| There Is No Such Thing as Greed
|Greed is a fake word.
Three and a half years ago, in this column, I wrote an article
titled: There’s No Such Thing as Being Stubborn. It has been
one of my most controversial works, and most read. In it I
stated that ‘stubborn’ is a non-word like ‘greed.’ I will now
follow up and explain why I say the word ‘greed’ is phony.
Have you ever called someone greedy? Have you been accused
of greed? Here is the definition of GREED according to the
American Heritage® Dictionary: (gred) noun. An excessive
desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or
deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.
Greed then is just desire with the added adjective excessive.
Wait a minute - isn’t that what we call ambition? So, who
gets to determine what level of excessive desire becomes
greed? Is it like United States Supreme Court Justice Potter
Stewart’s description of hard-core pornography: “I’ll know it
when I see it?” That’s not only vague, it’s completely
subjective, and a frightening standard on which to determine
the law of the land.
American Heritage goes on to say, “possess more than one
needs.” Another subjective standard - who gets to determine
how much someone needs? Then it says, “possess more
than one deserves.” Now we are getting somewhere. How
can someone acquire more than they deserve? No one is
going to give someone more than they deserve. No one is
going to pay more for something than they think it’s worth.
That means the person who gets more than they deserve
must have done something nefarious to get it, such as
swindling, extortion, cheating, or some other form of chicanery.
In other words, greed boils down to one thing: theft.
But you say, greed is the motivation that causes people to
steal. I say, the reason people steal varies greatly. They
might be hungry, or on drugs, or unemployed, or not smart
enough to get a job. I can’t read a person’s mind to
determine why they steal, I can only observe that they do.
If you call someone greedy, you are, in essence, calling them
a thief. However, if they haven’t stolen anything, then they
have not taken more than they deserve. In the famous
words of the John Houseman, Smith Barney ad, they “make
money the old fashioned way - they earn it.”
If you are still calling them greedy, then the problem lies
within you. If you don’t like the amount of possessions or
wealth someone has, then perhaps you are envious. If that’s
the case, then you calling that person greedy is all about
you projecting your envy.
In order for most people to acquire great wealth, they
have to come up with a good idea, an innovation, or as Ralph
Waldo Emerson observed, build a better mousetrap that will
cause the world to beat a path to their door. In other words,
they have to serve humanity. They have to create something
Just because you’ve earned more than you need, you don’t
stop doing what you did to make it. The world would be a
much poorer place if you did. What if Bill Gates had stopped
making computer software after he made his first billion? Sure,
someone else would eventually enter that market, but until
then the price of software would go up.
Over the years, I’ve seen various products that I loved
disappear from the market. The most likely cause was that
there was not enough demand for those products for the
companies to continue making them, but occasionally it was
because the producer got “tired” of working and retired.
Hmm... perhaps I should say that person is greedy for
wanting their time more than they want to produce things
Maybe you think acquiring ostentatious homes, cars, and
clothing make a person greedy. You might snidely call them
nouveau riche. Indeed their taste might be tacky, but if you
have any empathy you can see that they are just trying to feel
important. Everybody wants to feel important, and that isn’t
greed. Feel sorry for them, it takes time to learn how to enjoy
enormous wealth with grace.
What about corporate greed you ask? Again, no such thing.
First of all corporations, like other inanimate objects, cannot feel
greed. They are owned by people called stockholders. Are the
stockholders greedy for wanting to invest in a company that is
growing? You’d think they were idiots if they invested in a
company that was failing. So, then is it the people running the
company who are greedy because they earn huge salaries?
They only get those salaries if they are producing wealth for the
stockholders. So once again, it is earned wealth, they haven’t
What about corporations that bribe Congress to pass regulations
that keep out competition? Aren’t they greedy? No, they are
thieves. By using the strong arm of the government to get an
unfair advantage over competitors, they reduce options and
choices which cost consumers more money. And, regardless
of how legal it is, it is still morally theft.
But, what about companies that produce shoddy - even
dangerous - products just to make a buck, aren’t they being
greedy? Again, no. If it is a hidden danger, then they are
being dishonest and stealing from the purchaser. If it is known
to be inferior, then it is the consumer’s decision whether or
not to buy it. People willingly buy substandard products to
fulfill needs until they can afford something better.
When I was in college, I lived in a mouse and roach infested
apartment in a seedy neighborhood. Was I being exploited
by a greedy landlord? No, the rent was cheap, and I was
thrilled to get it because it enabled me to live on my own.
There is an old saying in the advertising industry, “Nothing
kills a bad product faster than good advertising.” Good
advertising will get a lot of people to try a new product, and
it the product doesn’t measure up, then word-of-mouth will
spread quickly and people will stop buying it. Greedy
companies don’t want that to happen, so they make good
Surely hoarders are greedy? They squirrel away much more
than they need. Do they? Perhaps they were a victim of
scarcity at some point in their life and they have a deep fear
of going hungry again. Fear is not greed.
If you hear someone using the word greed to describe
another person, then I suggest you scrutinize the person
using it, and ascertain what their motivation is. Politicians
love to use it to create division among voters because it helps
them to get elected. The word ‘greed’ is a red flag to think
Calling someone greedy is often used to shame people into
donating money they’d rather keep. I remember back in 1997,
that Ted Turner, after announcing he would donate $1 billion
over the course of a decade to the United Nations, publicly
shamed Bill Gates for not donating more money to charity. It
worked and Gates formed a foundation for donating billions of
dollars to various causes.
If someone pressures you to share your money by calling
you greedy, then they are asking you to give up the precious
moments of your life that you spent earning it. Time you can
never get back. If they bamboozle you into feeling bad, so
that you give them money you don’t want to, then what
makes them different from a con artist? Who’s greedy the one
Greed only exists in the mind of the observer. If you are seeing
greed, perhaps it’s time for you to examine your heart.
© Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.