Skip to content

Thoughts on Greed

What is greed anyway? And what does it means for society?

A small and colorful calendar iconPosted on:June 8, 2023

I see a lot of folks arguing that they don’t like capitalism because it “rewards greed” or something like that. Not always sure what the point is.

“Greed” is bad, I guess. It is, after all one of the Seven Deadly Sins. (So is envy, but we’ll leave that for another day…)

I googled “define greed” and got:

“intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.”

Okay, that does sound kind of bad. But is it? Take “power” out of that, and I’m not 100% sure it’s a totally bad thing. Don’t we all wake up everyday trying to make life better by increasing our wealth and making sure we have enough to eat?

What is the word for “wanting a better life — more wealth, security, and meaning — for me and my family?” I’m not sure we have a word for that. I think that is a natural, healthy impulse that often gets thrown in with “greed.” There should be a word for that.

So if that is how we will define greed, then maybe everyone is greedy. We all want to have enough food, clothing, and shelter. We all want nicer things, to be safer and more secure, and to have time to enjoy life. That’s kind of a constant universal, no? I guess it may depend on the level of intensity and selfishness.

But I guess that’s the word we use and are kind of stuck. Oh well. Open to a better word here.

And that is kind of what I like about Capitalism. It takes this (allegedly) bad thing — the natural impulse to make one’s life better — and turns it into something good for everyone.

Capitalism has the benefit of taking that constant — greed (however you define it…) — and leveraging for the good of others. The best way to express your “greed” in capitalism to to create something that people want to willingly pay for. Actually, that’s basically the only way to succeed in Capitalism — create something that someone wants. If you don’t do that, you will go out of business in short order.

So some further thoughts on all this:

So in the end, it’s not entirely clear to me that “greed” is bad. I guess it depends on what you mean by the word. If there is a better word for that natural human impulse, I’d like to know it. I can’t think of such a word right now.

But if you can take something that is going to happen anyway and leverage it for the benefit of others, well, that sounds like a big win to me.