Greed is a very powerful force. It causes some to do incredibly evil things…robbery, kidnapping, even murder. But we rarely think of greed as the pervasive force that masquerades itself as free enterprise or progress.
I would hardly be considered by anyone who knows me as a socialist. I have a profound belief in self-reliance and personal responsibility. However, I believe the greed motivator of our modern economic system is one of the most egregious forms of evil. “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” This was the signature line of Michael Douglas’ character Gordon Gekko as he was shamelessly corrupting his young apprentice played by Charlie Sheen in the 1987 block buster Wall Street.
Many of us naively believe that people like Gekko don’t really exist and are purely fictional. In the last few years we have discovered that they are all too real and their unfettered greed has brought the entire world to its economic knees. I am not even talking about the blatantly criminal acts of the likes of Bernie Madoff who bilked his equally greedy friends out of $50 billion. No, I am talking about the ones that don’t break any laws and often are the very people who make them. Try this on for size.
In 2008 Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sach’s former CEO Henry Paulson was appointed as US Treasury Secretary. (The 4th GS CEO appointed to a senior government position.) When the $700 billion bailout package was announced it was his job to decide who to give it to. Understand this is like hiring the fox to guard the henhouse. He denied the request of the rival bank Lehman Brothers leading to the largest bankruptcy in human history. ($600 billion) The very next day he gave insurance giant AIG $85 billion of which immediately $13 billion went to pay back a loan to none other than… Goldman Sachs! The AIG execs then headed off to a California resort to celebrate where they ran up a tab of of nearly $500,000, all at the taxpayers expense. God Bless America!
Goldman Sachs then received another $10 billion directly as well as a loan of $28 billion. The firm then announced a profit of $3.5 billion and paid out $18 billion in salaries and bonuses, an average of $622,000 per employee. A Goldman spokesman explained it though, “We work very hard here.”
Over the last couple of years we have watched as the North American economy went into free fall. Most of us don’t have a clue why. Let me help you connect the dots. 360,000 Americans lost their home to foreclosure last month. That’s the 17th month in a row of over a quarter million families losing their homes. The sub-prime mortgage fiasco was…(deep breath) a completely man-made scenario of giving ridiculously high mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them to buy over-priced homes and then selling the mortgages to investment firms as high quality financial instruments that made perfect investments for hapless investors trying to make a killing in the world of high finance…only to discover the homeowners could not sustain the payments, the homes could not retain their value, the investment firms went bankrupt and you just lost your retirement fund. Now tell me, can you see any signs of greed anywhere in that narrative?
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed” Mahatma Gandhi
The sub-prime disaster was merely the tipping point. There were literally hundreds of other factors equally as diabolical at work. Nevertheless, the entire world, from North America to Europe to Asia went into an economic melt down. The citizens of Canada and US demanded that government fix it. Yeah, that’s always a good idea. Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe threatened to form the unholy alliance and bring down Steven Harper if he didn’t dig deep into YOUR pocket and solve the problem. I guess the government decided that being a right wing party was highly overrated anyway. The purse strings suddenly came flying off and they began spending (and borrowing) money like drunken sailors. $9.1 billion alone went to the bankrupt General Motors. Barrack Obama coughed up $50 billion and now the Canadian and the US governments own GM (11.7% and 60.8% respectively) Oh, I can’t wait for the new models, the Buick Barrack and the Harper Hybrid.
Before we cry “shame, shame”, we need to ask ourselves if we, the great unwashed, are complicit at all in this. When was the last time you drove by the full parking lot of your government run casino? We have given them permission to fund the coffers by our own greed . And, I have always been intrigued by the power of the lottery. I sometimes stop in the mall and just watch the long lines of people just waiting to throw their money away on a 649 or Super-7 lotto ticket. Your chances of hitting the jackpot are 1 in 14 million. Just to put that into perspective, there are now 8 Canadians out of 34 million who have flown into outer space. So you have a roughly a 1 in 4 million chance of getting picked for the space program. Excellent odds… considering we don’t even own a space ship! I often jokingly tell people they have a better chance of going to the moon in their life time than winning the lottery. Apparently, it is not a joke. In my typical subtle way I like to refer to the lottery as Canada’s tax on the stupid. In reality it is a tax on the greedy.
A faithful man will abound with blessings, But he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished. (Prov.28:20)