A Philosopher's Blog

Avarice

Posted in Business, Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 24, 2010

The other day I was watching the History Channel’s shows on the deadly sins. The last one I watched was about greed and this got me thinking of the holiday season and the recent battle over tax cuts.

On one hand it is reasonable to see the desire of the wealthy to keep their tax cuts as being, well, reasonable. After all, as people have argued, the wealthy (sometimes) earn their money and hence have a right to keep it. Also, people argue that the tax cuts will help create jobs.

On the other hand, it is tempting to see this desire as a form of avarice. After all, it could be argued, the extremely wealthy do not actually need the tax cuts. They are, after all, extremely wealthy. As such, it would seem that the desire to keep the cuts is based on avarice, which can be seen as the desire for more for the sake of having more.  Ancient thinkers, such as Aristotle, regarded this obsession with wealth as a vice. Christian thinkers also argued for its wickedness and it was eventually cast as one of the seven deadly sins.

One moral problem with avarice is that it leads to various other immoral actions. After all, when someone values wealth excessively, they will tend to do what it takes to get that wealth. Another moral problem, as authors such as Aristotle and Wollstonecraft have argued, a focus on wealth distracts people from what is truly valuable: being virtuous. A third moral problem is that those who gather up wealth in excess would seem to be morally accountable for the harm they do in denying others. For example, if someone becomes wealthy by exploiting workers or by engaging in financial witchcraft that ruins the finances of thousands (or millions), then they would seem to be acting wrongly.

Naturally, all these points can be argued against. First, people will point out that it is possible to become wealthy without doing misdeeds. I actually agree with this as did the classic virtue theorists. After all, Confucius noted that there is no shame in being wealthy when one gains the wealth in a way consistent with virtue. The problem is, of course, gaining and keeping wealth through ill means.

Second, folks will point out that it is possible to be wealthy without placing wealth as having a value beyond its true worth. Once again, I agree with this. If someone can be wealthy without placing wealth above the well being of others and so on, then I am fine with this. The problem arises when wealth is valued more than it is truly worth (in the moral sense).

Third, folks will point out that the wealthy often give to charity and some folks become wealthy in ways that do not involve taking from others or denying them the means to survive. Again, as long as the wealth is not accrued in a way that causes others to suffer or harms them, then I am fine with this.

As such, like the classic thinkers, I am not against wealth. Rather, I am against avarice. I will, of course, leave it to others to argue that avarice is actually good.

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22 Responses

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  1. magus71 said, on December 24, 2010 at 6:28 am

    Here’s a couple of quotes from Zig Zigler (a Christian) :

    “The foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty”

    “You get what you want by helping others get what they want.”

    I’m betting I’ve dealth more truly poor people than most others who frequent this blog. Most of teh poor that Idealt with in America violated the above two statements.

    Avarice is not good. But you routinely overstate the evils of business, which you use interchangeably with “the rich.” You seem to leave out thos ethat produce little but hav ridiculous riches ie entertainers. And, I’m sure you consume many of the products that the rich business people provide.

    Mike, have you ever met or known a rich business person. I’ve met successful people, and you know what I’ve found? The successful people in business are the people who give and gave the most of themselves. I know this breaks all of your liberal ideology, but helping others make others want to help you, which breeds success.

    I rememebr when I was in South Carolina, a friend of mine introduced me to an older man who was very, very well off. Drove an expensive car and all. But he was one of the kindest people I’d ever met. He and I spent a day at the local soup kithcen cutting vegetables and helping cook food for people. He said he’s been trained in a French school of cooking and showed me different techniques in cutting vegetables and that he liked to use his ability to help others.

    There are far, far more people like this than you imagine Mike. The best way to become successful is to help others be successful.

    From what I’ve seen, in America at least, it’s more difficult to do well by being evil than by being righteous. This speaks well of our country.

    You’ve got it mostly backwards.

    • T. J. Babson said, on December 24, 2010 at 9:31 am

      I am pretty surprised to see someone like Mike falling for this class warfare nonsense.

      http://hubpages.com/hub/The_Millionaire_Next_Door

      The bestseller “The Millionaire next Door” is indeed a fascinating book.

      Thomas Stanley and William Danko, wrote this book after completing a thorough study of the lifestyle of the wealthy for over two decades.

      According to them, the everyday Joes who made it to the million dollar mark live a simple (if not plain) life. They drive simple car, wear plain clothes, and live in your average neighborhood.

      So, what makes them a millionaire? Surely there is something they do/practice that other doesn’t. What is it?

      Of course there is. The most abnormal characteristic of these millionaires, according to the authors is that they save much-much more then what they spend of their earning. Now, that is the catch. It is in fact very hard to save. It requires the highest degree of self discipline, don’t you agree?

      “Wealth is the result of a lifestyle of hard work, perseverance, planning and, most of all, self-discipline”, says the duo.

      Stanley and Danko list seven most common characteristics that are common in all these Joe Millionaires;

      1. They live well below their means – Less spending, more saving, another step closer to million dollars.

      2. They allocate their time, energy, and money efficiently, in ways conducive to building wealth – They work, play and spend with the “goal to save more” as their highest priority. Again, save, save, save.

      3. They believe that financial independence is more important than displaying high social status

      4. Their parents did not provide “economic outpatient care.” – These people are usually not born rich. They work and save their way to million dollars

      5. Their adult children are economically self-sufficient

      6. They are proficient in targeting market opportunities – They earn by providing services where one is needed. They know how to make an opportunity out of demands.

      7. They chose the right occupation- The authors emphasize that the great majority of this millionaires are self employed. You are 4 times less likely to be a millionaire if you work for others. Choosing the right industry and selling the right product/services also will determine your success. Back to characteristic (6) – targeting market opportunity.

      • magus71 said, on December 24, 2010 at 2:12 pm

        “I am pretty surprised to see someone like Mike falling for this class warfare nonsense.”

        Not me. Read William Gibson and you have Mike’s views of the world.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 25, 2010 at 2:56 pm

        I’m not much for class warfare, although it can be a useful concept for examining history.

        I have nothing against wealth or even income. However, I do have concerns about avarice.

    • kernunos said, on December 24, 2010 at 3:48 pm

      John Huntsman is another example.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Huntsman,_Sr.

      There are many more. Then you have useless baggage rich such as John Kerry and the late Ted Kennedy.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on December 24, 2010 at 9:22 am

    A couple of points.

    1) Wealth is not the same as income. One can have a high income and not be wealthy, and vice versa.

    2) The tax hikes would mainly hit those who work for their money, like doctors and small businessmen. These people by and large worked very hard for many years so that they could make a good living in middle age. They are now trying to put their kids through college without receiving any financial aid and trying to save for retirement. It is grossly unfair to call these people greedy.

    Truly wealthy people do not work for a living, but live off of their investments.

    • kernunos said, on December 24, 2010 at 3:49 pm

      Good point. The majority of employers are small businesses that fit into this ‘wealthy’ classification.

  3. erik said, on December 24, 2010 at 11:57 am

    It’s not for nothing that avarice was one of the 7 Deadly Sins. For those who look to the past for all the right answers, there you go.

    Pride, wrath and envy are three more of the seven. They are constants of the human condition, and there’s no sign they’ll evolve away before the Second Coming. It could be easily argued that those three form a firm basis for human traits like unfairness and bitterness. Yet, according to the immortal words of Jim Webb, “Fairness will happen, and bitterness will fade away.” I would say: That, in a specific sense and in a general sense, is pure crapola.

    We could have waited for the Black Codes to fade away. We could have waited for segregated restaurants in the South to fade away. We could argue that government intervention slowed the fading process. Because people are essentially good. We’re not sinners in the hands of a wrathful God. And we could argue that by now racist hatred in this country would have long ago disappeared IF. . . I don’t buy it, or anything like it.

    We could wait for avarice to fade away all by itself. Why not? Because it won’t.

    And magus: I have not doubt whatsoever that “Most of teh poor that Idealt with in America violated the above two statements. ” You were a law enforcement officer, right? More importantly, did most of the rich people you dealt with in your daily dealings with law breakers of AA classes in America violate the above two statements? Are they worth a mention? I’ve met my share of “poor” people (I imagine my share and your share are not equal –I wasn’t a law enforcement officer) and I’ve found that many if not most of them (I wasn’t keeping the figures stored on my computer) do not violate the two Zigler statements you quote.

    Zigler: “You can have everything in life you want if you’ll just help enough other people to get what they want!” A wonderful and typically inspirational statement. And so much in a statement like this is flexible. I would imagine and you would know at closer hand than I that “Everything you want in life” shifts a bit when you’ve hit an IED. With Zigler’s statement you can always have everything you want. Of course, if you want to dunk a basketball and you’re genetically doomed to be 4 feet tall, you’ll either change your definition of “everything you want” or your definition of “dunking” .
    Hey, didn’t Zigler used to be Dale Carnegie? :)

    • erik said, on December 24, 2010 at 12:02 pm

      “of all classes in America”

    • magus71 said, on December 24, 2010 at 2:28 pm

      Eric,

      Not sure how IEDs relate to averice.

      So you’re saying that the things Zigler talks about won’t help? Try doing the opposite.

      For almost the first time in my life, I’ve applied Zigler’s recoomendations to myself since I’ve joined the military.

      The result?

      2008 Outstanding Soldier of the Cycle, Bravo Platoon, Basic Training, Ft. Jackson, South Carolina.

      2009 Brigade Soldier of the Year, 66th MI Brigade, Wiesbaden Germany

      2010 Douglas McArthur Award; Most Outstanding Leader, Non-Commisioned Officer Academy, Grafenwoehr, Germany.

      Promoted to NCO in quickest time possible.

      And I did it by putting others first, buit demanding the best of them and myself. It’s not weakness or screwing up that is to be despised, so much as refusing to try to improve and learn. I put Soldiers before myself–and they loved me.

      Whatever people do in life, I would advise that they expect the most from themselves, always be honest people you work with, expect others to work hard and let them know when then are not, and never, never, never wallow in self-pity. Just identify the problem, take the needed steps to improve.

  4. erik said, on December 24, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Actually , I’m not so sure what the two Zigler quotes you provide have to do with avarice.
    But since you brought Zig up I thought I’d add my opinion.

    “So you’re saying that the things Zigler talks about won’t help?”
    Not at all. Homilies have been common in religion for centuries. There’s no reason why they can’t be used outside a religious framework by Zigler, Carnegie, etc. I said that for the homilies to work often the individual’s interpretation of words or phrases in his statements has to be flexible. I had hoped the IED example would illustrate that point. But you haven’t really responded to that issue. (That for Zigler’s homily to work the fellow who loses both legs and arms in an IED has to adjust his meaning of “Everything you want in life.” Nothing to do with avarice, everything to do with the two Zigler two statements you provide. Maddoff got what he wanted by providing others what they wanted. Until he was caught by the long arm of the law.

  5. chamblee54 said, on December 24, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Mr. Magus71 ( is that pronounced MAGOO, like the cartoon character?)
    If you spell checked your comments, they would make more sense.

    • magus71 said, on December 25, 2010 at 8:28 am

      Mr. chamblee54,

      Wow. You were born in 1954 and you’ve resorted to critiquing my spelling on hastily posted comments and also to name calling? Are you blogging from your mother’s basement?

      And what exactly is the spell check problem besides me spelling avarice with an “E”–once, do you see in my post above? Perhaps you don’t understand military lingo. Or German names of cities?

      Also, I have a bad connection and short time in Konar Province, Afghanistan. I race to make posts while the screen moves up and down on me and sometimes i lose entire posts when i hit “Post Comment”.

      Actually, I’m a very good speller–but a search and peck typer.

      But thanks for being such a jerk. Merry Christmas.

  6. chamblee54 said, on December 25, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    *What would Zig Zigler say?*
    (Spell Check suggestions for Zig Zigler :Rig ,Dig ,Gig ,Pig ,wiggler ,Giggler ,Niggler )
    mxm

  7. erik said, on December 25, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    chamblee whatever your age is: Seriously, spelling is a non-issue.

    And if you’ve watched this site for a while, m simply doesn’t misspell excepot in instances such as he’s described above. Watch this site more closely for some who would present non-facts as facts. Or define words in unique ways. This thyme you merely gave magus a easy way to avoid responding to my explanation of his misundertanding of my 24/2010 11:57 post.

    So their you goes. Apply your spell-grammer-cheker to this reply if you want something to do.

  8. chamblee54 said, on December 25, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    This quote is from the Wikipedia page for Jim Backus “He was the voice of the near-sighted cartoon character Mr. Magoo. In 1952, he had a brief scene in Don’t Bother To Knock with Marilyn Monroe. Years later, when Backus was a frequent talk show guest, he would recount the time Monroe urgently beckoned him into her dressing room. Once there, she exclaimed in her breathy voice, “Do Mr. Magoo!”[citation needed]”
    In addition to Mr. Magoo, Mr. Backus was Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island, and the father of James Dean in “Rebel without a cause”.

    • T. J. Babson said, on December 25, 2010 at 4:12 pm

      chamblee, I think you have left the Riemann sheet on which the rest of us are dwelling.

      To understand Magus, I would not look to Jim Backus but rather to Magi, Zarathushtra, etc.

    • kernunos said, on December 28, 2010 at 2:44 am

      Chamblee54 has exited stage left……………………………………

  9. chamblee54 said, on December 29, 2010 at 12:36 am

    But I will be back. In the meantime, go to my blog for pretty pictures and ugly opinions.
    chamblee54

  10. magus71 said, on January 4, 2011 at 4:47 am

    The hippies in this episode of South park pretty much sum up Mike’s view of Big Business:

    Don’t become a corporate slave man!

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 4, 2011 at 5:55 pm

      I have no problem with ethical business and even ones that are morally neutral. My concerns are with practices that cross moral boundaries, such as knowingly selling unsafe products.

  11. [...] Avarice (aphilosopher.wordpress.com) [...]


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