Posts Tagged ‘Greed’

The Lie of Supply and Demand

December 16, 2015

Every time I get involved in some kind of conversation or debate over economic justice, there’s always some guy who will jump in to invoke the “Law of Supply and Demand.” Invariably, he steps back then to see if any of us are dumb enough to continue. It’s a law, man, a settled issue, something that only an idiot would challenge. But supply and demand is not a law. A law is something that absolutely must happen. But no one has any obligation to follow this supposed law in any transaction they control. If I have the only loaf of bread and I’m surrounded by hungry people, I can give the bread away if I so choose. Supply and demand is a syndrome—a philosophical justification for greed. One of the assumptions behind supply and demand is that people naturally want to get as much as they can and will play every angle they can in order to get it. A further assumption is, that’s okay. The only law involved then is the Law of the Jungle. But it’s not okay. Greed is killing us. It’s been sanctioned for a long time and the ill-effects are mounting. Climate change is one of them. Another is the cost of housing. We have to change our approach to how we exist and survive. We don’t need so much stuff. We’re heading for the cliff, and the cliff isn’t that far away now. If we don’t stop soon, we’re going over it.


My Mixed Response

October 15, 2013

I have a mixed response to the debacle going on in Washington D. C. right now. On the one hand, I don’t think the Tea Party should be given anything whatsoever. They need to be utterly broken—by which I mean exposed. Their illogic has to be exposed and dispensed with. They aren’t right about anything, and it shouldn’t be hard for an adult to get that across to the people. When they say they believe in freedom, what they’re really standing up for is a brutal Darwinian existence where the biggest, most ruthless egotists get to take whatever they can get their hands on. And they don’t really favor small government per se. What they seek is the abolition of all protections for the weak. But also an enormous military and intelligence apparatus to maintain power. They are constantly calling for increased military spending—every single budget, which is insane. But we have rules against speaking these particular truths in this country, so what should happen, won’t. Obama is not going to take the Tea Party on once and for all. We’re going to have these “budget” issues as a continuing problem well into the future.

Which brings me to the reason for my mixed response. I believe that if you look to the longterm—the real longterm, not a polite fiction—it doesn’t matter much who wins this fight. What we’re really witnessing is the ongoing collapse of an empire. All empires collapse and ours is in the process of collapse—right now. Our rise was steep and fast, and our fall will be the same. I tend to see it starting with the war in Vietnam. I don’t think we’re good at being imperialists. We’ve always claimed to have ideals, to be a bright shining light, and being an empire is in conflict with our supposed idealism. So the national mindset ends up being a big fantasy. What a perfect representation of that fantasy mind was Ronald Reagan! He glorified greed as a virtue. But greed always undermines those who practice it. That’s as much a universal law as thermodynamics. Our downfall will be our gross materialism and the militarism required to maintain it. I do see hope for the future. But our only hope is to regain our status as a republic. Only when the empire has given way will we have the opportunity to assume the goodwill, calm, and simple contentment that will enable us to begin to create a way of life that makes sense, where wisdom and love have meaning again. There are things we can be doing now, but I tend to think that the great work cannot commence until the monster has given up the ghost.

Defining Greed

March 28, 2013

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.

The Land of Unlimited Opportunity

August 29, 2012

I’m currently reading a book called Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power by Seth RosenfeldIt’s a very good book, an interesting book; but the subject of this post is not the book itself. The subject is an elaboration on something that I read within it, something that deals with a subject I’ve been meaning for some time now to dwell on: money.

The author of Subversives quotes Reagan’s autobiography, Where’s the Rest of Me?, as saying that growing up in Dixon, Illinois had taught Reagan that “America was a place that offered unlimited opportunity to those who did hard work.” This is, of course, a  commonly held sentiment in the United States. For most people, not to believe in this idea makes you some kind of a Socialist or a bum. Probably both. What’s to argue with? Hard work is a good thing. Unlimited opportunity is a good thing. Well, I have plenty of arguments, and on several levels. But here, I’m going to tackle it from just one level because it’s an idea that is seldom raised.

What did Reagan mean by “unlimited opportunity?” I think he meant to make as much money as you can. The sky’s the limit! Opportunity can mean other things—the opportunity to be in a position of power, the opportunity to be famous—but I think most people understand it to mean getting rich. (Let it be said: all three qualities—power, fame, and wealth—are negatives.) Working hard to obtain unlimited opportunity is really just putting a nice shine on greed. People say, “It’s not greed if you earned it.” But making an effort to obtain more stuff than you need is the definition of greed.

My fundamental opposition is the assumption that we should spend all our lives working hard to obtain “stuff.” That’s not what life is about. A certain amount of labor is necessary, of course. The Buddhists have a term I like: Right Livelihood. It means that the work you do for your survival should be seamless with your inner life and contribute to the healthy maintenance of the world around you. But it is, of course, very difficult to find that kind of work nowadays. Society is structured to keep us working at essentially meaningless jobs that benefit only the powerful. A lot of these jobs, if not most, are destructive to the general well-being.

So, if life is not about making money, what’s it about? I believe it’s about the development of the inner self, the solving of the riddles of Life. Most Americans are uncomfortable with this idea. They consider it foreign or New Agey. But, it’s not. It’s in our bones—which is to say, it’s universal and it’s ancient. It’s what Buddha and Lao Tzu and Jesus and all the other true sages taught. (What distinguishes New Age “philosophies” from what’s true is the level of work. Most New Age stuff is about getting relaxed, taking it easy, whereas the real stuff is hard work.) A lot of people believe we can never really understand life—except through science maybe. But the older I get, the more I believe that this kind of understanding—a spiritual understanding, I mean—is possible. To attain it has to be the most rewarding and fulfilling thing one can do. It offers so much relief—relief from the nagging, painful puzzles that constantly wear us down. But the only way we can achieve this kind of understanding is by getting rid of the idea that having lots of money is a good thing. That’s going to be hard to do; but at some point, this way of life will go. It’s become so debilitating that it will collapse of its own accord. It’s harmful even to the rich. (No one really gains anything from being rich. And the rich man is never prepared to die. He finds the moment of death utterly terrifying.)

I know this will sound extreme to some people. But I also know that a lot of people who read me have similar views. The questions are always the same, though: What do we do about it? How do we change this system? And if we can change it, what do we replace it with? I hope to write about my own take on some of these questions in the not-too-distant future.