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What is greed?

 
 
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 12:23 pm
I think most people tend to use the word "greed" to merely mean someone who has amassed wealth that they consider to be too much. I think that if you ask them to define it they will define it differently (they will certainly not be likely to tell you that their definition is so arbitrary) but that in their actual use of the word they tend to view the same levels of ambition, self-interest and the pursuit of individual happiness to be greedy in one who is "filthy" rich and not greedy in someone who has all the same motivations but is not as successful in realizing them.

I don't think the concept is very valuable, because it seems that we value the ambition, drive and desire to amass wealth in people when they don't have wealth and then resent them for it when they do.

It seems to me that society wants both the rags to riches stories as well as to be able to take them back down once they get there.

So how do you define greed? What makes someone greedy to you, as opposed to the healthy self-interest others operate with in the capitalist system.
 
sozobe
 
  2  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 12:51 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Quote:
I think that if you ask them to define it they will define it differently (they will certainly not be likely to tell you that their definition is so arbitrary) but that in their actual use of the word they tend to view the same levels of ambition, self-interest and the pursuit of individual happiness to be greedy in one who is "filthy" rich and not greedy in someone who has all the same motivations but is not as successful in realizing them.


Yes. I agree with this. I know very few people who just plain don't want more money than they currently have.

It turns to greed I think when someone has much more than enough but doesn't do anything with the extra. I get how the extra can be easily folded into ones' lifestyle -- extra when you have a modest house and two Camrys is not extra when you have five houses and a fleet of antique cars and a yacht or three and travel extensively. But when someone has that much and isn't willing to "give back" in any way but the bare minimum (taxes) -- and further, tries to beat the bare minimum via creative accounting and offshore bank accounts -- that gets into greedy territory IMO.

I think greed is also a manner of doing things. As in, someone can reach a net worth of say 5 million dollars greedily or not. The greedy person would likely screw over a succession of people, cheat, lie, etc., all to maximize $$ without consideration of other elements. (Of course, that person's financial future is negatively impacted by such a thing, too... that's the beauty part of capitalism.)
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 01:02 pm
I think greed is a member of the gluttony spectrum, involving accession of material goods, from money to property, instead of food items. I take greed and gluttony to be overbearing behavior outside of the norm re money or food, probably a function of inner drives that overwhelm mental control buttons.

(I made that up on the spot, don't be too hard on me)

High Seas
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 01:08 pm
@ossobuco,
LOL, I also understood this thread to be about gluttony and couldn't understand why someone tagged it "finance" Smile
Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 01:08 pm
Greed isn't having amassed wealth, it's a description of the lengths one is willing to go to in order to continue to do so - especially after they have already amassed a lot to begin with.

It's not the desire to have more money per se - as Soz says, almost everyone wants more money, it's a natural thing - but when that desire overwhelms other human concerns, and causes one to begin to make decisions that are harmful to others.

I will say that it's been my long experience that for those who the gathering of wealth is a top priority, understanding how anything else could motivate anyone else is almost impossible.

Cycloptichorn
0 Replies
 
Ragman
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 01:14 pm
@Robert Gentel,
To my somewhat-lax standards of definition greed is the 'act of making excessive amount of profits at the expense of the consumer and/or market place'. Many corporate officers demand, command and are rewarded their absurd salaries (with corporate cooperation) whether or not the company performs well. The HR heads might say in their defense that it is necessary to recruit such high level of employee.

A perfect example is the practices of the company AIG ($85 Billion Bailout) during the early stages of the financial meltdown. according to my recollection, corporate officers were still demanding and getting their stratospheric salaries and bonuses despite the conditions of the corporation business downturn and/or the plight of the stockholders/sghareholders and taxpayers.

IMHO, this was a prime example of corporate greed - total non accountability and irresponsibility -- especially when the taxpayer had to bail them out because they're deemed 'too big to fail'.
0 Replies
 
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 01:15 pm
@sozobe,
sozobe wrote:
It turns to greed I think when someone has much more than enough but doesn't do anything with the extra.


But isn't this somewhat the same problem? If a poor person saves we applaud it, if a rich person saves he's "hoarding". What if the rich person just thinks they are a great investor and wants to give it all away when they die? Their motivations must not be greed. These behaviors are again things we find healthy in people who simply are not rich.

If the rich use the money, they waste it lavishly ("flashing the cash, gaudy, wasteful") if they don't use it they hoard it senselessly. I really don't think their activities here are the key factors, just the rich part. At some point it becomes conceptually too much, and no matter what they do with it people start to view it as being wrong, unless what they do with it is to immediately start rectifying the error of their ways (of having too much money) by getting rid of it.

Quote:
But when someone has that much and isn't willing to "give back" in any way but the bare minimum (taxes) -- and further, tries to beat the bare minimum via creative accounting and offshore bank accounts -- that gets into greedy territory IMO.


Why is it ok for us not to be giving to those poorer than us then? There are people who are as poor in comparison to you as you are to the rich, but if you don't start giving your money away to them significantly (the rich give, so it's the amount that is in question) are you being greedy?

And if we, within the law, try to minimize our own tax burden is it greedy? At what point does the same activities we all engage in* suddenly become greedy?

*I am excluding cheating, tax evasion etc. Those are clearly wrong regardless of who does it.

Quote:
I think greed is also a manner of doing things. As in, someone can reach a net worth of say 5 million dollars greedily or not. The greedy person would likely screw over a succession of people, cheat, lie, etc., all to maximize $$ without consideration of other elements.


This, to me, is the only definition I find valuable. Thing is, most people simply seem to assume that anyone rich got there that way. They will call them greedy on the sole basis of the discrepancy in wealth, without having any specific act of greed in mind.
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 01:17 pm
@High Seas,
This thread is about finance, not food.
Ragman
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 01:20 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Who tagged this with obesity tag and why?
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 01:24 pm
I tagged it finance just now to bring that back, since I do take that to be the subject, though I think financial greed has behavioral relatives.
Rags, don't whine about tags, add your own.
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 01:39 pm
@High Seas,
Greed is our Original Sin (not disobedience) . And "finance" is its most destructive expression. Today we have Wall Street threatening to unintentionally cause major changes in (perhaps bring about the fall of) capitalism because it is abusing that system grossly. Unregulated capitalism is unsustainable. I like to compare capitalism to fire: both are major inventions having the power for human benefit and destruction. REGULATION!!
High Seas
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 01:47 pm
@JLNobody,
Perhaps so, but I find it fascinating that the imaging has changed so much over the years - in centuries past "financiers" were pictured more or less like this >
http://tarheelred.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/greed.jpg
> but now it's generally poor people who are fat, at least in the West. I was just wondering if "greed" attached to finance is a concept left over from older days.
Finn dAbuzz
 
  2  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 02:16 pm
@Robert Gentel,
An interesting subject.

Greed is clearly a term that is used far more often in describing someone else than oneself.

I don't think trying to define Greed in terms of how much someone actually needs is very helpful as that is entirely subjective and can result in having just about everyone in the West being described as greedy.

I also don't like introducing the manner in which one obtains wealth to the definition, as I believe you can be greedy even though you've obtained your wealth in a manner not in conflict with standard ethics.

I tend to think of the greedy as those who have an obsessive desire to possess material simply for the sake of possession.

I can amass a fortune that is well beyond my needs, and well beyond what is needed to fund my desires, but I don't believe that necessarily makes me greedy. Once my income begins to flow in as a torrent, it isn't necessarily possible to reduce the rate of flow, without shutting it down entirely. Better to deal with the excess through outflow, and most wealthy people who are not greedy do so through philanthropy.

(It has always been my goal in life to be philanthropic rather than charitable Cool )

If you have a lot of money and can find nothing to spend it upon, but are aware of every penny you possess and would kill rather than surrender a single one, you are greedy. You are probably also a dragon.
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 02:29 pm
@Finn dAbuzz,
Finn dAbuzz wrote:
Greed is clearly a term that is used far more often in describing someone else than oneself.


Like pretty much any negative trait. The thing humans seem best at is rationalizing their own good versus the evil of others.
0 Replies
 
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 02:31 pm
@Finn dAbuzz,
Finn dAbuzz wrote:
I tend to think of the greedy as those who have an obsessive desire to possess material simply for the sake of possession.


I think this is one of the more meaningful definitions of greed, but unfortunately the most difficult to discern.

In practice I think that people just tend to assume this quality based on the more observable trait of accumulated wealth.
High Seas
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 02:35 pm
@JLNobody,
Booms and busts are unavoidable features of capitalism - I'm not in the habit of quoting Marx, but on that one point he was undeniably right. They come along with depressing regularity - take a look at this table, spanning a vast range of capitalist societies with varying degrees of regulatory regimes over time:
http://media.economist.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/original-size/20111022_WOC768_0.gif
It looks crazy - and that's because it is, but as one great economist said "markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent".
wayne
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 03:38 pm
Makes me wonder, what is the opposite of greed; generousity ?

At one time I worked for a plumber who pretty much had the inside track on all the sewer replacements, due to his fair pricing. Other plumbers complained we were leaving money on the table. Were they being greedy?
Ragman
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 03:41 pm
@ossobuco,
Huh? There was no whining. I just wondered about the obesity tag. No biggie.
0 Replies
 
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 03:59 pm
@wayne,
Some companies try to charge as much as they can, some try to charge as little as they can. I think either strategy can be a valid business plan, and don't think there's anything inherently unethical or greedy about either. That may sound counter-intuitive, but if you step back you'll realize this is just business 101 and charging more doesn't necessarily mean making more money.

If the greedy person is also an intelligent person they will use whichever of the strategies is most appropriate in order to make the most money. In the case you describe, it sounds like the guys who think money is being left on the table are losing out to the guy who achieved scale. So the guy who is lowering prices for the customers is actually the guy making more bank.

In this case I see inept versus... well the ept. Not necessarily greedy vs not greedy. The scale guy with low prices can be described as greedy by lowering the profit margins to the lowest common denominator (what he's doing is similar to a Wall-Mart effect, or outsourcing jobs) and reducing the overall amount of money available to those in his plumbing profession by trying to get scale at low cost, quality etc. At the same time, the plumbers who want to charge the customers more could be described as greedy, wanting to "gouge" the customer and not realizing that they'd make more if they priced more aggressively and perhaps didn't collude to maintain artificially high prices.

And this is why I think it is so very meaningless most of the time, when looking at the same story it's very easy to create a greedy narrative, because it is to ascribe motivation and intent.
OmSigDAVID
 
  0  
Reply Sat 15 Oct, 2011 04:14 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Robert Gentel wrote:
I think most people tend to use the word "greed" to merely mean someone who has amassed wealth that they consider to be too much. I think that if you ask them to define it they will define it differently (they will certainly not be likely to tell you that their definition is so arbitrary) but that in their actual use of the word they tend to view the same levels of ambition, self-interest and the pursuit of individual happiness to be greedy in one who is "filthy" rich and not greedy in someone who has all the same motivations but is not as successful in realizing them.

I don't think the concept is very valuable, because it seems that we value the ambition, drive and desire to amass wealth in people when they don't have wealth and then resent them for it when they do.

It seems to me that society wants both the rags to riches stories as well as to be able to take them back down once they get there.

So how do you define greed? What makes someone greedy to you, as opposed to the healthy self-interest others operate with in the capitalist system.
I AGREE with what u said,
including the definition of greed. I have always endeavored to be greedy, tho not stingy.
I 'm a big supporter of hedonism, ergo: the Opulent Mensan Special Interest Group, whose purpose is to have FUN.

I hope that every citizen will be greedy
and I try to encourage it.





David
 

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