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08/30/2003 Entry: "Capitalism and greed"

I'm gratified that Mark Byron has responded to my blatherings about capitalism. He makes a number of good points and his piece is well worth reading. Just in case there's any misunderstanding though, I've never (despite my appropriation of the "horrid socialist" label!) advocated state ownership and control of everything. The market has a value, but it does not have the god-like status to which some have elevated it. It isn't surprising that "the Market" is often personified, but it is really nothing more than a tool governed by a set of conventions which are constructed (and may be modified) by human beings. It is not a motivated, self-aware person in the way it is often presented. My very modest proposal (or so it seems to me) is that there is a place in the economy for a measure of state ownership (I think that even in the US there's a consensus about the ownership of roads, for example) and plenty of scope for the expansion of the co-operative sector.I'm not at all happy that we should accept that greed just "is". I mean, of course we need to recognise its presence in all of us, but that doesn't mean it should be accepted unchallenged. Laziness and violence are also present in human nature, but it would surely be a mistake to ecourage them!

Greed and self-interest are not the only motivators, and they needn't be the most powerful. Contentment, service to others, personal satisfaction are just some of the things which may motivate us. But if those things are not encouraged and valued, it is not surprising that greed gets the upper hand. And I don't think that there is any denying that it has got the upper hand in our culture.

Finally, I won't argue that at one level "greed works". But there are many areas where it does not. It seems to me self-evident that, for example, schools, hospitals, defence and (to an extent) transport are areas for which we should take collective responsibility. If these things are left to "the market" we know from experience that some will "fall through the net" completely.

And, finally finally. Whether it works or not, greed is a sin. Something to be repented of.

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