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Jun 22, 2010
Having recently learned about the show American Greed, I thought it worthwhile to make one general point about that concept, “greed.” It is a complete red herring. It implies that the pursuit of money is what makes many bad actions bad, and conversely that the pursuit of money is capable of making otherwise good actions morally dubious. And that is just not true. Money is not a moral pollutant of action.
MINAMPOA! (Pronounced min-am-PO-ah.)
If you are a prospector who misleads people into investing in your gold mine, it doesn’t make any difference whether you abscond with their money or go broke along with them. Deceiving the investors is where you went wrong.
If you are a doctor who fails to put forth your best effort in caring for your patients, it doesn’t matter whether you make millions at a plastic-surgery mill in Westchester or live on nothing at a charity in Calcutta. What’s wrong is that you are failing to give patients your best effort.
If you are an environmental crusader who distorts data in order to save the planet, it’s irrelevant whether you are also profiting from the distortions or merely hoping to increase the world’s sense of urgency. Cooking the books is what’s wrong.
Earning money does not make these actions—or any other action—more immoral. And, by the same token, actions that would be considered moral if they were not profitable should be considered no less moral if they happen to be profitable.
If you have long been engaged in discovering scientific information, and one day find that you are being offered payment for your labors, accepting the money introduces no taint into your pursuit.
If you have spent years telling colleagues about the most promising new computer products, it is not wrong in the slightest to accept money from a company that wants you to continue doing so.
If you do your job honestly, and serve your employer loyally, there is nothing morally troubling about accepting gifts from outsiders who benefit from your good work.
Money is not a moral pollutant of action. MINAMPOA!
As for the TV show American Greed: Yes, people do sometimes go astray while trying to get money, and no doubt it makes for good television to show people going to Hell in that particular fashion. Much of the drama and fiction of the world are premised on the truth that we are enlightened by seeing how men (and even angels) can fall. But as G.K. Chesterton observed: “There are an infinity of angles at which one falls.” Surely, one could produce a far more interesting and more subtle show by looking at the many and varied paths to perdition. Why concentrate simple-mindedly on “Greed”?
The answer, I suspect, is that the people behind the program do not wish to make people hate sin; they wish them to them associate sin with the pursuit of money.