Let me first preface this article by saying that I do not completely disagree with the writers of the Friday, April 11 article on capitalism, but rather simply wish to examine this problem through a different lens, through a sociological lens.
Capitalism works almost flawlessly in theory, but so do a lot of things. Peyton Manning, for example, is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of professional football and ideally, would continue this success into the playoffs, but this is where he struggles mightily. Likewise, capitalism, when put into practice, is sometimes less than perfect.
The original article asserts that greed is good, that it essentially propels the capitalist economy into financial and economic success. The original authors contend that greed is great in both personal and societal economic settings, and that it is what propels the capitalist economy.
I think on a personal level, ambition may be a better word to use. Even so, sometimes no matter how ambitious a person is, they cannot achieve what we consider to be the American Dream. This concept that anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and eventually live the American Dream is largely a farce.
Personal ambition, or greed, is often not enough to become socially mobile. The ability of socioeconomically lower class individuals to emerge from that situation is usually an unreasonable expectation. Climbing the ladder between classes is much more easily said than done. This is especially relevant because in our society, greed and ambition are much more valuable for the wealthy. They have been taught their entire lives how to be greedy and ambitious and to do it well, just as marginalized individuals have been taught chiefly how to simply make ends meet financially. While personal ambition is certainly a good thing, it is rarely sufficient to bring marginalized individuals out of their marginality, but that is material for another article.
On the other hand, corporate greed is one of the most nefarious fixtures of the modern American economy, especially now that we are in the midst of one of America’s most prominent crime waves that few have heard about.
Over the past several years, this greed that is supposed to lead to societal success has in fact cost taxpayers and shareholders millions and millions of dollars after the recent financial scandals at places like HSBC, AIG, JPMorgan, Enron and WorldCom.
One would be hard-pressed to assert that these clear exhibitions of greed have been beneficial to society. Greed scandals like these cut consumer faith in markets and trust in big businesses, and in many cases hurt the economy as a whole, among other things.
Greed, because it is allowed so rampantly, carves out a financial gap right through the American socioeconomic class system. According to well-known sociologist Karl Marx, capitalism is less about making a living for oneself and more about the managerial class, or bourgeoisie, maximizing the profits of their ventures through oppression of the working class, or proletariat. It is concepts like this that continue to allow the rich to get richer, while the poor get poorer. Of course, this is a rather extreme example, but one that is maybe not completely irrelevant in a society that owns a Gini coefficient, or inequality measure, of around .42 in 2013, according to “The Economist.” This is among the highest of nations of its class.
I believe it is a good argument to say that ambition, not greed, is great for personal and societal success. By no means am I asserting that capitalism is not the best form of economic system for America. However, I do believe the American brand of capitalism in its current state may warrant some extra thought and consideration as to its effectiveness and possible regulatory shortcomings. So friends, as we move forward, if another calls us greedy, let us be moved to a place of personal introspection before one of pride.