November 2017: Is Greed Good?

November 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Is Greed Good?

Monday, November 20, 2017
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

In Wall Street, Gordon Gecko portrayed by Michael Douglas, tells shareholders, “Greed, for want of a better word, is good.” To Gecko greed captured the evolutionary spirit and included greed for life, love, money, and knowledge. To economist Adam Smith the competing greed of capitalists would like an invisible hand provide the wealth of nations. Ayn Rand wrote of The Virtue of Selfishness or the concern with one’s own interests not self-sacrifice or altruism. But didn’t Jesus advise the rich to give their wealth to the poor, the Qur’an mandate distributing alms to the needy, Buddha teach the vanity and emptiness of worldly possessions, and Baha’u’llah write to Pope Pius IX suggesting an abandonment of the Church’s riches. Are the rich right and the religious wrong?

When Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and other billionaires pledge to donate half their wealth to charity, are they letting the side down? Does it matter that not all the billionaires believe in God? Didn’t Gecko’s greed lead to a prison sentence and estrangement from his daughter. Is charity an effort to salve one’s conscience? Andrew Carnegie donated libraries and dinosaur skeletons to the public but what of the Homestead strikers and those killed by exploding machinery in his steel plants? Will Bill Gates give up aggressive patent litigation as he funds his foundation? Is Sinclair Lewis’ character, Elmer Gantry, right to condemn the businessman for praying on Sunday and cheating the public on Monday? Was the unscrupulous Gantry the proper messenger?

Is there a public good transcending love of gold? Adam Smith agreed government must build the lighthouses because no capitalist would. He wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments as well as The Wealth of Nations. How does the invisible hand help millions thrown out of work as factories close? Who will find them jobs allowing a middle class life style? Or was financier Ebenezer Scrooge correct to urge them to die out and decrease the surplus population? Is there a way to smooth the rough edges of capitalism?

A capitalist in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged states, “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” Rand’s philosophy of objectivism taught that pursuit of individual happiness or rational self-interest is the proper moral purpose of a person’s life. Perhaps, greed is good? But did Rand’s disciples like former Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Alan Greenspan, practice what she preached? Don’t rugged individualists like the Koch brothers keep asking the government’s help? How consistent is corporate welfare with objectivism?

When leaders of religion denounce wealth and pride do they mean it? Should the poor build and endow cathedrals? What would Muhammad say about oil sheikhs? Did Buddha really expect gold and jade statues? Even when they gave up wealth or warned the wealthy, could they not foresee how much money religion receives? What of the Gospel of Wealth that says God will reward the faithful here on earth? Would Jesus have driven its proponents out of the temple along with the money changers? And what balance is to be struck by secular non-profits which seek to do good but must spend so much time seeking donations? Is virtue really its own reward?

On Monday, November 20 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue (corner of Summit & Pierce), St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will try to decide if money will buy happiness or at least serve as a down payment. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality may like an invisible hand lead to the right path. The rich and the poor will have treats!