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.