Greed, to put it mildly, is no longer good.
Today, Gordon Gekko could not get away with the paean to greed that he delivered in the 1987 movie “Wall Street.” Not after Alan Greenspandenounced “infectious greed” before Congress in 2002. Not when every third book about finance and corporate power has the word “greed” in the title. Not when the presidential nominee of the traditionally pro-business party is blaming Wall Street’s greed for the current financial crisis.
Denouncing greed, however, appears easier than defining it.
Over the last three decades, the average compensation for chief executives of major American corporations has gone from 35 times the average pay of American workers to 275 times. That increase, it is suggested, or at least implied, constitutes greed.
But what if the increase had “only” been to 100 times? Would that have signaled greed? What about 50 times? And why wasn’t 35 times itself a sign of greed?
In the Niebuhr tradition we have been talking about, this is an important essay. Adam Smith removed the concept of “greed” and substituted “self interest”. But are they the same? Love to hear your thoughts.