Is Greed Good?

Weber could not foresee the immense wealth or the immense poverty that would come of the pursuit of capitalism. Nor could he envision how religion would clash with elements of capitalism. These tensions today show up in Senator Grassley's investigation of the Grassley Six, Christian prosperity preachers whose wealth and lavish lifestyles have covered our television screens. They show up in the tensions for Muslims like Tariq Ramadan, whose giving of alms to Islamic benevolent societies cost him both a US visa and a prestigious academic post at Notre Dame. They show up in the recent encyclical by Pope Benedict, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), which criticizes the current economic system as a place where the "pernicious effects of sin are evident."

All of this, then, makes a discussion about greed timely. Our editorials this week offer a variety of perspectives --Buddhist, Jewish, Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Evangelical, Pagan, Mormon, and Islamic -- spanning the range of discussions about the question "Is greed good?" David Loy's article, entitled "Money for Nothing," is not the Dire Straits song, but a reflection on the Buddhist perspective on emptiness and money, and how money functions as a means to provide "binding without a rope," keeping people captive in they ways they think (and sometimes obsess) about money.

Rabbi Levi Brackman in "The Torah's Wisdom for Financial Markets" explores the Jewish system of loaning money called Heter Iska, where loans are structured in such a manner that the lender becomes an investor in the loan, rather than a banal usurer. Ian Markham tackles the question dead on with "Is Greed so Bad?" claiming that blatant cases of greed are very rare, and in fact, that the problem of the investment bankers and mortgage brokers was not greed -- it was stupidity. Chris Lowney counters this argument with "Greed Is Bad, Wealth Is Wonderful," calling for a "robust, faith-led spirituality and theology of work, money-making, and money-use," which, Lowney counters, are "our most pervasive human activities."

On the reforming side, Timothy Dalrymple's timely essay on "Executive Compensation" highlights the overcompensation of executives, asking questions about the effects of overcompensation, and a call for Christians to lead the way to change the system. John Terrill's article on "Reframing Business Education" calls for a emphasis not only on the qualitative portions of the education, but on the moral foundations in business of "simply doing the right thing" without simply focusing in on the Milton Friedman Model of "Maximizing Wealth." Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo's article "Islamic Home Finance Offers New Solutions in This Economy" shows how the Islamic financial sector, based in religious principles, can hold new insights for American households of all faith traditions. Finally, Nicole Greenfield looks at how all of these issues play out currently in religious life in general.

With that said, dive in, read, discuss. You too, like Gordon Gekko's apprentice Bud Fox, will have to decide just how good greed is.

7/21/2009 4:00:00 AM