Maybe let’s try re-framing “greed” as “addiction to financial gain.”
When we accuse a cadre of “greed,” we’re saying something about their character generally. This takes us out of the realm of productive problem-solving and into the realm of tribal othering.
When we talk about “addiction,” we may accomplish several things:
First, we de-other the greedy. Addiction is a common human affliction. We are all addicts of one kind or another – to drugs, food, gambling, approval, sex, Twitter, etc. Those addicted to gain are just like us save for the nature of their addiction.
Second, we rightly connect the nature of greed with its negative consequence. Addicts ultimately and always put their addiction first. You may think you love your kids, but if you’re on dope you will leave them in the car alone to cop. You may think you are dedicated to your career, but if you are a sex addict you will compromise your work in a heartbeat for another lustrush.
Addiction to gain is no different. It places profits before people, transactions before the ethics, quick wins before the long-term well-being pf oneself and others.
Third, it suggests solvability. Greed is incurable. Addictions are subject to therapeutic treatment. We find out what’s triggering our compulsion – and apply various measures to put something between our present moment and our next self-destructive impulse.
Our present culture fosters addiction to financial gain, just as it fosters other addictions. But there are countermeasures. “Greed” suggests a much more intractable personal pathology.
Finally, the framing of “addiction” allows us to distinguish the healthy range of material acquisitiveness from the unhealthy one. If you want a nice RV so you can take the family on nice vacations, you may have to work a little harder for that. We can rationally distinguish this from using your aggregated capital to enslave other human beings and burn the planet.
What we call “greed” really does seem to be a form of addiction, where the addict craves the rush of the next gain – and self-medicates against various negative feelings such as shame by pursuing that next rush. And the dominant narratives of “success” and “accomplishment” often feed such addiction.
Let’s do what we can to stop it and offer the gain-addict the opportunity for healing.