You don’t need to go far these days to find angry exchanges about “greed”. The UK general election will see wild rhetoric about the Politics of Greed. But who in fact is greedy?
Let’s run some Google searches and look at the Top 10 Greedy Grabbers:
Greedy footballers 118,000 results
Greedy financiers 152,000 results
Greedy bankers 222,000 results
Greedy benefit claimants 248,000 results
Greedy businessmen 387,000 results
Greedy journalists 459,000 results
Greedy voters 569,000 results
Greedy politicians 9,020,000 results
Greedy owners 9,800,000 results
Greedy workers 13,000,000 results
Greedy women 21,000,000 results
Greedy men 31,400,000 results
Greedy children 31,300,000 results
So take out the generalised human instincts about the greed of men/women/children, and it turns out that Greedy Workers are the clear winners, well ahead of another notable category, Greedy Owners.
Odd that. Are these results reflected in the way the Western media presents such questions? Who would have expected greedy bankers to be only half as greedy as greedy journalists?
I recently listened to BBC radio interview various European striking workers, all of whom were left unchallenged by the interviewer when they listed their various “demands” for more money or greater job security. Yet is it not a teensy-weensy bit greedy to clamour for such advantages as if they were the natural state of affairs, with only selfish capitalists and politicians trying to snatch them from the valiant deserving proletariat?
What is happening is a speedy global levelling-off in wage rates as hundreds of millions of Asian, African and Latin American workers (and robots) use clever new technology and join the Planet’s workforce. In these amazing circumstances, workers in Europe are going to trend towards something like the average levels of job security — and insecurity — experienced elsewhere around the world. Basically, the obese “European social model” is dying on its feet, no longer affordable. It staggers on only because current voters greedily inflict ruinous levels of debt on future generations. Is demanding that reality stop in its tracks for one’s own benefit not greedy?
Be all that as it may, I have been brooding on different ideas of Greed. So, here is a quiz. Put on your thinking-caps and have a go at the following seven examples.
An inventor toils for years in poverty to create a new cheap energy-efficient light-bulb. He finally succeeds where countless others have failed. Millions of people choose to buy his light-bulbs. He gets very rich, and buys himself large houses, yachts and cars. Then he retires, even though he had ready some brilliant new inventions that also would have benefited millions of people. These inventions are never made. Has he been greedy? If so, where?
An unemployed person wins a good sum on the lottery. She decides to use much of the money to open a business selling cheese. She employs 10 people, paying them a good wage by local standards. The business flourishes. Six of the workers do their calculations and realise that the owner of the business is making a big profit. They demand much higher wages. The owner becomes angry, and closes the business. The 10 workers all end up unemployed. Good local cheese supplies decline sharply. Who was greedy? In what way?
A computer geek invents wildly popular new software. He becomes a billionaire. He lives in a scandalously luxurious way and gives no money to charity, but the money pouring into his bank account is reinvested in many new ventures that create hundreds of jobs and thousands of new products. Is he being greedy? If so, why?
A family firm builds up over generations now employs 400 people. One worker is a convinced Communist. He starts to agitate for a trade union presence to be accepted in the firm. He persuades 100 workers to join him, but the majority aren’t interested. For the first time in the firm’s history damaging disputes break out. Production slows. Customers are annoyed. Fearing that their beloved business could crash, the wealthy family owners sack the Communist and his 9 closest associates. These 10 people sue the firm for unlawful dismissal and win significant compensation. Who is being greedy? Why?
Senior BBC executives insist that they are “entitled” to the sort of salaries enjoyed in major private corporations as they have jobs of commensurate responsibility. They arrange salaries above £500,000 a year. Are they being greedy? If so, why?
A young footballer turns down a contract worth £100,000 a week in the hope of getting an eventual move to a football club more likely to win something. Is he being greedy? Why?
Faced with a marginal tax rate of 50% thousands of senior professional people decide to work less and earn less. As a result, significant losses are inflicted on the wider economy: many jobs are done to a less high standard, or not done at all. Hundreds of firms make lower profits. Thousands of people lose their jobs. The government’s tax-take declines. Meanwhile the general public clamour for the expensive new medical equipment to be bought by the NHS so that lives might be saved. Who is being greedy? Why?
(Note: I do not offer answers. Merely the thought that at some point it all becomes less a question of politics or even moral philosophy, and instead all about an aesthetic instinct about Life and the way we wish to live it)
Charles Crawford is a British former diplomat turned communication and negotiation specialist. His work for HM Diplomatic Service featured postings in communist Yugoslavia, South Africa, and Russia, then three ambassadorships: in Sarajevo after the conflict (1996-98); in Belgrade after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic (2001-03); and in Warsaw when Poland joined the European Union (2003-07). He served as FCO Speechwriter in the 1980s and has drafted or contributed to speeches by members of the British Royal Family, Prime Ministers and different Foreign Ministers and other senior figures.
Charles left the FCO in 2007 to start a new private career. He has given masterclasses in negotiation and public speaking and speechwriting to private sector clients as well as international organizations and foreign ministries. He is a founder member of The Ambassador Partnership LLP, an international corporate diplomacy consultancy panel. He appears frequently on the U.K. and international media to discuss international policy issues and diplomatic technique (CNN, Sky News, BBC, ITV, Voice of Russia) and is part of the Daily Telegraph (London) comment team. When pressed or bribed he can mutter in Serbian/Bosnian, Polish, French, Russian or Afrikaans. He is married with three children and lives near Oxford.
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