Greed makes Liars, Cheats and Criminals of Us

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, last week announced that greed is good.

In fact, greedy rich people are much more likely to lie, steal, cheat, behave unethically and break the law than lower class people, research at the University of California at Berkeley showed.

Expensive cars are much more likely than cheaper cars to break the law by running through pedestrian crossings where pedestrians are waiting to cross.

It is not wealth itself which makes cheats and criminals of people, however but rather the combination of wealth and a belief that ‘greed is good’.

This was almost certainly a factor in the financial collapse of 2007-8, where individuals in the financial sector made greedy by a culture of huge bonuses engaged in reckless trading driven by a selfish and myopic focus on their own profits in spite of the disastrous effects for society of this behaviour.

In fact, the ‘greed is good’ attitude praised by the London Mayor is possibly the most economically harmful philosophy that the world faces – irrespective of any moral questions about it.

To reiterate – I am not saying that wealth necessarily corrupts, nor that ambitious entrepreneurship is a bad thing – on the contrary, these are important engines of the world economy.

But for the well-off to to adhere to the idea that greed is good will indeed corrupt them and lead them down a dismal road of unethical and at times criminal behaviour, many instances of which we witnessed during the financial crash.

But there are also personal costs for those who make accumulating money central to their values: the more central money is to a person’s life and the more focused they are on material advancement, the less happy they tend to feel.

Greedy people think about money a lot, but when people are made to think about money, even unconsciously, they give less money to charity! They are also less helpful to someone who trips and scatters pencils on the floor than people who don’t have money on their mind.

Boris Johnson has got this very, very wrong and he should retract.


2 thoughts on “Greed makes Liars, Cheats and Criminals of Us

  1. That’s the first time I’ve heard that the ‘greed is good’ meme is needed for this sort of harm. While Gordon Gekko is a creature of the 80’s and Prosperity theology -wealth as a sign of God’s blessings -a bit older, I would have thought the research shows the sort of entitlement feelings associated with wealth and high status, combined with status competition and self-interested rationalizations would be enough to explain this sort of behavior right through history. I do wonder if there are other periods of history when greed was considered a virtue?

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