December 22, 2003

Greed Makes the World Go 'Round

Radley Balko (The Agitator) on greed:

Perhaps there’s some truth to the axiom that was hammered home to us as kids each time the holidays rolled around -- "’tis better to give than to receive." But if we’re talking about bettering the human condition, it’s better to want than either to give or to receive.

Want and greed are why humanity today is freer, healthier and more comfortable than it’s ever been. Nearly every significant innovation, invention or improvement that man has so far come up with resulted from the innovator, the inventor or the improver’s desire to better his own condition, or, put differently, to get more stuff. It is greed and the want of stuff that drives us to work longer hours, to build better mousetraps, and to take the kinds of risks that shake up the marketplace, and move the whole system forward.

Today, biotech firms are figuring out ways to feed the world’s hungry by producing more food on less land with less water, less nutrients and less need for pesticides. If governments would get out of the way, they’ll probably succeed. But they won’t succeed because they’re good people selflessly working for free to eradicate world hunger; they’ll succeed because the scientists doing the research want the peer recognition, the place in history, and the acclaim and financial rewards that come with figuring out how to do something we already do better. They’ll succeed because the CEOs of those firms want the bonuses, clout, and approval of boards of directors that come with a company’s success.