The Greed Debate

From a reader today:

Michael, I read much of what you publish on the web and like and respect most of what you do, however this greed thing [of yours] doesn’t hold water. You’ve been reading too much Ayn Rand or something. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, greedy means: “which implies an insatiable desire to possess or acquire something, beyond what one needs or deserves.”

He adds:

Greedy is especially derogatory when the object of longing is itself evil or when it cannot be possessed without harm to oneself or others. I agree that a strong desire to excel and achieve one’s goals is laudable, however when extended to the level of greed, not a good thing for any of us. Jim

The best response to this? The cagey economist no longer with us:

I know that clip is a regular around here, but I have not seen anyone come close to countering Friedman’s logic.

9 thoughts on “The Greed Debate

  1. Friedman is wrong to assume that “societies run on greed”. There are other motivations than greed. In the case of great thinkers like Einstein or Ford i think curiosity and genuine interest was at least as important as greed. Pure greed is futile. The free market system is not better than communism because it encourages people to be greedy. That´s not the point, the point is that the free market system leaves people the free choice to be curious about or greedy for what ever they want.

  2. You make the assumption that Friedman is making an assumption. Perhaps, there is much more to it for him? A life’s work perhaps?

  3. I think this greed thing is one of the most stupid discussions people can have. Because ultimately we all think the same way, and the problem is the word we choose to describe it: “Greed”. Michael, and so many others like Friedman, and myself, believe society runs on greed. But greed as a desire, as an objective, as something to achieve. Even charity is a desire, is something that will make not only someone else better, but ultimately YOU. And the “contrarians” to the greed philosophy, interpret this greed, as an obsessive desire to achieve something even at someone else’s expense, ruin, illegality, or disrespect. To make both ends meet, we should just change the world to desire, because in the end both sides of the discussion thinks the same way.

  4. Thanks to technology of all the greedy haves, Friedman can still ask the right questions worldwide. What a disarming openness! Asking the right questions openly is much more effective against all the failed and really bankrupt ideology warmed up again these days.
    What a greedy nomenklatura (greedy of power) without a free market and incapacitated masses have left behind can still be looked at in eastern Europe somewhere around and east of Berlin. More and more you have to look into museums to get in touch with the trash, because free society and market is cleaning up since 20 years.

  5. Agreed with Andre. A debate on whether “greed” is good or bad must start with an explicit definition of “greed.” Unfortunately, that words means very different things to different people.

    I think a better way to frame the “greed debate” is to instead use the term “self-interest.” I would argue that societies function best when individuals are free to pursue their own self-interest. Note that self-interest, perhaps unlike greed, does not imply that the self-interested party violates the rights of others.

  6. I like the way Mike and Mr. Friedman are putting this. It reminds me of the Gecko speach in the movie wallstreet. Greed when used in the context of exploiting other people to get what you do not deserve is not good, but working you hardest for you and you only even if it means getting more that your neighbor is great!

    when not used to intentionally harm others, greed is good. A salesperson who is not aggresive will not get the sale. Does that mean he should lie and cheat his way to a sale? No, but if he doesn’t get “greedy” and aggressive ly sell his or her wares to the point that he needs and wants, then he is a sub-par sales person.

  7. moderate your greed. good for me, less competition. i am one of the most greedy sonofabi%#$ out here!

  8. That is so true what you’ve all said. Friedman is a thought provoking, shocking person, specially before you know the foundation of the ideas. He is all for “greed”, BUT you must have respect for the other. For that we need justice, legally binding contracts, a fast, affordable and simple court system, etc. with the ultimate goal of keeping everyone from stepping over each other. Funny to see Mike asking in the video if Friedman had a moment of doubt about capitalism, mentioning the underdeveloped countries. I’ve yet to see one underdeveloped country that keep their rules stable, have decent courts, and with a legal system such that you can set up a business, or sign any contract without doubting if it will ever be fulfilled, if the government pulls your license for no reason, if you’ll have to go to court and way for years to get a decision, etc. sorry but that’s NOT capitalism.

  9. I have never contributed to this thread before, but I feel compelled…

    Human beings are fundamentally ego-centric. We have survived as a result of it. The very REASON why capitalism works is that it is the only system which has one common denominator or motivating force. Money. But there is an honesty in that. Socialism degrades to patronage and cronyism. It moves resources from person to person, or place to place, on the nonsensical whims of individuals whose motivations aren’t clear.

    And let’s be clear…ALL people are greedy. Your lefty do-gooder friends are greedy to be recognized as “non greedy.” Their minds and hearts are greedy for altruistic endorphins. Politicians are greedy for votes. And we’re all greedy for love, recognition, accolades, etc. Who is to judge whose motivators are more pure? Or “better?”

    Money via business success feeds my family far better that feelings of altruism and self-righteousness.

    I cannot “live” off of good intensions — mine or yours. But politicians and leftists certainly can live off of me with THEIR good intensions. As long as my greed has been successful enough to finance them…thereafter, the well might run dry.

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