Saturday, February 28, 2009

Greed is Good?

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in the 1980s assured us that "Greed is Good!", but I'm not sure how many victims of the current global financial crisis would agree with him. Personally, I think much of the responsibility for the state of the World lies with each of us individually. The general population, particularly in the US and UK grew addicted over the years to easy credit, and a "buy now pay (maybe) later" mentality. How anyone could have thought that a position where personal debt in the UK exceeded the GDP of the country was sustainable I do not know! The situation where someone in the South East of England could earn more from the rise in the value of their house in a year than they could from their job clearly could not continue for long!

There is no doubt, however, that people in general, and politicians in particular, would like to make out that it was those greedy senior bankers that got us into this mess. The furore over bonus payments, particularly for RBS employees, has been closely followed by equally impotent rage over the pension that Fred Goodwin is apparently going to receive: £693,000 a year!

It is easy to take pleasure in watching Goodwin squirm when quizzed about his pension by the Commons Treasury Select Committee. Many people would like to see him suffer in a much more painful and prolonged way. However, at the end of the day, Goodwin and his cronies were really only doing what their shareholders wanted: trying to make them (even) more money.

As Lao-tzu, the Chinese Philosopher, said:
"There is no calamity greater than lavish desires.
There is no greater guilt than discontentment.
And there is no greater disaster than greed."