Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Greed is a Horse Waiting to be Harnessed

Gordon Gekko in Wall Street was right. Greed is good, but only if put to work for the benefit of all. Being one of the deadly sins, we all are infected with it so some degree. It’s that desire to acquire more and more, even after we have enough. It’s what drives the free market, the desire to get an edge and beat the competition. It is what generates wealth and improves our standard of living, or at least that of some of us. But, should the goal of a strong society be just to produce more and more?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” So says the declaration of independence.

“We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” So says the preamble to the constitution.

I don’t find any instructions to maximize the GDP or promote the welfare of the most well endowed. Insuring the domestic tranquility seems to imply making everyone satisfied with their situation relative to others. Since we all aspire to better our lot, it is natural that we will admire those who have achieved more over those who haven’t. Hence we look approvingly at those above us on the economic ladder while looking down on those below us, or not noticing them.

I would argue that we will all be better off if we recognize the compromise between the greed in our nature which spurs our productivity and the better angels of our nature which want our fellow man, particularly the less well endowed to share in the prosperity of our country. To this end, the least we can do is remove the burdens placed on those who find it hard to sustain a life in which they can be most productive. Instead of setting our safety net at the level of poverty, where people are disillusioned and using all their faculties just to survive, why not demand that our government remove the burden of taxation on those with no net income after insuring their health, providing food and shelter and the other requirements to hold a job. In other words, a living wage instead of a poverty wage, before the tax burden bites them.

It is patently obvious to any objective observer that our government is financed and driven by money. Those with money acquire power and those with power enrich themselves. It’s a phenomena that feeds on itself. People holding the levers of government power set themselves up with pensions and opportunities for when the leave government. Those with money hire lobbyists to gain direct access to decision makers while those without money write letters which are answered by auto responders or aides with no authority. Two major political parties control the financial resources and pre-select candidates, usually on the basis of loyalty to the party and prior political experience. This is hardly the democracy we were promised in the founding documents.

It’s time to recognize that the primary purpose of government is to serve all the people and that only government can do this. It is time to harness the horse of greed instead of letting the horse of greed harness us and keep us in subservient obedience for the benefit of a few. It is time to throw out of power those who think government is the problem and those who think government should control our every action, and put the harness on the horse of greed by progressively taxing only those with a net income over a living wage, and recognize that only a government responsive to all the people can lift the burden from the less well endowed, insure the domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our prosperity.