Why I Love Greed

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What human motivation gets the most wonderful things done? It’s really a silly question, because the answer is so simple. It turns out that it’s human greed that gets the most wonderful things done. When I say greed, I am not talking about fraud, theft, dishonesty, lobbying for special privileges from government or other forms of despicable behavior. I’m talking about people trying to get as much as they can for themselves. Let’s look at it.

This winter, Texas ranchers may have to fight the cold of night, perhaps blizzards, to run down, feed and care for stray cattle. They make the personal sacrifice of caring for their animals to ensure that New Yorkers can enjoy beef. Last summer, Idaho potato farmers toiled in blazing sun, in dust and dirt, and maybe being bitten by insects to ensure that New Yorkers had potatoes to go with their beef.

Here’s my question: Do you think that Texas ranchers and Idaho potato farmers make these personal sacrifices because they love or care about the well-being of New Yorkers? The fact is whether they like New Yorkers or not, they make sure that New Yorkers are supplied with beef and potatoes every day of the week. Why? It’s because ranchers and farmers want more for themselves. In a free market system, in order for one to get more for himself, he must serve his fellow man. This is precisely what Adam Smith, the father of economics, meant when he said in his classic “An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (1776), “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” By the way, how much beef and potatoes do you think New Yorkers would enjoy if it all depended upon the politically correct notions of human love and kindness? Personally, I’d grieve for New Yorkers. Some have suggested that instead of greed, I use “enlightened self-interest.” That’s OK, but I prefer greed.

Free market capitalism is relatively new in human history.

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  • http://communityofliberty.org Charles Kadlec

    Dear Professor Williams,

    Your failure to distinguish "greed," which we all instinctively know is wrong, with the honorable search for mutually beneficial exchanges is a great injustice to the capitalist system which you support. Saying capitalism thrives on greed is a slur against markets and free people. Your lack of moral clarity risks both.

    I concede that there is no word in common usage which captures your valid point. May I suggest "enterprise" is what drives the ranchers in Texas and distinguishes them from those who Occupy Wall Street. http://www.forbes.com/sites/charleskadlec/2011/02

    • Don Kosloff

      Nobody instinctively knows that greed is wrong. Greed is an instinct. People are told that greed is wrong. That teaching is an oversimplification. Too much greed can be wrong. Greed that has no external controls may be wrong.

      • Libertyman

        The worse type of greed is known as covetous as displayed by the likes of Chuckie Schumer. This form of greed simply wants to engender public hate for those who have something so he and the government can take it away from said person and create class warfare. This is real HATE Crime.

        Thou shall not Covet.

  • Nate Whilk

    I'm reminded of Milton Friedman's remarks to Phil Donahue. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWsx1X8PV_A

    "Well, first of all, tell me is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course none of us are greedy; its only the other fellow who’s greedy! The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus."

  • Amused

    Well atleast we know what seperates Walter Williams from OWS ….Greed . Move over Mr.Gekko .
    Just remember this my deluded greedster , Greed is precisely what got us into the present finacial mess , just as it did in the past Bank Loan Scandal and Keaton , the 2000 Bubble , and if you're a student of history , the Great Holland Tulip market collapse .
    The only thing you're right about is , that people like you do in fact love greed and most likely embrace it . There is a difference between GREED and ENTERPRISE . GREED is ENTERPRISE WITHOUT RESPONSIBILITY OR ETHICS , AND IT'S INSEPERABLE PARTNER IS AVARICE .
    Now go APOLOGIZE to all those farmers and ranchers you just insulted , by lumping them in with the truly greedy on Wall Street , the Oil buisiness and Capitol Hill . [ and of course , yourself ]
    Pat yourself on the back chump , you're the reason why there's OWS , they may all be idiots but they do get one thing right .And afterall they do know the difference between those two words …something that eludes you .

    • Don Kosloff

      You need to read beyond the first sentence before you make your critical comments. If you do that, then you will be less likely to make comments that are clearly false.

  • Amused

    That is Keating .

  • Don Kosloff

    Greed is beneficial because it causes people to push themselves beyond getting what is just enough. Without that driving force the more talented people would not push themselves beyond using only a small part of their talent. That would be similar to the actions of the OWS folk, except that the OWS folk seem to have little talent.

  • Amused

    Suck it up Don , he's sellin' it and you're buying . Greed is greed ….period .Wanna dress it up ? sure , put a streetwalker in a white wedding gown and you got a virgin …right ?
    Greed pushes people to break laws , make foolish decisions , sellout freinds and country . Yea greed is "beneficial " …in a pigs eye it is . Yea greed is so good that maybe you'd like it written in your epitaph . Go take a primer in ethics 101 .

    • Don Kosloff

      People decide to break laws, they are not pushed by greed. It is childish to blame a natural instinct for foolish decisions and weak character.

    • Die Fledermaus

      Try using a dictionary. You are distorting the definition, the same thing liberals and idiots do.

      Reminds me of the recent Wisconsin vs. Oregon Rose bowl. Oregon takes a kick off and the guy thinks of coming out of the end zone but changes his mind. His foot and 1/2 inch of the ball crossed the goal line. Wisconsin fans booed when the refs called it a touchback.

      Of course, the rules clearly state it was a touchback because the ball didn't compeltely come out of the end zone. Nevermind, they booed anyway. You would be booing too I bet.

  • Amused

    Oh …and BTW ….talent does not have any need for greed in order for it to rise to the top . No wonder we're in the mess we're in .

  • Kevin Stroup

    Webster's College Dictionary (1991): greed(noun) excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions.

    I would define greed as: self-interest taken to a toxic extreme. Self-interest is inate. You must teach children to share, not to keep. The enlightened person understands that many times they are more advantaged by helping the other guy win also. The free market is the best possible vehicle for letting the most people win. It is a "voluntary" exchange of goods and services. Socialism is not voluntary. It is coerced, by threat of government punishment. In addition, everything becomes a political calculation in a socialist society, with performance, talent, industry pushed aside. People engage in rent seaking behavior.

  • mrbean

    One should be careful usingg words for shock value that may initially generate negative emotions. They are effective only when someone reads and understands the context in which they are used. More often then not, people already have a mindset on their interpretation of what words mean.

  • Amused

    So Kevin , looks like the author never learned his parent's lesson eh ? I'd agree with that .
    As for the other dimbulbs who chimed in , in his defense ? They have to defend a truly negative rationale …lol…even if they make fools of themselves in doing so .
    Man ! get me shovel , the bullsheet's really piling up here again .