The sin of greed has gotten a lot of attention lately. It is a timeless vice, even making an appearance on Pope Gregory I’s list of the Seven Deadly Sins back in 590 AD, but has most recently cropped up during the outcry over bonuses given to employees of companies who received taxpayer dollars. Excoriating AIG executives and employees for greediness became something of a universal pastime for members of Congress. Many have contended that unchecked greed was the sole cause for the current financial meltdown. Using the current economic context as an example and arguing that capitalism cannot survive the greediness of men, many liberals are pushing for a socialist model with more government expansion and control, ostensibly to curtail private sector excesses. Current circumstances would seem to be working in their favor – and they are not the types to let a good crisis go to waste.
But contrary to this assertion, greed is not a destroyer of capitalism. Excessive greed undermines capitalism (as it does all economic systems), but in reality capitalism is the economic structure best able to deal with the ever-present factor of human greed. Capitalism effectively harnesses greed, compelling individuals to strive harder by rewarding them proportionately to their efforts.
Socialism, on the other hand, cannot be sustained precisely because of greed. Under socialism there is little advantage to advancing oneself and a lack of motivation to work harder than the minimum requirement. If government is big enough to take care of all your wants and needs, why should you work hard or diligently? Why even work at all? This is a recipe for economic stagnation and eventual collapse. It is ironic that proponents invoke greed as grounds to pursue socialism, tantamount to advancing lung cancer as a reason to take up smoking. Socialism cannot survive with greed, capitalism cannot live without a bit of it.
Central to this viewpoint is the understanding that desires are not always a bad thing. Excessive greed is always bad, but the ingrained quest for personal gain is sometimes necessary. Desiring to earn good wages to support a family and prepare for the days ahead is certainly justifiable. Just as a healthy sexual desire is a benefit in marriage and a sense of self-interest is important to maintaining personal health, the desire to provide for the monetary needs of oneself and loved ones is a good thing. It is when sinful human hijack these God-given desires that problems develop, such as excessive greediness, selfishness and craving sex outside of marriage.
Since the desire for financial gain will always exist in the hearts of men, capitalism is the most sensible economic system. Even as our leaders vilify the greed of this age, it is important to remember that greed will always be with us, and the desire to succeed is not a bad thing. Taken out of proportion, such longing can be dangerous and destructive. But in balance, such desires can be used in healthy and productive ways. Our Founding Fathers understood this, and so established our economic system of capitalism. Moving away from that system betrays an ignorance of basic human instinct, and does not bode well for the future prosperity of our nation.