Show me a country where competition isn’t fueled by greed and I’ll show you a country not worth living in. In America greed makes us great. Just look at the lines at your local convenience store when the lottery jackpot soars. Quick, easy money is an impossible lure. People want to be rich. No matter what values we endorse, deep down we know that rich is great and greed gets us there.
The right gets a lot of bad press for being greedy. Some of it is deserved. Most of it is not. The left tends to forget that greed creates wealth for everyone, not just the rich. Without corporate wealth, for example, there would be nothing to invest in.
Two stories took over the headlines recently. Both are about American greed.
Main Street likes Wall Street profits, too
It was infuriating to listen to the media trumpet warnings and advice to investors about what not to do with their 401k(s) while the market sank last week. After years of helping Obama cast Wall Street as an enemy fueled by unstoppable greed, it was outrageously hypocritical to tell Americans how to protect their winnings while reminding them how much the market has gained.
The stock market has been booming long enough that Americans got used to making a profit, but surging investments haven’t been enough to silence the anti-Wall Street harangues from the White House:
A system where Wall Street firms benefit from backdoor payments and hidden fees if they talk responsible Americans into buying bad retirement investments—with high costs and low returns—instead of recommending quality investments isn’t fair. These conflicts of interest are costing middle class families and individuals billions of dollars every year.1
What a great idea for making everyone equally rich: only let Americans invest in quality investments, not the bad ones Wall Street turns a big profit on.
Profit is expensive. It comes at a price. You can make a lot of money investing. You can also lose your shirt because of something you can’t control. Or you can do what the government suggests, pretend your money is protected by new regulations, and maybe park some extra dollars in a safe, interest-bearing account that earns nothing. That will get you a retirement on Social Security, something the left will tell you is safe, secure, and dignified.
Despite all the talk about regulation, leveling the playing field, and making investing safe for consumers, high finance isn’t safe and never will be (see: Retirement Planning Protection for Middle Class Victims). Besides, we don’t want the field to be too level. We are greedy. We are competitive. We never want things to be so fair that some of us can’t prosper more than others. When there is no game to play, there is nothing to win and no reason to try.
We can safely ignore presidential warnings of “an agenda that let Wall Street run wild at the expense of folks on Main Street.”2 A Wall Street firm is never going to be operating by the same rules as a working class family. Neither is a corporation. We can’t have it both ways without kissing goodbye the kind of profits that swell our 401(k)s and that even Democrats worry about protecting when the market drops. We don’t like shipping jobs overseas and the left abhors loopholes, but tax breaks help businesses prosper. There isn’t an American with a dollar to invest who won’t happily reap the benefits of a blue chip’s dirty deeds if it means a swelling portfolio.
There are exceptions to all this, usually involving those without money. They claim that the greed of the rich is bad. They are still greedy, but their lust is focused on other people’s money.
Liberal greed attacks what feeds it
Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders didn’t hold up very well when they were swarmed by aggressive Black Lives Matter loudmouths in Phoenix. They gave up the stage to the same people they thought they were advocating for. That’s another face of greed in America, the face that wants everything as long as other people’s sweat and tears pay for it.
The greed of Black Lives Matter and other activist groups is worse than any Wall Streeter (see: Value of Life Is Decided by Protest and Politics). They don’t produce anything. They don’t turn a profit. They shout, bully, complain, and demand. Even when their cause is just, the real goal is taking money from others, not making life better. Activists aren’t stupid. They know success means they no longer have a purpose.
Two of our Democratic contenders were faced with quite the quandary. What do you do when you are already offering your supporters more than they deserve and it still isn’t enough?
Donald Trump showed us a different way of dealing with the greed of the left, in this case a Univision reporter mouthing off over his views on immigration. Ramos represented yet another take on greed, speaking on behalf of people who have the least claim of all to our money. Trump’s reaction underscored the difference between liberal and conservative. Sanders and O’Malley surrendered to hecklers. Trump had Ramos removed.
Those are two responses to greed. The left gave away. The right took back.
Which sounds more American?