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Greed is Good

So says John Stossel. And he's right.

"Who's John Stossel?"


That was Virgil Rosanke's reaction when "20/20" interviewed him for one of my TV specials. Without Rosanke and others like him, I couldn't have a steak dinner tonight, but I and most of the people he makes dinners possible for are unknown to him. He makes our dinners possible anyway.

Is Virgil Rosanke a philanthropist? No. Is he a government worker? Not that either. He's just a guy who delivers propane to heat water for cattle to drink. Why does he do it? To make money.

If pursuing profit is greed, economist Walter Williams told me, then greed is good, because it drives us to do many good things. "Those areas where people are motivated the most by greed are the areas that we're the most satisfied with: supermarkets, computers, FedEx." By contrast, areas "where people say we're motivated by 'caring'" -- public education, public housing etc. -- "are the areas of disaster in our country. . . How much would get done," Williams wondered, "if it all depended on human love and kindness?"

I recommend reading the rest of this article. John makes so many great points on the virtues of the free market that it should be required reading in college economics classes.


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Comments (17)

"Greed is Good"Say... (Below threshold)
jp2:

"Greed is Good"

Says a lot about your values here at Wizbang.

Did you read the article? ... (Below threshold)
bnorm:

Did you read the article? Take it in context.

That's right jp2. ... (Below threshold)
Lurking Observer:

That's right jp2.

Imagine if you had a government that was founded on the idea that people were a bunch of a**holes, who were probably going to be in it for themselves, were probably going to form temporary coalitions for temporary advantage, and probably would try to pull a fast one on each other.

The kind of government designed with such people in mind probably wouldn't work very well, wouldn't be very efficient, b/c it would constantly be assuming that its members were a**holes trying to pull fast ones on each other. Call it "keeping the mob down."

Imagine, instead a government that believed in the best in people. That leaders would consult the people, would give them what they want, like food, land, peace. That it would seek to minimize disparities and inequalities.

The first system, of course, produced the current American government. Checks and balances, rooted in the belief that people would seek to use their branch, be it judicial, executive, or legislative, to amass greater power. A federalist system, so that the states could check the central government. And a system that frankly doesn't work very efficiently, in part b/c it wanted to put a check on the "mob."

The second system? French Revolution, Russian Revolution, Chinese Revolution. Replete with mass body counts, as the "good" people slaughter the "bad people" (royalists, kulaks, intelligentsia).

And yet, jp2, you continue ... (Below threshold)

And yet, jp2, you continue to both read and comment here.

Says a lot about your value... (Below threshold)
John Kerry:

Says a lot about your values here at Wizbang.

Thank,s for the compliment jp2.

Hmmm.Marxism is ba... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

Marxism is based on greed being the ultimate evil.

Leninism as well.

So .... How's the USSR doing these days? East Germany? How well was China doing before they embraced greed?

You know what's really amusing? Thirty years ago the average Chinese soldier had an SKS and 50 rounds of ammunition for it, and that's it. The average American soldier goes into battle with thousands of rounds of ammunition both carried and expended on his behalf. But the average Chinese soldier, at that time prior to capitalism, had 50 rounds of ammunition and pretty much nothing else.

Nothing accept a miniature ... (Below threshold)
CurlyLarryMoe:

Nothing accept a miniature budha statuette.."

I'm not sure that marxism i... (Below threshold)

I'm not sure that marxism is based on greed as the ultimate evil... it seems more based on the idea that people can easily overcome greed for a higher purpose.

It doesn't work, of course, and ever more oppressive controls are needed to make sure that everyone does their part... which is why communism tends to be coupled with totalitarianism when it really wouldn't have to be except for the fact that it can't afford to have anyone off doing their own thing, it needs *everyone* on board for the collective effort.

Capitalism, OTOH, doesn't necessarily glorify greed but understands that human nature is what it is and it's best to find a way to work *with* it. It doesn't require an anarchy of no laws and no controls and if you can take something it means that it's yours (the opposite of a totalitarian state) but it understands that people will work when they are allowed to keep what they earn and they will be creative when that creativity improves their own life and the life of their family. Innovation, industriousness, being rewarded (more often than not) for working harder... people will do it to enrich themselves.

Working to enrich your neighbor only works as long as you believe that he's working every bit as hard as you are but quickly devolves into a contest to try not to accidentally do more than the next person. (And anyone who has watched kids doing chores together has seen this in action... one sits down and they all quit, pronto.)

Of course greed is good. B... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Of course greed is good. But this paraphrase of Gordon Gecko's greed speech from Wall Street doesn't tell the whole story, even though it hints at it at the end:

Does anything get done based on "human love and kindness"? Well, a nonprofit group called City Harvest collects donations of restaurants' surplus food for the poor. But where does that food come from? Greedy people like Virgil Rosanke produce it, and greedy restaurateurs buy it. Kindness can only give away the goods self-love provides.

And there is the point. Greed only goes so far, and it is far from the only virtue. Capitalism has shown itself to be infinitely more beneficial to the masses than communism, to be sure, but it often fails to benefit those who are unable to care for themselves for whatever reason (and those reasons are many). Without greed charities, churches, and our government would have no resources to run, but without those institutions where would we be? Without "love and kindness" to complement greed, what would society look like? Think slavery, feudalism, and massive, widespread violence.

How about greed and kindness are good?

I really like John Stossel,... (Below threshold)

I really like John Stossel, and the point of his article is a good one, but I think his use of the word "greed" is incorrect. Greed does not mean "desire for profit" or "motivation to make money." Greed is defined as "an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves." Working 18 hour days to make a farm commercially successful is not greed -- it is good ole fashioned hard work. If they were greedy, they'd be trying to pass off their corn-fed steer as Kobe beef in the Toronto meat market.

That was a great column, he... (Below threshold)

That was a great column, he's dead-on. I blogged about it too.

http://amateureconblog.blogspot.com/

This is one of the issues I... (Below threshold)
docjim505:

This is one of the issues I try to discuss with my niece in an attempt to counter the hippie-lefty-feel-good pablum she gets in grammar school. In her as-yet unsophisticated mind, "greed" and "profit motive" are identical. Many lefties cannot make the distinction, either.

Greed is "good" in that it provides a motivation for people to work, to start businesses, to invent new goods / services, and to hire other people to perform labor for them.

We are taught that Scrooge, who has become the personification of greed in our culture, was "bad". No question that he was a thoroughly unpleasant individual. However, what we don't see from Dickens' morality play is the fact that, through Scrooge's greed, food was brought into London. It might not have been brought in at prices that others thought "right", but obviously SOMEBODY was satisfied with Scrooge's prices; otherwise, he would have been a bankrupt. I'm not going to try to argue that Scrooge was a benefactor of the race, but there is no doubt but that, through his business, people had bread on their tables. Without him and others like him, what impulse would there be for farmers a hundred or a thousand miles away to grow excess grain? Or for railways and shipping companies to move it to London?

We rightfully decry the "robber barons" of the late 19th century, but America became a world economic power due in no small part to their "greed". Why would Andrew Carnegie put any effort into building steel plants if he wasn't getting something out of it? Why would Rockefeller invest in new ways to refine oil if he wasn't getting filthy rich in the bargain?

As a result of "greed", people have an excess of money, food, clothing, etc. They can afford to indulge their morality by giving to charity.

John is coming to the Kansa... (Below threshold)
Rick13:

John is coming to the Kansas City area next month. I am planning on being there. Here is the information:

http://shop.entercomkc.com/tek9.asp?pg=products&specific=jnnndml0

Thank you Lurking Observer,... (Below threshold)

Thank you Lurking Observer, that was very helpful and instructive. Too bad jp2 is ideologically incapable of learning from it.

Enlightened self-interest i... (Below threshold)

Enlightened self-interest is good, especially if it is pursued within the law and within a framework of morality that has been worked out over, say, about 2,000 years.

Greed, if I'm not mistaken, was addressed in the 10th Commandment.

And Gordon Gecko was a fictional character whose words were written by someone not altogether a fan of enlightemed self-interest. So of course the writer renamed it "greed."

Conservatives want a free m... (Below threshold)

Conservatives want a free market to earn their own livings in and want to keep as much of what they earn as possible. Liberals want a controlled market to prevent anyone from making more than they think is their fair share and demand a share of the earnings of others. Which one sounds greedy to you?

Hmmm.This... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

This is one of the issues I try to discuss with my niece in an attempt to counter the hippie-lefty-feel-good pablum she gets in grammar school. In her as-yet unsophisticated mind, "greed" and "profit motive" are identical. Many lefties cannot make the distinction, either.

I had this exact same discussion with a nephew of mine, and for the same reasons.

The example I used was him cleaning his bedroom everyday.

Capitalism: I pay him $1 a day for him to clean his room.

Socialism: I pay him nothing and still expect him to clean his room.

He caught on pretty quickly.




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