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.