Are people naturally greedy? Is there an inherent desire for selfishness imbedded within our DNA? Are we rapaciously, covetous creatures?
Curiously, when I approached the all-mighty, all-knowing internet with this question, I was given an answer I didn’t expect: No.
Cultural anthropologists say that if humans had been greedy at the onset of mankind, we would not have survived. The simple argument is that had we been greedy, there is no way we would have allowed our hard-earned hunt to be shared by the tribe. As I am no anthropologist, I’ll let that argument go, but I might be willing to explain it as survival instincts. I need my tribe to be healthy for my own protection, and my need to continue my gene pool; in other words, selfish greed. Other more modern arguments urge that it is only with the advent of capitalism that humanity adopted greed as a part of its nature. However, there is an issue here. The perpetrators of this argument swing from the left side of the plate. If we aren’t inherently greedy, then why shouldn’t Mitt Romney’s tax plan be successful? I’m going to aid the lefties, and remind them that greed and kindness aren’t linked, and that mankind is, in fact, greedy bastards
Let’s debunk the myth that capitalism created greed. There are ten generally accepted rules to live by. Of those ten, three deal directly with the concept of greed (a fourth can be modernly interpreted as such). Think about this for a moment. One “thou shalt not kill” and three “thou shalt not covet”. [Commit adultery, and steal are the other two]. Last time I checked, the early Israelites didn’t practice capitalism. In my Mum Monday post, Matt Wuerker presented an image dealing with feudalism. Middle Age Europe was as far from capitalism that any society could be. Yet, the monarchs of feudal Europe practiced the most intense from of greed that had been seen until that time. Not discounting the avarice of the Catholic Church at the time (hence the fourth “thou shalt not have graven images” as greed… Can you say plenary indulgences?)
Surplus Wealth as a Sacred Trust
In 1896, Democratic hopeful, and eventual Populist leader, William Jennings Bryan criticized the previous twenty years in American economics saying, “There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.” This is one of the first instances where the notion of trickle-down economics is clearly stated. All one had to do was look around at the Rockefellers, Carnegies, DuPonts, Morgans, and other captains of industry to see that the money wasn’t flowing downhill. In the case of Carnegie, his workers weren’t even paid in real currency, rather they were paid in company scrip.
Yes, Carnegie also wrote The Gospel of Wealth in which he said, “Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” Carnegie would establish libraries around the nation, build a college, and donate twenty million dollars to the Philippines so they could buy their independence. Carnegie argued that since the wealthy had reached the pinnacle of society, they were inherently the ones who should dispense wealth and build a better society. Not government. Not charitable organization. Not family. Carnegie saw these groups as squanderers too ill-equipped to manage vast fortunes.
And there it is.
Carnegie said it himself. People were squanderers. They’d spend money on themselves. Greed. Sure Carnegie said to do good for society, but how many followed his lead?
Did The Gospel of Wealth promote a better society? In a small way, yes. Did the worker’s lives improve? No. That would take government intervention in the 1910s.
The current incarnation of The Gospel of Wealth is “The Giving Pledge“. To date, not a single member of Congress residing in the top twenty wealthiest have signed.
Romney’s Tax Plan
If Romney plans to continue tax breaks for the wealthy, I ask why? I’d like to know exactly what jobs Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex., est. net worth $294.21 mil) or Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass., est. net worth $193.07 mil) have created. Sure, The Giving Pledge billionaires have donated untold millions to charitable organizations, it still isn’t quite job creation. So, does trickle-down work? Hasn’t quite yet. And I would argue that most of that reason has to do with greed; the “I-earned-it-I-keep-it” philosophy. Despite what anthropologists and left-leaning economics would argue, human creatures are greedy beings.