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On greed

November 26, 2008 by emweb

Lefter 3


Average-height poppies

Last post I mentioned a fundamental difference between left and right philosophies. I wrote that, in a nutshell, left-wingers tend to put people first whereas right-wingers put money first. 

You might think that means you ought to have a right wing accountant (I must note that my accountant is one of the coolest left-wing people I have ever met). But of course, if you put money first this world view can – and often does – lead to greed.

I’m always conflicted on greed. I am a white Middle Class male living in a  Western Democracy. Almost by default that puts me in the upper percentile of wealth compared to humans on Planet Earth. Even if I lived on a benefit, that would still be the case. So am I greedy?

I have to say, I’m no Mother Theresa. I won’t be leaving New Zealand to live in a slum to help people there. This is partly because I have no useful skills to pass on – I can’t make engines work or even swing a hammer very competently. I don’t know how to channel scarce water, and I’m terrible with gardens. The people I ought to help would probably end up looking after me, which would be a complete waste of resources.

But of course it’s partly because I’m lazy and partly because I have a family here, in safe old, comfortable New Zealand. And it’s partly because I feel I can make more of a difference in the society I grew up in. 

Anyway, what is greed? It’s usually defined as the excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves. If you put that into your own context, it’s pretty clear pretty quickly who is greedy and who isn’t.

I know New Zealand is supposed to be an ‘egalitarian’ society but it has always shocked me how much greed there is bubbling away under the surface. We teach our kids when they’re pre-schoolers to share. However, to become wealthy, you don’t share. You hoard. As adults, when we criticise the excesses of the wealthy, the usual riposte is that we’re exhibiting ‘tall poppy syndrome’. This implies we’re jealous; we’re trying to cut down the ‘tall poppies’ that have used personal wealth to place themselves above the rest.

So in New Zealand, we’re expected to tell our children to share and control their greed, but we’re supposed to laud it in adults. This is absolute poppycock in the context of those who live lives of excess as the rewards of their personal (or inherited) spoils. A true tall poppy is someone who has added to their society.

At this point, some people like to claim that rich people run businesses so they keep lots of people employed. Again, pure poppycock. To a wealthy business owner, materials are controlled and modified in the process of creating profits. 

Workers are materials too, that’s all. If you weren’t making a profit for the owner for every hour you spend on the job, don’t kid yourself – you would not be there. And if greedy business owners think they can get more out of you without paying you more, they will, and the National Party in New Zealand has always assisted anti-employee and pro-owner practices. That’s why they hate the unions, designed solely to stand up for workers’ equitable conditions and wages. (And I know NZ unions have been victims of their own excess in the past, too.)

Myself, I like to do a good job, to be thanked for it and to be paid fairly. 

That’s all.

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