Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Politics of Greed

(Note--Here is what I read about greed from the Buddhist point of view, in the Mula Sutta, as translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. "Greed itself is unskillful. Whatever a greedy person fabricates by means of body, speech, or intellect, that too is unskillful. Whatever suffering a greedy person — his mind overcome with greed, his mind consumed — wrongly inflicts on another person through beating or imprisonment or confiscation or placing blame or banishment, [with the thought,] 'I have power. I want power,' that too is unskillful. Thus it is that many evil, unskillful qualities/events — born of greed, caused by greed, originated through greed, conditioned by greed — come into play." Does that sound like anyone we know?)

Sorry, Gordon Gekko notwithstanding, greed is not good. Call it karma. Good old American greed—the greed that the oft-invoked “Reagan Revolution” thrived on—is coming back at us, and it’s not good. I’m no economist. Just a humanist and a bit of a Buddhist, and I look about me in the world today and I see the human cost of greed. And it’s not good. In today’s news reports, we hear about the tumbling of the world’s financial markets… but in the ripple effects of this rich person’s game, real people are really suffering, throughout the world.

Suppose we take George W. Bush and his economic policies as the apotheosis of Reaganomics, what hath he wrought? Deregulation has allowed greed to thrive virtually unchecked in the corporate world for the past, oh, twenty years, and we have a world-wide increase in the pollution of our environment, the rapid depletion of our increasingly scant resources, obscene profits, and very little to show for it all in the way of benefit for humankind. We have seen government finding nefarious ways to subsidize those who need it least, while those who need it most eke out a meager living if they are fortunate enough to pull in a double income. We have seen corporate lobbyists capitalize on their stranglehold on public servants, furthering their interests without regard for the public weal. We have seen a general decline in the quality of products: what used to last for years now lasts, if you’re lucky, for a few months before self-destructing or becoming redundant.

Our need for supremacy as a nation—another kind of greed—has led us into wars and threats of war, and has caused us to squander the wealth with which we were once entrusted in the perpetration of wanton acts of destruction and death. As consumers of by far the greatest share of the world’s resources, our greed for more and our unwillingness to make the smallest sacrifice has led us to spurn all efforts to spare the planet from our predatory demands. The richest nation in the history of the world seeks only to become richer.

We have been assured incessantly by the man in the Oval Office and his minions that “our economy is strong,” yet that majority of Americans who live in the real world look about them and see nothing but shambles. The housing and mortgage crisis is surely nothing if not the result of our greed—the greed of lenders and the greed of borrowers. A few short years ago, we looked around and saw nothing but the imagined profits of our real estate investments, and went out and spent them, fully expecting to make more. We put ourselves in hock even as our corporate and political leaders were busy putting our business and our country in hock. We have succeeded in selling off our children’s and our grandchildren’s birthright. The fallout from greed is widespread globally and across the generations.

When those who founded this country asserted the rights of the individual, they surely did not foresee the day when individual greed would run roughshod over the sense of obligation to one’s fellow human beings. They surely did not foresee the day when candidates for the office of the presidency would be falling over themselves to claim the heritage of predecessors whose policies caused so much despair and deprivation in the lives of so many of their fellow citizens. The evidence is invisible only to the blind and those who choose not to see. And those founding fathers surely did not foresee the day when voters could so easily allow themselves to be blinkered by their reluctance to contribute to the common good and seduced instead by the illusion of their short-term interest.

Greed, it seems, can bring momentary satisfaction when its demands appear to be fulfilled. But in so doing it rots the human soul, and its eventual return is yet greater dissatisfaction, unappeasable appetite, and the dread fear of deprivation. That’s karma. It affects us all.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Little will "change" in our country, no matter how often our candidates repeat the word, as long as "profits" remain the highest good. Thanks, Peter.


heartinsanfrancisco said...

I see people barely out of their teens driving Ferraris and Maseratis that they surely didn't buy themselves and I wonder what they have to strive for if everything is handed to them. They will never know or even comprehend the pleasure of an honest day's work, of doing their best, because they don't have to.

Our forbears struggled to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. For many people, an orange in a Christmas stocking was a luxury.

While I don't suggest that we go back to those days, we need to look around at the many in our cities today who have no roof and no food.

We have not only mortgaged our children's future without consulting them, we have corrupted their minds with false values so that they will continue to drive our planet into the ground until it ceases to exist.

And the least privileged will as always be the first to go.

Your post is excellent, Peter.