In 1985, stock speculator Ivan Boesky delivered the commencement speech at the University of California-Berkeley’s School of Business Administration. His address drew both applause and laughter when he said, “Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.”
In 1987, Michael Douglas played a Boesky-like character named Gordon Gekko in a movie called “Wall Street.” In an address to his stockholders, Gekko says, “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of humankind. Greed is good.”
Today, we are paying the price because people bought into that lie.
A few months ago, the then Federal Reserve Chairperson Alan Greenspan told Congress that “infectious greed” was the reason behind the current business crises. He blamed greed for causing business executives to embellish balance sheets and artificially inflate stock values.
Jesus gave us a different outlook on life. He said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
To emphasize his point, Jesus told a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you, and the things you have stored up, whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21)
Greed is one of the seven deadly sins. It comes in many disguises: grasping for things, avarice, covetousness, insatiably wanting more and more and out of control ambition.
Some consider greed as the ultimate source of the other deadly sins.
We have seen how the greed of a few can detrimentally affect everyone.
Years ago, some politicians tried to tell us that if we award the rich with tax breaks and other incentives, those people would then put their new capital to work and it would “trickle down” to the masses. We have now found that the opposite is true. What is good for the few can work against the common good. All we have to do is look at the fates of average investors, workers, the economy and honest businesspeople. We all suffer from the greed of others.
St. Paul very strongly condemns greedy people. He says, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. However, fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. … Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Ephesians 5:1-3,5)
Greed is neither good nor healthy. We are suffering now because our politicians failed to pay attention to Jesus’ warning, “Avoid greed in all its forms.”
We need a fundamental change of attitude in ourselves, our government and on Wall Street.