The President of the United States has repeatedly taken time out to castigate the “greed” of Wall Street and the business community. But shouldn’t we pause to consider the pleasing side of greed? Ok, the dictionary says greed is an “excessive desire to acquire or possess, as wealth or power, beyond what one needs or deserves.” Being good Aristoteleans at heart, we all balk at anything excessive, but what about the promptings of what Tocqueville called “self-interest rightly understood”? I think there is a lot to be said for it–as did Tocqueville:
The principle of self-interest rightly understood produces no great acts of self-sacrifice, but it suggests daily small acts of self-denial. By itself it cannot suffice to make a man virtuous; but it disciplines a number of persons in habits of regularity, temperance, moderation, foresight, self- command; and if it does not lead men straight to virtue by the will, it gradually draws them in that direction by their habits. If the principle of interest rightly understood were to sway the whole moral world, extraordinary virtues would doubtless be more rare; but I think that gross depravity would then also be less common. The principle of interest rightly understood perhaps prevents men from rising far above the level of mankind, but a great number of other men, who were falling far below it, are caught and restrained by it. Observe some few individuals, they are lowered by it; survey mankind, they are raised.
I am not afraid to say that the principle of self-interest rightly understood appears to me the best suited of all philosophical theories to the wants of the men of our time, and that I regard it as their chief remaining security against themselves. Towards it, therefore, the minds of the moralists of our age should turn; even should they judge it to be incomplete, it must nevertheless be adopted as necessary.
It’s worth keeping Tocqueville’s words in mind as we listen to the scolding prigs inveigh against greed and capitalism. Just last week, in a perfect illustration of the principle that a government that is big enough to give everything is big enough to take it away, the President capped executive salaries of some entities receiving taxpayer-funded bailouts. A prudent move to limit taxpayer loses? Or a bit of political theater designed to appeal to the resentful socialist base of the Democratic party? One thing is for sure, it stands as a vivid reminder of the sort of strings government “largess” comes with.
If you don’t watch anything else this week, watch Milton Friedman slice, dice, and eviscerate a pompous, moralistic interviewer who tried to make him feel guilty about the world’s poor and greedy capitalism
(Hat tip, Instapundit, which also has a refreshing snippet from Satruday Night Live on Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi):