|In post #23, Dennis Hardin makes much of David Kelley's alleged repudiation of the concept of "greed" in an article in Reason magazine. To support this claim against Kelley, he offers two quotations from that article.|
I should say "torn from that article." Please note the ellipses that precede and follow the two quotations. That should have been enough for any objective observer to wonder exactly what Mr. Hardin may have chosen to omit from his selection.
Let me now provide some of what he left out, quoted directly from that article:
"The antimaterialist outlook is embodied in the conventional concept of greed. For centuies, religious authorities taught that any concern with material wealth beyond the subsistence level was greedy, just as any sexual desire not connected with the needs of reproduction was lustful. In effect, economic ambition and sexual enjoyment--the two most powerful this-worldly motives--were put on the list of moral sins. Today most people would not consider it sinful to strive for material comforts beyond the level of a medieval monk. But a vestige of the old view survives in the notion that it is greedy to want too much. Indeed, some dictionaries define greed as an excessive desire for material possessions. Notice that we do not have comparable concepts for those who want too much knowledge, too much beauty, too much love. Why is wealth singled out for special concern, if not for a lingering bias against material success?
"Considering how deep a rut the concept of greed has worn in public discourse laterly, it is worth pausing to consider its proper meaning. In a market economy, money is the medium of exchange for the products and services people have created. It is thus the reward for productive achievement in a society of traders, of people who live by peaceful exchange rather than plunder. When the desire for money is connected with achievement, there is no vice involved, and the concept of greed is inapplicable. There cannot be any excess in the desire to achieve, and it is proper to want one's achievement recognized and rewarded by those who benefit from it." [Emphasis added]
It is clear that Dr. Kelley and his co-author are condemning not rational self-interest, but the conventional definition of greed as "an excessive desire for material possessions. It is in that conventional definition that they refer to when, in a following paragraph, they begin:
"The [conventional] concept of greed can properly be applied only when the desire for money is divorced from any concern with achievement. Some people want money without having to earn it--a life of luxury without the effort of producing. Some want power over others. In motive, greed is a desire for wealth without regard for achievement or creation. In action, greed is the unprincipled pursuit of wealth. This includes the use of force, fraud, and other coercive means. It also includes the violation of ethical norms, both the universal standards of honesty and fairness, and the specialized standards that apply to particular professions."
The emphasized sentence here is the one quoted by Mr. Hardin. He comments, "No one denies that the concept of greed can carry some unfortunate connotations, but these statements [by Kelley] struck me as dangerously close to an apology for unbridled ambition." As you can see, it is only by cherry-picking sentences from their full context that Mr. Hardin conjurs a betrayal of principle in an article that is anything but. Dr. Kelley's article champions the exact opposite view, saying, "There cannot be any excess in the desire to achieve, and it is proper to want one's achievement recognized and rewarded by those who benefit from it."
What part of "There cannot be any excess" does Mr. Hardin not understand?
To further illustrate Mr. Hardin's complete distortion of Dr. Kelley's clear meaning, consider the following. After illustrating the immorality of conventional greed by citing the example of Ivan Boesky, Dr. Kelley and Jeff Scott continue:
"So there is such a thing as greed, and it is, as another common definition says, a reprehensible form of the desire for money. But what makes the desire reprehensible is not a matter of degree. If our standard is human life and happiness, we cannot set any arbitrary upper limit on permissible levels of material comfort--any more than there can be too much knowledge or beauty in our lives."
What part of "not a matter of degree" and "we cannot set any arbitrary upper limit" does Mr. Hardin not grasp?
Mr. Hardin then quotes Dr. Kelley thus:
"Of course, the pursuit of happiness does not entail selfishness in the conventional meaning of that term: the vain, self-centered, grasping pursuit of pleasure, riches, prestige or power...."
This is no more than a restatement of Howard Roark's comment in The Fountainhead that it is very hard to use the term "selfishness" positively, because "it has come to mean Peter Keating." Where is the controversy?
And, given that Mr. Hardin's agenda is to diminish Dr. Kelley, you may also find interesting another passage from the same Reason article that he didn't bother to quote:
"Yet as Ayn Rand has observed, this attitude [that "the pursuit of self-interest has carried the burden of proving that it serves the public good"] is incompatible with the liberal principle that individuals are ends in themselves--the principle that lies behind the legal system of individual rights. If the individual is an end in himself, he is morally as well as legally entitled to be an end for himself. He has the right to the pursuit of happiness, which includes the right to regard his own happiness as a self-sufficient end, requiring no further justification in the form of service to God, society, the biosphere, or whatever."
After ignoring that, next comes the sentence that Mr. Hardin chooses to quote:
"Of course the pursuit of happiness does not entail selfishness in the conventional meaning of that term: the vain, self-centered grasping pursuit of pleasure, riches, prestige, or power. The ethics of individualism, backed up by abundant psychological evidence, holds that happiness is the product of achievement, of stable relationships with friends and family, of peaceful exchange with others, and of the kind of self-esteem that is above the need for comparisons. The pursuit of self-interest in this sense requires that one act in accordance with moral standards of rationality, responsibility, hoesty, and fairness. But it does not require self-sacrifice or 'service above self'."
You may characterize Mr. Hardin's selective quotations any way you wish; I have my own choice words for it, but will refrain in the interests of civility.
Finally, here is some further context, from Dr. Kelley's posted reflections on the John Stossel special, "Greed," in which he was the expert who was defending -- explicitly -- the "greed is good" proposition:
But I will say there was one key point, which we spent a lot of time talking about, that really did not get into the program: the distinction between "good greed" and "bad greed." "Greed" is an ambiguous term. There is an important distinction to draw between the pursuit of money as a reward for achievement and as a financial instrument for further achievement, on the one hand; and the pursuit of money as an end in itself, or a means of acquiring power, or a means of acquiring prestige, or any of the other "global values" that I talked about in "The Best within Us" (The IOS Journal, March, May 1993). The pursuit of money in those latter contexts is greed in a bad sense. And that is a vice.
The distinction is important because my core goal in appearing on the program was to connect the creative impulse to the creation of wealth, of new products, and of new industries; and to compare that with the artistic or scientific impulse and the creation of beauty or of knowledge.
To the ABC people, this was one of the most arresting things I had to say. Using nineteenth-century industrialists, as well as contemporary people like Michael Milken and Bill Gates, I said they were doing essentially the same thing as Shakespeare or Newton or Einstein. Well, we did get a little piece of that in the show, with Albert Einstein and Jackson Pollock, though I'm sorry they used Jackson Pollock. But that comparison, and the resulting good-greed/bad-greed distinction, were never made clear.
Those riding anti-TAS hobby horses continually pay us a great compliment by being reduced to distorting our words in order to attack us.
(Edited by Robert Bidinotto on 1/31, 12:22pm)