Liberals and conservatives alike seem muddled on what the word “greed” means, said Charles Kadlec. The Left equates it with the simple desire to accumulate wealth, as when Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s socialist senator, implores Congress to raise taxes on the rich with the question, “When is enough enough?” The Right, meanwhile, embraces greed as a virtue “vital to the functioning of our economy.” Clearly, moral confusion knows no ideology.
In its original meaning, greed is a vice that’s “bad for society” because it uses “coercion or deception to advance one’s well-being at the expense of another.” So defined, greed is easy to distinguish from what I would call “enterprise,” which is the virtuous pursuit of wealth through “voluntary exchanges” that benefit society. Who, for example, would call Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin greedy for popularizing technology that has “enriched the lives” of millions? Conversely, who would call Bernard Madoff’s monstrous deceit virtuous? By learning to think clearly about greed, we can better distinguish between “the pursuit of happiness” and “theft and deception.”