No modern day discussion of greed would be complete without a reference to Gordon Gekko. the character played by actor Michael Douglas in the movie ‘Wall Street.’ There are quite a few Gekko pull quotes from the movie available online but perhaps the one most used is that in which Gekko concludes, “Greed is good.”
No Mr. Gekko, greed is not good, in fact it is the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins. In the film Gordon Gekko conflates greed with certain positive attributes of the investment world in which he operates, ambition, intelligence, focus, knowledge of processes and so forth.
Greed is not just an unprincipled quest for money. Properly viewed it is a lust for control, control over people, places, events and things, control that is made possible through the possession of wealth. Therefore the steps taken to amass great wealth is often driven by a desire to gain the tools necessary to exercise control.
In the world of mechanical tools one doesn’t buy a drill because he wants a drill, he buys a drill because he wants a hole. Similarly in the world of finances one acquires vast amounts of money, not for the sake of money but in order to gain power.
It has been said that here in the United States we have the best government that money can buy. The obscene amounts of money ‘earned’ by so many of our elected and appointed officials during their terms as ‘servants’ of the public demonstrates all too well the truth in that statement.
The founders of this nation envisioned citizen legislators, folks who would set aside their businesses for a short time and perform a patriotic duty by serving to craft our laws and steer the Ship of State. They never dreamed that someone would actually spend a lifetime in government nor would they have believed that anyone could become fabulously wealthy while filling a government position.
Recently a proposed bill to prevent members of Congress from participating in stock trading while in office was bandied about. Of the combined Houses of Congress, 535 strong, only two voices were raised to support the idea. ‘Puhlease, don’t ask us to gore our own oxen.’
We should never try to control what the oligarchs do with their own money. As long as the purchase is legal it would not only be impossible to curtail, it would also be un-American. If any use of money is legal but also a detriment to our national interest then it is a matter for the legislators to correct. As for those office holders who profit from their official positions, if we can’t control the buyer then we certainly must control the seller, in this case the influence peddlers in office.
One simple solution would be term limits on all government positions, elected and appointed and a strict prohibition on any activity that would increase a public servant’s wealth beyond that provided by their salary while in office. This coupled with an enforced body of law to insure compliance and you would soon have the citizen public servant envisioned by the founders. National politics would attract patriots rather than those who seek office for the opportunity to increase their wealth.
But where will we ever find 535 legislators willing to put the love of country and the desire to serve foremost in their ambitions and leave greed to the private sector? Maybe Chuck, Mitch and Nancy can give us a bipartisan answer.