"Greed is good." (1987 film "Wall Street")
"Whoever loves money, never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never
satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless." (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
The financial "crisis" on Wall Street has provided another teachable moment.
It turns out that greed is not good after all.
While the media and politicians blame the usual suspects, greed, like
illicit sex, is not held in copyright by either party or political
Barack Obama partially and predictably blamed the Bush administration, but
it was the policies of the Clinton administration (as detailed in the Sept.
15 issue of Investors Business Daily) that sowed the seeds for the subprime
John McCain wants more regulations. What McCain should be demanding is an
investigation, especially of those members of Congress who failed to provide
oversight. It also wouldn't hurt to recommend more self-control and an
embrace of the Puritan ethic of living within one's means.
Modern Western culture has been built on the success ethic, which says the
acquisition of material wealth produces happiness and contentment and that
the value of a life is to be measured not by one's character, but the size
of his bank account, the square footage of his home, the cost of his clothes
and the cars in his garage. The Puritan Thomas Watson addressed this notion
when he said, "Blessedness ... does not lie in the acquisition of worldly
things. Happiness cannot by any art of chemistry be extracted here."
Christianity Today magazine noted in a 1988 article, "The Puritan Critique
of Modern Attitudes Toward Money": "American culture has been strangely
enamored of the image of Œthe self-made person' - the person who becomes
rich and famous through his or her own efforts. The idea of having status
handed over as a gift does not appeal to such an outlook. Yet the Puritans
denied that there can even be such a thing as a self-made person. Based on
an ethic of grace, Puritanism viewed prosperity solely as God's gift."
The writer might have added that prosperity should not be seen as an end,
but a means. Throughout Scripture, people are warned that money is a false
god that leads to destruction. Wealth is best used when it becomes a river,
not a reservoir; when it blesses and encourages others and does not solely
feed one's personal empire.
The modern business ethic seems to be to make as much money as possible, but
with little purpose for making that money other than to enhance the wealth
and status of those who make it. No wonder Paul the Apostle wrote that "the
love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). It isn't
money itself that is evil. Money, like fire or firearms, can be used for
good or ill, depending on the character of the person who possesses it. But
money can be worshipped with as much fervency as that golden calf in Moses'
time. In Dow we trust!
Part of our problem is a failure to distinguish between needs and wants.
Until the last century, most people were familiar with the Puritan ethic of
living within one's means. The Gilded Age in the late 19th century
demonstrated the folly of rapacious living, yet the Roaring Twenties
generation had to learn the lesson anew from the Great Depression.
When the Forbidden Fruit was handed to Adam and Eve, they were allowed the
moral choice to accept or decline. I know people who have refused to feast
on the money tree. They live simply, within their means, and seem far more
content than those who are trying to horde their wealth while clinging to
the ladder of "success," terrified to let go. That isn't real living. The
Puritans rightly saw that as covetousness.