I don’t often read Walter Williams, an Op/Ed columnist whose column appears in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I find his mind closed in to even the slightest hint of liberality. So I usually just skip over him.
But recently a headline on his column, “In Greed I Trust” caught my eye (see Richmond Times-Dispatch for January 12, 2012).
I was horrified, and hoped, in reading, to find the headline inaccurate. Alas, I did not.
The question which prompted the column was, “What human motivation gets the most wonderful things done?” His answer: “people trying to get as much as they can for themselves.”
People are motivated by self-interest, and in many cases people are able to do amazing things–raise themselves from disadvantageous circumstances, create new products that are useful to society, get an education, even marry the person of their dreams.
But greed, or getting all that’s mine, is not an unmitigated good. It often leads to hoarding, and unethical behavior and injury to others who get in the way. Bernard Madoff understood greed. No one is left a good outcome in that case.
Care for the other, paying attention to the needs of our fellow humans, is required in order for society to function. Self-interest is important–people who fail to care for themselves fare poorly in life, generally–but other-interest is also important. Both, in balance, are marks of an emotionally healthy person.
In that sense, one can claim that caring for others is also self-interested, and that is true. But greed and caring for others do not mix well.
Greed is selfish. The only thing I can trust greed to do is to lead to a breakdown of the social fabric.
And that is not good for any one.