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Greed makes Liars, Cheats and Criminals of Us

December 2, 2013


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. 


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim Trimble permalink
    December 3, 2013 8:55 pm

    A thoughtful piece Ian. Crime though, as it is commonly perceived; and that which most folk experience as victims, or indeed fear being victims of such, is largely the pervue of those from deprived backgrounds and lower socio-economic strata. IQ, whilst a considerably blunt measure is positively associated with economic and life success, and negatively correlated with criminal behaviour. There’s not enough space here to unpack the complexities of causation and societal structures here; though it was ever thus in the UK and Ireland, I fear. Nevertheless, I think this is what Boris was getting at. I agree that Boris was out of his depth in even attempting to use this concept and that of greed as a motivational idea; very clumsy and dangerous notions that historically underpinned the eugenics movement. Interesting that Iceland, which doesn’t have a prominent class structure, has very little violent crime:

  2. March 18, 2014 12:58 pm

    Reblogged this on digitalintelligencer.


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