Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Greed - The Enemy of Poverty

Greed is taught.

There is the problem and downfall of man and our attempts at civilisation. Look at it, analyse it, debate it and as much as we'd love it not to be true - it is. It's in us all as part of human nature and the reason we are not yet succeeding to live together with any sort of harmony.

We're all born with an element of greed. It's an instinctual need to get the necessities of life: food and warmth. These things we fight for instinctively. There's no shame in a basic human want to survive. But as children, once we have a full belly, we rest. Once we find warmth we sleep. It takes time to learn that a year comes with seasons and if we don't squirrel away food in spring we'll go hungry in winter. If we don't build a house that shields from harsh winter storms before they hit, we'll never see the winter break. So we start to do these things because we have a brain large enough to work out our needs in advance. And the animals around us have brains similarly able to work this out as well.

But man's brain is bigger. It reacts not just to instinct and ways to solve a seasonal shortfall, but also to opportunity. It sees machinations many moves ahead and can adapt and prepare for these as well. 
"If I squirrel away resources, above the level I need, I can sell them to those who run short when the resources are in demand." 
"If I could squirrel away all the resources then others would have no choice but to buy from me at whatever price I set."

I have no real problem with this. It's a conservative view I admit. It's not pretty, but you can't set up the game and then cry foul because some learn to play it too well. Well done to the smart, industrious souls who worked out how to rape spring to put away all it had to offer and sell back to others in winter.

The problems begin when you bring in the exceptions. For a man who works hard and gains an oversupply for himself should be able to benefit from the resale to others when those resources are needed and in demand. But what if they're needed by a family who fell sick in spring. A father who lost his wife in labour and then spent his spring caring for a sick infant. And what if that man and his young child are neighbours. Now we have an exception. Of course he should be given a free handout from the oversupply. How could anyone be so heartless not to be charitable in this situation?

What about the nineteen year old who spent his summer drunk and partying, he, of course, gets turned away. Because he has long hair and is a vegetarian - need I say more? So now, in simplest terms we have a government. A group of the powerful with the means, who decide who gets help and who does not, based on any number of flexible, moveable agendas. (Although vegetarianism should always be pretty much a deal breaker)

And the exceptions get more complicated. And those with the oversupply get more obstinate. They want and are happy to give money to the needy, but they want it to be their choice who those needs are and what criteria 'needy' is judged on. 

In the US more is given to Charity by the wealthy than at any time in history and yet tax rates are at historical lows and any talk of increasing them meets with extraordinary opposition. There's no dispute we need to contribute money to fix our global problems, that's clear from the charitable donations. But it's also clear there is no faith in the decisions makers to be trusted to do the right thing with money raise. So the wealthy would rather donate and decide themselves than allow a democratically elected government make those decisions for them. Are we head back towards an elite monarchical state that is governed not by birthright but by bank balance?  

There comes a time when people are faced with a genuine choice about how to right this global ship we're all afloat in. There is a distinction between a genuine and non genuine choice - for instance, to liberate Iraq was a non genuine choice. There was and is a huge economic advantage to invading this country so rich in oil. Had we definitive proof of weapons of mass destruction being used - the choice would have become genuine. But a hunch, from a source that's sort of usually accurate isn't enough to overcome the cynicism of world who knows how much an invading country would reap from the invasion.

A genuine choice is more like the one made to ignore the plight of the decades long civil wars in Africa where genocide was and is still being carried out.

Eventually, in a world that can never give itself to deliver justice, injustice is done. It may simply be to allow one young person to go underfed. This can be followed through to any degree, one person underfed becomes a hungry childhood where a brother or sister died through illness exacerbated by malnutrition. Suddenly the childhood grumble has become a bitter hatred. Force that young person to walk past a gilded department store every day and stare through grand windows at food overflowing the shelves - and I guarantee you are sowing the seeds for a personal revolution. It may not be in every child that becomes an adult, in fact it's likely many will be beaten down and lack any real driving force from the fight just to survive, but some will vow to walk into that shop as an equal, a few will vow to own the store and eventually one, so numbed by learnt lessons to the falseness of giving importance to moral right or wrong - will form their own empire and rule it to make wealth beyond the needs of millions and still call it their own.

Greed is learnt. It is taught. It is a lesson that applied in moderation allows young people to find a will and a spirit to achieve great things. But shown without its politically correct, presentable attire, teaches the falseness of moral karma, the apathy to empathy and the falseness of a good deed being repaid a thousand times.

So what is the answer? We could make sure we only teach the 'right' amount of greed. But then we arrive back at our rules and exceptions. Who decides who gets what and how much? Because this will in turn allow the lessons and scope of those lessons learnt. And will we truly blanket our decision without an eye to benefit for sacrifice. Will we feed Africa without a return? Will we be neutral with the rich middle east when opportunity to exploit arrives? 

It does seem, as much as everyone tries to deny it, the world is like a human body. And every organ needs to be healthy to allow the whole to survive and thrive. At the moment the organs that deliver joy are getting all the attention - has it ever been different? Show me one person on a death bed ever rejoicing because the 'glamour' organs are all still intact.

There are protestors now in cities around the world calling for change, to stop the flow of power and wealth from pooling in ever more increasing percentages at the very top of society. It's a mighty quest. And it can work if we understand that change comes so slowly it can't be seen. The protests do nothing but change the view by a degree of those watching on. So they don't even notice they have changed in thinking by a degree and the next big push will see another degree given. 

Eventually the degrees will have us facing the right direction where we don't regard a financial institution as being too big to fail. An institution that pushes paper money from one account to another at ever increasing price; an institution that fluffs a dollar until it can be trimmed to line a pocket; an institution that contributes not one ounce of product to a standard of living anywhere in the world - this is currently the institution we as a race, decided by those we elect, consider too big to fail. A nation of African's, of real people, men, women and children with bloated stomachs and gaunt faces that look to cameras with incredulous eyes wondering who it is that could possibly want to look at them die from the luxury of a lounge room or a dentist's waiting room - that is not yet an institution we as a race consider worthy of a bailout. And let's remind ourselves the financial bailouts of the past years could have fed the world in real goods many times over. The war fought in Iraq could have done the same. But we remain stoutly adhered to the lessons we have all learnt so well and for now, we stay well fed.
Greed is taught. And it's a lesson that history shows us leads to devastating results.