It's hard to read or listen to any media outlet (except perhaps those belonging to Rupert Murdoch) without being regaled about greed. Kossacks are well aware of this, of course, being convinced that unbridled greed of banks and corporations is the main source of the horrific state our country - and much of the world - is in. Add this to the same greed on the part of the top one percent and it's clear the reason we're in such deep doo-doo is because of unlimited avarice. O.K. So let's get rid of greed.
But before we get rid of it, I think we have to find out a little more about it. First, let's see if we can agree on a definition.
To me, greed has always been pretty simple: when you don't know what "too much" is, you're greedy. It's easy to know the opposite. For instance, when you have too little food, you're hungry. When there's too little heat, you're cold. But these can be remedied by providing heat or serving up some food. After a while, you stop having too little and you're comfortable. Too much of either food or heat makes you uncomfortable.
But when it comes to other items, it gets harder. Take television sets. How big should a TV be? My wife and I bought a 36" LCD and it seems to be OK, but I saw a 42" LED in Best Buy that would be better. Next to it was a 50" plasma and next to that was a 60" 3-D number that looked fabulous. They even threw in the glasses. The salesman told me that bigger ones were coming soon. So how big is big? At what point does a desire for a nicer television set become greed? If my neighbor has a 50" and I get a 60", is this necessarily bad? Is mine "too much?"
Most of us own stock, either directly or in the form of pension funds. Is there a limit on the growth we want for these stocks? Is there a "too much?" Same goes for the Wall Street traders. Is their desire for profits healthy capitalism or bald greed? Many of us have maxed out on our credit cards. Is this because of need or greed? Which reminds me - what about the definition of "need?"
The other day, through an error by the bank, a man was able to withdraw over a million dollars from an ATM machine. He spent it all on gambling. In other words, the million and a half wasn't enough. If that happened to us, where would we stop withdrawing and what would we do with the money? Where is our "too much?"
Our obligation to the poor, the sick and the needy has been paid lip service, but we've not been willing to make any serious sacrifices to remedy the plight of millions of Americans who know perfectly well the meaning of "too little." The only way we can turn things around is to change our concept of "too much," which is as valid for Main Street as it is for Wall Street. If we favor putting a limit on greed, it has to go from the 1% to the 100%. This means we have to cut back on our consumption, save more and want less - the opposite of the "American Dream." Instead of being the land of brave individualists who like to drive down the freeway alone, we may have to share rides or invest in more mass transit. We will have to completely revamp the tax structure and possibly increase taxes on everybody. It won't be enough to slip it to the rich. We'll have to slip it to ourselves. It will mean America will have to slow down and not necessarily be home to the world's most expensive toys - or health care - or prison system. We're going to have to change our ways.
If we don't, we shouldn't bet on our future.