The Foolishness of Greed

What’s the definition of insanity? It’s been a year since the economic meltdown, and already the self same forces that brought it to us are jockeying to make sure they remain free and unfettered to do it again and again. The ancient Chinese poet Lao Tzu was right: “There is no greater disaster than greed.”

Greed never looks very far ahead; it’s only concern is acquiring more and more… now. When it does look ahead, it’s only down the street, to see if a cop is coming. And our august legislators, those whom we elect to look after our interests, are just as blind and foolish as the greedy horde on Wall Street, for their only concern is the next election. Like sheep gorging on clover, they do not consider the consequences until the bloat sets in. Instead, they continue to dine on the gravy train supplied by the banking lobby, with never a thought to the rage that is brewing in the hearts of average Americans.

Will there be a reckoning? Of course. That is not the issue. The real question is what kind of reckoning will there be? Will it be blunt and bloody like a sledge hammer or keen and clean like a scalpel? I suppose that will depend on the kind of leadership that emerges. Demagoguery or shrewdness and wisdom.

As economist James K. Galbraith said on Moyers last week: “…That’s the great danger… if there is not a constructive program that people can identify with, there will be a destructive program that they will identify with. And it will come along quite soon. And what form it will take…it’s anybody’s guess, but the result…very well could be disastrous.”

So far the forces of greed have managed to channel the rage away from themselves and toward other targets. The grassroots rancor Americans originally felt over the bailouts was deftly parried and the blame redirected– amazingly and shamefully, even toward those who cannot defend themselves, such as illegal immigrants and the poor. But the greedy cannot expect to keep dodging such bullets indefinitely, not with so many of us out of work and no prospects in sight, not with so many millions homeless through foreclosures. Sooner or later the hungry mob the astroturfers trained to attack will turn and devour them.

A shrewd businessman knows when to hedge his bets, but the greedy are like pachyderms who chase away even the smallest animals from the watering hole and then begin draining and muddying it with their feet so that nothing can drink from it.

I end with a well known passage from Charles Dickens:

“‘Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,’ said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe,’ but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw.’

‘It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,’ was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. ‘Look here.’

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

‘Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here.’ exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

‘Spirit. are they yours.’ Scrooge could say no more.

‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.’


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