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Greed – The Root of All Evil

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on May 7, 2009

How greed outstripped need

greedevilAmerican culture set us up for the economic fall, psychologists say.

As the world slipped into economic meltdown, the nation started talking about greed: greedy lenders, greedy Wall Street executives, greedy CEOs and greedy Americans who used credit to finance untenable lifestyles.

Greed may very well have driven much of the economic crisis, says University of Rochester social psychologist Richard Ryan, PhD. But does the blame fall on the individual, or on our increasingly materialistic culture?

“America has an economic system set up to create the kind of mess we’ve seen recently,” says social psychologist Tim Kasser, PhD, of Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. “Our form of capitalism encourages materialistic values, and the research shows that people high on materialism … are more likely to engage in unethical business behaviors and manipulate people for their own purposes.”

In fact, American corporate capitalism—the highly competitive economic system embraced by the United States as well as England, Australia and Canada—encourages materialism more than other forms of capitalism, according to a study by Hebrew University of Jerusalem psychologist Shalom Schwartz, PhD. He compared the values held by people in countries with more competitive forms of capitalism with the values of folks in countries that have a more cooperative style of capitalism, including Austria, Germany and Norway. These countries rely more on strategic cooperation among the various players in the economy and society to solve their economic problems, such as unemployment, labor and trade issues, rather than relying mostly on free-market competition as the United States does.

As expected, citizens who live in more competitive free market systems cared more about money, power and achievement than people who live under more cooperative systems. Research also supports the notion that the more people care about money and power, the less they care about community and relationships. A study by Kasser, University of Victoria psychologist Fred Grouzet, PhD, and colleagues, for example, asked students in 15 countries about the goals they value most, including community feeling, financial success and physical health. They found they could chart those values onto a kind of pie with some values—money versus community and relationships, for example—in direct competition with each other.

“Of course we can care about community and money,” Kasser. “But as money becomes important—the bigger its slice of the pie—the desire to help other people tends to become less important.”

University of Minnesota psychologist Katherine Vohs, PhD, demonstrated this idea in a series of studies in which she primed participants to think about having large amounts of money. Compared with a group of students who were primed to think about neutral concepts or insufficient funds, participants with wealth on their minds were less helpful at, for example, picking up spilled pencils, and were less generous, for instance, donating less to charity. These participants were also more insular, choosing to sit farther away from a colleague or work independently rather than in a team.

Money and community are inherently incompatible because they tap into two fundamentally different motivational systems, says Kasser. Helping the community and forming personal relationships satisfy intrinsic psychological needs while financial success satisfies extrinsic needs of rewards and praise.

And for those motivated by rewards, America’s corporate incentive system may even encourage unethical behavior, says Ryan. Investment banks, mortgage companies and other industries that fueled the economic downturn reward employees for specific outcomes—say, selling more mortgages or obtaining high quarterly profits—rather than other aspects of job performance. Research shows that the people who are offered these types of rewards take the shortest route to reach their goal, whether it’s ethical or not, Ryan says.

“Rather than rewarding good practices, we’ve been rewarding outcomes, however they’re attained,” says Ryan. “And that’s driven a lot of greedy behavior from folks who wouldn’t normally act that way.”


2 Responses to “Greed – The Root of All Evil”

  1. John Mills said

    The global economic news has been brutal, but it is actually worse than many people realize.
    Not only are people losing everything, and not only are companies going bankrupt, but even entire nations are failing. From poor nations such as Zimbabwe, to wealthy nations such as Dubai, governments have either already collapsed, or risk collapsing under severe economic strain.
    Consider Iceland. Seemingly prosperous, Iceland rapidly went bankrupt in December 2008! Unable to pay its external debts, Iceland quickly could not import even basic goods and services! Its currency—the krona—became effectively worthless. Individual wealth vanished and day-to-day economic activity ground to a halt. Subsequently, the Icelandic government collapsed on January 26, 2009, making it the first national casualty of the global economic crisis.
    Consider that at the Davos World Economic Forum (where the United States was berated for failing to contain the crisis), U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown asserted that “history offered ‘no clear map’ of how to deal with [the crisis]” (BBC News, January 31, 2009). However, in contrast to supposed Anglo ineptitude, the Germans feel strongly that a new “global economic order” and a “post-crisis global economic charter” should be created, in which, of course, they would be a leading power (“Merkel proposes UN economic body,” BBC News, January 30, 2009).
    Further, “The head of the European Union slammed President Barack Obama’s plan to spend nearly $2 trillion to push the U.S. economy out of recession as ‘the road to hell’ that EU governments must avoid,” highlighting “simmering differences” with the United States over how to confront this crisis (Associated Press, March 25, 2009).

    #Can America and Britain Fail?

    If multinational companies and modern nations can fail, and if international support continues to wane, then could the U.S. and the U.K. fail?
    Last July, The New York Times asked a bold question. Arguing for worldwide economic cooperation to assist America, the author argued that, “In the global economy of the moment, the United States itself is too big to fail” (“Too Big to Fail?”, July 20, 2008). Regardless of the world’s love or hatred toward America and Britain, these nations have for so long been so powerful—they have been described in Scripture as “lions” among the nations—that many assume they cannot fail.
    When this New York Times article ran, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was still near 12,000 and many argued that this would be just another cyclical financial adjustment. But, as our Editor in Chief wrote months before the economic meltdown, “…the U.S. is headed for a financial catastrophe unless major changes occur!” And, “…our leaders are being overwhelmed with catastrophes they will be increasingly unable to manage, which will greatly weaken the prestige and power of the U.S. and the British-descended nations.” As this Work has long warned, the root causes of this coming catastrophe are our national sins, and our ignoring of God’s laws (“What Is Ahead for America?”, Tomorrow’s World, May-June 2008).
    The increasing reality is that America and Britain are being kept afloat by foreign money and by a faltering hope among China, Europe and other nations that they remain worthwhile investments. The necessary question then becomes: when will we be allowed to fail?

    #America and Britain Are Failing Now

    Since the above articles, the American and British financial systems have hemorrhaged trillions of dollars. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is struggling to recover, after having plunged to less than half of its 2008 levels, and both small and mighty U.S. and British companies have declared bankruptcy, or have simply ceased to exist.
    The UK’s Insolvency Service agency reports that last year 15,535 British companies failed, and 67,428 people went bankrupt in England and Wales; an increase of more than 51 percent over the same period a year ago (see In the U.S., recent announcements include the termination of: 73,000 from Citigroup, 35,000 from Bank of America, 34,000 from General Motors, 25,000 from Hewlett-Packard and EDS and 22,000 from Caterpillar. The list goes on. New unemployment benefits in March “unexpectedly rose to the highest level in over 26 years”—a staggering 669,000 per week—pushing the numbers of Americans receiving jobless benefits to 5.73 million and climbing (Reuters, April 2, 2009).

    #No Longer a “Lion” Among the Nations

    Within this context, Micah 5:8–15 is a rarely understood but very revealing prophecy. Written thousands of years ago, this prophecy describes exactly what has happened, and what is happening to our nations.
    Here, America and Britain (descendants of ancient Jacob) are referred to as a “lion” among the nations (v. 8, KJV). From the time of ancient Israel’s and Judah’s captivity to the present, the Jews alone have never fulfilled this prophecy. However, starting around 1800, America and Britain—Jacob’s descendants through Joseph—did indeed become “a lion” among the nations. The Americans and British won war after war, conquered vast areas of the world, and enforced their will.
    Now, notice verse 10. “In that day” (when the descendants of ancient Jacob had become nationally great), God would “cut off” and “destroy” their “war-horses” (Moffatt) and their “chariots.” Because of national sins, this prophecy and many others show that our economic, agricultural, manufacturing and even our military strength (our “war-horses”) will be cut off! Verses 11 through 15 then foretell our eventual military defeat.
    Modern Jacob’s power is being broken. Various “stimulus” strategies may yield temporary relief, but as Deuteronomy 28:20 warns, we will continue to face “confusion.” And as many scriptures reveal, ultimately, our nations will fall economically and militarily.
    Within this context, while the U.S. and the U.K. print money, talk about building parks and bridges, and try one stimulus after another, reports such as “Germany to spend stimulus funds on defense”—including the purchase of advanced tanks, combat drones and armored reconnaissance vehicles—should be very sobering (Financial Times, March 1, 2009).

    #The World Is Passing Away

    Capitalism, democracy and free-markets did not make America and Britain great. God made America and Britain great. However, our nations rejected our Creator and His laws. Instead, we worship wealth. We crave and export violence and sex. We profane God’s Sabbaths. We divorce, murder, covet, lie, and steal God’s tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:8).
    Knowing our nations would reject Him, God warned that He would withdraw His blessings and we would become oppressed and eventually conquered (Micah 5:10–15; Deuteronomy 28:15–68). This economic and eventual military decline will lead to the Great Tribulation spoken of by Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:21.
    God’s faithful Church has long proclaimed the “Ezekiel warning” (Ezekiel 3:17–19) of repentance, and also the good news of Christ’s return as King of kings (Matthew 24:14). We have long advised paying off debt, reducing expenses, and—more importantly—humbly and zealously returning to God to prepare for Christ’s return, because “the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).
    Will our nations humbly heed God’s clear and powerful prophetic warnings while there is still time? Will you?

  2. AddisEthiopia said

    Thank you for your contribution!

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