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What is Greed? Who is Greedy?

By Tyler Bauer

It seems like we’ve been hearing about greed a lot more in recent years than ever before. Whether it’s coming from politicians or media, man people have been talking about greedy businesspeople and companies’ obscene profits. We’re told all of these people are greedy, but are they? And what is “greed,” anyway?

What is Greed?

Greed is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.” Merriam-Webster, on the other hand, defines greed “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money) than is needed.” For the purposes of this topic, I think the second definition of greed is the one used by politicians like Bernie Sanders, as he often talks about what people do and don’t need in terms of wages.

Capitalism and Greed

One of the most popular complaints about capitalism is that it incentivizes and rewards greed. Its focus on the individual, people say, allows the rich to be greedy and earn as big of a piece of the pie as they wish.

To a certain extent, this complaint is somewhat true. Capitalism does allow individuals to get rich beyond their wildest dreams.

I don’t think this means capitalism rewards greed, though. How do you get rich in a capitalist economy? By providing goods or services that others value. Take the Walton family, the family behind Walmart, for example. They are worth a combined $170 billion. They didn’t get rich by ripping people off or being greedy. They got rich by creating a superior supermarket that provides quality products and services at competitive prices. The same can be said for every business owner in America – they’re only in business because people value what they do and are willing to pay them for it.

I’d argue that capitalism actually does more to deter greed than encourage it. As I just said, you can only get rich in a capitalist system by helping others, which is by no means an act of greed. Are there greedy capitalists? Of course. There are also greedy socialists, communists, and members of every other group. As Milton Friedman once said, greed is an element of all societies.

What to do about Greed

Many people argue that the wealthy are hoarding their wealth and keeping the less-wealthy down. This sounds good, but it simply isn’t true. What does it mean to “hoard” one’s wealth? Unless the wealthy are storing their money in their mattresses, their money is helping someone. If their money is in a bank, that bank can lend it out to other people looking to buy a house or expand a business, for example. If they invest their money in other ventures, the companies receiving that investment can use it to improve their own company. If the wealthy invest money in their own business, their business and employees benefit. Take the Waltons, for example. If the Walton family invested in Walmart by opening a new store, countless jobs are created. Construction workers have to lay the foundation for the store. Architects have to design the store. Producers can now sell to the new store. The new store will need cashiers, stockers, managers, and more. “Hoarding” wealth actually creates jobs and improves others’ lives.

Who is Greedy?

Who is greedy? Is it the business owner or executive? No, it’s the person advocating for the business owner and executive to make less. To quote Thomas Sowell, “I have never understood why it is ‘greed’ to want to keep the money you have earned but not greed to want to take somebody else's money.”

It isn’t greedy to earn money or want to earn money. It’s greedy to want someone else to make less money or want to take someone else’s money.

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