I profess to not really understanding what brought about the current world financial disaster, but do think greed had a lot to do with it. In an article by Robert Bryce in U.S. News and World Report, From Enron to the Financial Crisis, With Alan Greenspan in Between, he attributes it to something called “derivatives markets” (I didn’t understand the Wikipedia explanation much better than the term itself).
Bryce said it was because of a government regulatory failure, which may also be true, but somewhere along the way it was a moral failure by individual human beings compounded by the greed of many individuals working together to take as much money from the system as they possibly could. When a society has no recognized limits to greed, it can expect regulatory need and regulatory failure. Somewhere along the way we do have to understand there really are sane limits to everything including profit, prosperity, wealth and greed.
Somewhere I heard a news commentator say that many of the financial institutions CEOs walked away from responsibility – of course they also walked away with tens of millions of dollars in their pockets!
Somewhere we got it into our heads that endless financial growth was sustainable and without any cost to anyone. We so loved our prosperity that we thought of it as an entitlement – housing prices would always go up in value, so would our stock portfolios, our net worth, gold, retirement funds, antiques, you name it. We believed that myth and turned that myth into the foundation of our personal, national and world finances.
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” (Henry David Thoreau)
That of course is how a poet or philosopher might try to build it, and maybe it is not too late to put a foundation under the American financial system. It would seem wiser to build upon something solid – morality for one thing, a true human concern for others, and then a regulatory system that can sustain the growth and prosperity. Greed causes us to be addicted to more and greater wealth, which in turn makes us value wealth all the more and others – people, humans – less. As long as our addiction is being fed, we care little what happens to anyone else. A very poor foundation for living in a world of 6 billion people.
An aphorism to remember: “Money is a good servant, but a bad master.”