Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Greed can be Everywhere We Go

Templeton Foundation hosted a forum in October/November about whether capitalism corroded individual morality. My response, which you can find in an earlier post “The Chicken or the Egg?,” was that capitalism did not corrode morality but provided an ever-present incentive to engage in corrupt or immoral behavior.

Just as Mark mentioned in the previous post, whatever morality we attribute to a system comes from the people inside the system whether it be economic, political, family, etc. One common critique of the capitalist system is that the prevalence of greed. People act in completely self referential ways that cause them to want to possess, acquire, and destroy. In other words, they act out of the dark love known as eros. That greed happens I do not believe is disputable just read the newspapers. But, I want to submit to you that government is also merely a system that can also attract greed.

One problem economists understand is the moral hazard problem. People act out of their own incentives and not the desire of the people that designed the system. For example, someone takes advantage of disability payments even though they are capable of work –or- an individual remains on medicaid despite their current support from someone they have not yet married. Sometimes economists place too much emphasis on the fact that people do game the system and not enough on those who are legitimately helped. Parenthetically, one interesting question arises, “How much does a government program need to be gamed in order for us to consider other options?”

Finally, people taking advantage of a situation and extracting resources that were not intended for them can occur in the free market and government. CEOs pay themselves exorbitant salaries during unsuccessful years and lower income people sometimes take advantage of resources that they were not supposed to receive. The root of such activity seems to be self-love and greed –which is idolatry.

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