Recently, I developed a perception of how many Americans, particularly right-wing Americans, look at greed. Just last night I had my perception confirmed. I think it’s simple and pretty obvious, but we have to make these things clear if we’re ever going to deal with them.
I read an article in the New York Times about some multi-millionaire hedge fund manager who has been on a buying binge. New houses, a painting by Picasso, etc. I and a bunch of others saw him as being an example of the grotesque excess that characterizes those with obscene amounts of wealth today. One person suggested in a comment on the article that it would be a good thing to be able to confiscate some of that wealth. A reader responded to that, saying:
“By what right would you or anyone confiscate the property of another? And how would you decide what is ‘excess’?”
I felt like responding to the response and, in a slightly prickly mood, I wrote:
“In a sane world excess is taking more than you need to live a decent life. Let’s amend the constitution if need be.”
This motivated yet another reader to respond to me:
“Mark, your ‘sane world,’ where those who work to earn are ‘takers,’ must be one heck of a horror show.”
My response, which I’m making only here, is that we are already living in a horror show. And it’s largely because of those “earners.” This is right at the heart of my perception. They say it’s not greed if you’ve earned it. But greed is, precisely, working to obtain great wealth. Morally, no one is entitled to go after as much as they can “earn.” “Earn” is a self-deceptive term here. If you insert the word “get,” the meaning changes. And it’s more honest. You cannot earn a billion dollars. Invariably, someone will ask, “So, how much do you think one should morally be able to earn?” I think enough to make a living, but not a killing.