' card and instigate envy within society. Unions are held up as the antithesis of greed, when in reality they are more self absorbed then the bankers they attack. Arthur Scargill is a classic example of a Union leader, militant, hard left but known most of all for getting workers what they wanted - higher pay. Scargill didn't care how this may impact other members of society so long as he got as much as he could for his members "If you don't ask, you don't get", in what could easily be passed as yuppie language. Negotiating inflation pay busting deals paid for by the taxpayer, while the public periodically went into darkness. Those were the costs.

A free market solves such disagreements. If there wasn't a state monopoly  various Coal mines would have been owned by different companies. If an employee was genuinely getting paid too low, then they could up sticks and work for the competitor. If they could get no higher wage then they would know they had a market rate for their labour. If they desired higher pay then they would need to retrain and enter a new employment field. This is how the process should work, not how the Union and Scargill acted.

Ironically many believed Scargill to be propelling miners living conditions upward when in fact he put them all out of a job in the long run. As it transpired coal could be mined elsewhere for less, as state mismanagement along with unproductive unions destroyed UK coal mining. It wasn't Thatcher but Scargill and others who destroyed the industry. Strikes had forced the Government to look elsewhere for a reliable supply so the majority of society would not have the lights turned out while the workforce had become uncompetitive. Scargill illustrates no difference to a banker, "Everyone is out for as much as they can".

The irony behind the quotation given at the start is the very fact that it was meant to illustrate the wrong doing's of Capitalism when in reality it shows how people, under their own free will, can increase their well being by always wanting more, by wanting to go that extra mile, to enhance and improve the way we live. Whether it is material possessions, knowledge or fame greed exists within all of us. To think otherwise is to deny oneself from being human.

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