Greed

Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas said of Greed: “it is a sin directly against one’s neighbor; since one man cannot over-abound in external riches, without another man lacking them… it is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, inasmuch as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things.”

A bit like Sloth, this is a sin I live with every day.  I believe all Americans live with this sin, even if we live very simply.  Here’s why. I believe consumerism, an ism embedded into today’s Capitalist society, needs greed to survive. “Always low prices, always” is not possible without low-cost labor to produce low-cost products.  Low-cost labor is not possible without low standards of living or as Aquinas says, “without another man lacking them.”

Have you ever wondered why things are not made in Taiwan any longer?  Ever looked at an old childhood toy?  When my parents were young, “cheap” products were made in Japan. Then they were made in Hong Kong.  Then Taiwan. Then Sri Lanka. Now China.  Why are those things not still made in Japan and Hong Kong? Because the standards of living in those places are now to high to “support” dirt cheap labor. The people of those countries will no longer work for that kind of wage.  Their lives are better than that now. I don’t know what country will come after China or which country will come after that or that, but I do hope that someday the world will run out of people to exploit.

And when that happens, I realize I, like all in the developed world, will “suffer.” I may have to pay $7 for a gallon of gasoline. I may not discard clothes I no longer care for, since a shirt on clearance at Target will no longer be $3. I may no longer be able to buy berries in January or run my air conditioner in August or water my flowers in summer.

How much will I sacrifice for all the people in India to have clean water or the people of Chad to have enough food? I realize these are complicated issues that don’t just stem from overseas manufacturing. But I wanted to illustrate how sneaky greed can be.

Finally, I’ll mention my hot tub.  I bought a hot tub.  It’s awesome, but it is the ultimate in opulence and greed. They call this sort of thing a “guilty pleasure” for a reason.  I have SO much in life, that I decided I needed 500 gallons of 100 degree, clean and clear water, at my disposal at any time for full-body immersion. I chose not to give that money to Heifer International or the local Salvation Army citadel.  Instead, this giant representation of my greed sits in my backyard, and I can let the neighbor kids play in there all day long, but it will never make up for my sin of having bought it in the first place.

2 Comments

  1. Your greed is based in biology or sociology at least. “In group” preferential behavior is common, but is it greed? Perhaps if we all just took care of our own, in a “trickle down,” manner all this globalization greed talk would seem less relevant. I mean, how can I actually care for the people of Chad if they do not care for each other (tribal war, governmental corruption, etc.)? Can I be held responsible for people that are not really my neighbors? Is bringing a hot tub to my family and the neighbors, who do use it, an act of kindness or greed? It’s difficult to tease out these things, right? If I tithe 10% of my income to the poor within my city, is it enough? May I have the rest for things like hot tubs or college educating my children? Perhaps a reader could quote me some scripture to help clarify this issue.

    How responsible am I for global suffering?

    Holly? Scripture?

  2. I will say that the greed of the West gave those first countries a chance to move up in the world. And now China is experiencing that.

    If we all continue to need the same non-renewable resources then your future picture will indeed come true. But pushing renewable energy could possibly make resources no longer a pie. Maybe we could someday run our air conditioner using solar energy, for example.

    But my greed is extreme. And as I think about my family and giving my kid things I didn’t have, it causes me to be even more greedy. I can say its because I want to help my family… but it is truly at the detriment other people.

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