Friday, May 29, 2009

Enough already with greed!

A short rant.

I think the adjective, greedy, and its related noun, greed, should forthwith be banned from all discussions of the economic and financial crisis.

It is a pejorative term for a universal force (people trying to do as well as they can for themselves), sort of like calling gravity a depressant. Okay, that is a bad metaphor, but I can't think of a better one.

I'm not ranting because I feel sorry for bankers who keep getting called names (I'm not, and I think that their toys should be taken away), but because talking about greed inevitably derails constructive conversation. Its like calling nations an axis of evil: once you have labeled someone as evil, you can no longer have a constructive conversation with them. It is appropriate in some contexts (i.e. serial killers are evil) but that means that you have only two options remaining: life in prison or execution. It is silly to do that with an entire country, and it is similarly silly to blame someone's greed for any problems. What do I mean by that? Maybe a better example is to say that if your answer to social problems is abstinence-only sex ed, you are building a policy edifice on a foundation that denies basic humanity. If your policy is directed at humans, it is bound to fail.

Let's think instead about institutions that are good at harnessing "greed" to productive ends, and robust against its excesses. Let's acknowledge the humanity of everyone involved (not just the executives but the watchdogs too) and try to the best of our ability to give them an environment where their own desires can be met by meeting society's desires.

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