Greed is destructive, cruel, primal. Yet it is nothing new. It has existed since time immemorial.
Respected journals and periodicals report that “nothing” has changed over the past year on Wall Street since the financial collapse. Some make the staggering claim that it is back to “business as usual.” In other words, surprise of surprises, greed still exists – particularly in the world of money.
Yes, greed does exist and will continue to until a transformation of consciousness takes hold of us. In fact, in the last year of our “Lord”- the Money God that is – a lot has changed.
Firstly, there is a growing recognition of the part that unbridled greed played in the destruction of venerable old firms like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns within the financial industry itself. AIG and Merrill Lynch exist in some form or other, but limp along as lifeless shadows of their former greatness.
Contrary to popular belief, most people on the Street, from top levels of high finance through the middle and bottom layers too, know that their coworkers are responsible in large part for the capitulation of a once celebrated -now vilified-free market business model. Too little, too late, they lament. We should have seen it coming.
Along with this private acknowledgement is the conviction that it won’t happen again-not on their watch anyway.
Perhaps ironically, much of the Street feels similarly to the public in one major area: the government did not do its job to oversee and regulate the safety and protections of the marketplace. This is undisputedly true.
In 2002, after the World Com and Enron debacles, Free Market architect Alan Greenspan accurately stated that ”an infectious greed seemed to grip much of our business community.” He was referring, of course, to the copycat “creative accounting” rules for major shareholder companies that subsequently declared bankruptcy, bringing investors down with them.
In that same speech, the Former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve stated, ‘It is not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed had grown so enormously.” In this is the key to our current economic dilemma. Alan Greenspan’s recognition of the dangers of outsized greed did not compel him to petition for change-nor did it for the rest of us. Public officials and citizens turned the other way-they know what they are doing, we thought. They know better than we, was our flawed conclusion.
As modern societies of the 21st century, greed should no longer shock us-nor should it numb us. Like war, murder, rape, and any other sort of human action that infringes on the individual and collective rights of society, the reality of greed and the relentless human desire to find “avenues to express it” requires constant oversight and vigilance.
Greed exists; therefore laws to protect society from it must be created and enforced. It is as simple as that. We protect society from murderers and rapists with a legal framework of punishment. Although these human calamities still exist, we acknowledge the need to inhibit these actions with severe consequences. Protection of society from the destructive forces of greed necessitates similar deterrents.
While Wall Street and its students are nailed to the wall as evil incarnate, torn apart in every print publication, trashed and abused in media events, Congressional discourse, and public forums, are they really the source of our discontent or is it the human failing of greed itself?
We ask Wall Street to make money, move the economy, create wealth and prosperity for all. When they do so, we are happy – if we win. However, if we lose, they are villains, worse – criminals who broke no laws; we turn our backs on the very people and very system we formerly embraced. Because the cultural ethic of greed has been accepted as the Holy Grail for so long, we never questioned it until it turned against us. Only then did we cry bloody murder.
So who is really responsible for the economic burdens we continue to bear?
You, me, Wall Street, and the government officials who are charged with protecting us from ourselves.
All of us have created the monster that now devours us.
Like the Greek mythological king, Midas, for years everything we touched turned to gold. Like Midas, his good fortune inevitably becomes a curse. Midas touches food and water and turns them to gold, destroying his own sustenance. His beloved daughter turns to gold when he touches her hand. Midas grieves the loss of his daughter and begins to hate the fruits of wealth he so desired. The old king did not realize the high price he would pay for his greed.
Neither did we in America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, France, China, India, Japan, and any other partner of the raw and unrestrained capitalism that had no brakes, no limits, no protections.
We have been betrayed by our own worship of money and wealth-by our own Greed.
The Money God, as Midas discovered, is shallow comfort in the light of real human need. We need love, family, friends, home, health, productive work, and financial security-all the things that are now threatened by our voracious appetite for more.
So despite those who gloomily despair that nothing has changed-much has changed. Our dependence on financial speculation for security for one. Our reverence for wealth as the epitome of success and accomplishment for another. Our innocence about the super human powers of money creation we endowed our former money gods with; now in the wake of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, we know better. They are no more money gods than we; their feet are made of clay just as ours are too.
Like Midas, those in government (Congress, the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and others in public office before this year) that contributed directly to this colossal mess have to hide their donkey ears. Yet there is no one to blame if we are all not to blame. The society of greed we encouraged and embraced is the real source of our suffering.
We are forever changed by the events of the past few years. Regulation is surely to come down the pike in heavy doses. Personal and individual freedoms will be diminished to protect the freedom of the whole. Inevitably, officials and money men will be weeded out and more cautious men and women will replace them. They are armed with the knowledge of their predecessor’s experience.
Those that came before will be unfortunate casualties in the evolution of consciousness that is taking hold of the world of money-a world that by our very existence, we are all a part.
An evolving consciousness is seeding within the modern mind that understands, after these last challenging years, that greed does indeed know no bounds. And the primitive belief in self-interest at any cost that dovetails with it, even to the destruction of the very society that supports it, also finds itself a wounded relic of an ancient past.
As we embark on the dawn of the second decade in the new millennium, the consciousness of greed and its high and painful cost colors all that we do going forward.
From this century on, a profound and necessary change has come to capitalist America—one that accompanies the knowledge that not all things that turn to gold are desired!
Category: shared values