Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A critical view of "Greed"

Did you know that people are going hungry in America while the greedy ultra rich lounge on the decks of their opulent yachts and drive expensive foreign sports cars enroute to their lavish parties in Belair and Brentwood? I suggest that the two concepts are not related, but Dr. Julian Edney suggests that hunger and poverty are a result of the greedy rich bastards in America denying the down trodden their fair share of the pie. Dr. Julian Edney opines that this is how things are in America today in his essay “Greed” (his 25-page document plus footnotes available for review at the following link: (http://www.g-r-e-e-d.com/GREED%20I.htm). A Los Angeles survey which Dr. Edney cites “found more than a quarter of low income residents, many working, are not getting enough food to meet basic nutritional needs. And 10% are experiencing hunger,” citing a source article about food stamps in California. This assertion doesn’t come close to describing the totality of the picture concerning “hunger” in America, much less the State of California. If anything, poor Americans eat entirely too much, and many times we all see that even the poorest of Americans are often obese as compared to the poorest citizens of Third World countries whose sociopolitical environments deprives their citizens needed food. This point is not even arguable. Dr. Edney also notes that “(poor) people in decaying buildings daily watch glittering television scenes of shining cars, ocean yachts, and overflowing parties of the rich and famous.” I for the moment will disregard his attempt to prey on class envy in making his point (unlike greed, envy is another of the 7 Deadly Sins that Dr. Edney does not take issue with in his essay, but rather seems to promote) . The fact that our poorest residents in America sit around watching their 25” color TV’s should alert even the most unobservant among us (to include the erudite Dr. Julian Edney) that compared to the rest of the world’s truly “poor,” the U.S. citizens classified as below the poverty line live in relatively secure dwellings and have amenities such as electricity, running water and color TV. These “decaying buildings” Dr. Edney describes would be considered palaces by most of the truly starving wretches outside of the United States and other Western free-market countries, whose living conditions consist perhaps of a mud wall with a 4x8 sheet of plywood above to keep some of the rain out. Most notably, however, is that these truly wretched to whom I refer are victims of sociopolitical systems that are not based on free market capitalism. Where there is free-market capitalism, even the poorest of the poor often have cars, live in buildings with electricity and hot and cold running water, flush toilets and color TV. Dr. Edney can’t really point specifically at any such nation (to include the US, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, most of Western Europe, etc.) in which the “poor” are in danger of dying from exposure. To the contrary, most of the poor in these countries have more to fear from dying of obesity related disorders. America’s “poor” (in addition to nearly all other nations included in the Western culture’s “poor”) are incredibly well off, compared to the poor of almost every other non-Western nation on earth.Another Dr. Edney statistic: “around 20% of American children are living in poverty. An estimated two million are homeless some time during the year, including whole families and people who have full- or part-time jobs.” Yet another survey from California is used to support this assertion, and I have to doubt its validity. Remember that the homeless advocate, the late Mitch Snyder, used to claim that there were 2,000,000 homeless people on the streets of the U.S. and yet no evidence has ever been cited other than the 2000 U.S. National Survey that supports the existence of perhaps a few hundred thousand homeless Americans at any one point in time out of a total population that just passed the 300,000,000 milestone. Nowhere in this article is there a mention that some of these homeless (more than just a handful) actually prefer their current housing status. In this great country of ours, there is the freedom to live anywhere one wants, including the street. One of the freedoms we enjoy, if I can apply that word here, is the never mentioned “freedom to fail.” If someone wants to live in a cardboard box, as long as they are mindful of any vagrancy laws in effect in their chosen neighborhood, they are completely free to do so. I personally knew of a homeless person who would have fought the authorities tooth and nail had they insisted he move off the streets into an approved “home” situation. That guy was my late older brother, and he was perfectly happy at the time living in his broken down 1968 Volkswagen bus. Dr. Edney implies that the proximate cause of the poverty and homelessness cited in the California survey he referenced is unbridled greed within our system. Contrary to this erroneous conclusion as far as homelessness is concerned, the true reasons for homelessness are many and varied, to include drug addiction, mental illness, alcoholism, poor life decisions, just plain bad luck, and at times even willful and calculated preference to life on the streets. To suggest that greed in America has any statistical correlation whatsoever with poverty or homelessness is simply ridiculous. I think that Dr. Edney’s point is that the American poor do not drink Sauvignon Blanc each evening as they munch their brie and wafers, and are deprived of enjoying the ocean front scenery overlooked from a back deck in Laguna Beach; perhaps the living conditions at which Dr. Edney believes that the “least advantaged person in society” should have his starting point established (by him and his elite contemporaries, of course). Critically important in discrediting his argument is that Dr. Edney failed to suggest any reasonable, pragmatic approach whatsoever as to how to realistically achieve positioning our poorest members of the American public to this ludicrous and arbitrary consumption level that he and his ilk would mandate as the lowest acceptable standard at or above which all of us comprising the great unwashed must live. Dr. Edney attempts to persuade us in his argument that greed is destroying our civilized society by invoking class envy as he opened his article citing the very rich wearing ultra expensive watches and drive around in Farraris and Porches. To take his point to the logical extreme, he suggests that because these ultra-rich have spent huge amounts of resources on lavish items, the poor are going without basic needs because excess resources that could have been used to feed, clothe and house the poor have been diverted by the rich to satiate their greedy and “piggish” (if I may borrow this adjective from Jack London as he applied it in his novel, “Sea Wolf”) excesses; essentially a “zero sum” scenario. In other words, if an ultra-rich American buys a $2,000,000 Picasso to hang on the wall of his Malibu beach house, many poor Americans elsewhere will simultaneously go hungry as a result. In Dr. Edney’s way of thinking, these rich, selfish ultra-rich Americans he details at the beginning of his treatise spent huge sums of money on luxury goods that should have been spent on basic necessities for the poor. Implicit (and insidious) in this logic is that there should be a mechanism put in place whereby a “cap” of some sort would be imposed on these conspicuous consumers, and the excess resources that would inhumanely have been directed towards luxuries by the ultra-rich in America would be fairly distributed to the needy. In other words, “from those according to their ability, to those according to their need.” Where have we heard these haunting words before? This vague, undefined equalization mechanism, of course, would be approved as acceptable and humane by Dr. Edney and other like minded Socialists. In addition, the “cap” or upper level of consumption by any given individual would be determined and implemented by Dr. Edney and his associates as well. The basic tenet of Dr. Edney’s argument is that unfettered greed is the direct cause of poverty in the U.S. and that eliminating greed by government decree would solve our basic poverty concerns. This logic sounds very similar to that (as detailed in his “Little Red Book”) of the People’s Republic of China’s Chairman Mao Tse-tung, whose Cultural Revolution has been attributed to perhaps as many as 50 million Chinese citizens put to death by the government when it was determined by the State that they did not fit into Mao’s extreme vision for a proletarian paradise during his ruthless quest for a communist utopia. Dr. Julian Edney’s tenet just will not hold water in the real world; he compares the capitalistic free market environment in America and her flawed human population with totally unrealistic utopian ideals and standards. He exaggerates the miseries of the unfortunate few whom have fallen into the unavoidable cracks within our imperfect system, and then based on the misery he points to within the isolated surveys he references, Dr. Edney then asserts that the system is inherently evil. No existing sociopolitical/economic system in the world today or that existed ever in the annals of mankind could possibly measure up to Dr. Edney’s utopian ideals. Oh, to live in the perfect world Dr. Edney and his ilk would envision; no greed, no sloth, no gluttony, no envy, etc., just paradise on Earth. But how exactly would we enact the mechanisms required to reign in unbridled greed within our system in order that we might achieve this “Garden of Eden” Dr. Edney envisions? He suggests teaching our young ones in school that greed is bad. And espousing throughout the population that greed is one of the Seven Deadly Sins and accordingly should be eschewed as evil behavior. Just one tiny problem: greed is an inherent human trait, and has been forever and it will never go away. Greed will be part of the human condition forever, despite Dr. Edney’s urging that we do something about it. Our current capitalistic market system allows for humans, as imperfect as they are, to rise to whatever level they are capable of, whether they are greedy or not, slothful or not, envious or not, etc. Dr. Edney is putting forth his argument that in essence is based on a similar (but in fairness, not exact) philosophy as that of Osama bin Laden – excesses within the Western cultures are morally destructive, to be fought against. A major and important difference between Dr. Julian Edney and OBL in this case is that bin Laden has taken up arms and embraces terrorism to impose his extreme view of morality on the world, as opposed to Dr. Edney’s argument that is held within the arena of ideas (much to his credit). If you ask Fredd, both of their views are similar and just plain wrong. The United States, it’s system of government and it’s primarily Judeo-Christian population, while not perfect, represent the best and brightest economic and social systems in the world, and as such puts forward an example to humanity as a “Shining City on a Hill,” a beacon of hope towards which the rest of the world flock. Most of the world's sentient population sees the promise of a better life for even the poorest of souls and seek entry to our great yet flawed country as the starting point on their path to prosperity. Fredd

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