Gordon Gekko is the fictional character played by Michael Douglas in the movie “Wall Street.” Gekko became an icon of the money grubbing and unscrupulous person who jumps headlong into insider trading.  Gekko’s most famous line, “Greed is good” encapsulates his life’s creed.

Pastor Mike Woodruff recently drew my attention to “The Emancipation of Avarice” by Edward Skidelsky (First Things, May 2011).

The article is long and a bit technical in places, but here are a few nuggets worth pondering:

“But although once again popular, the term ‘greed’ is not yet intellectually respectable. In the eyes of mainstream economists, greedy people are simply agents with certain preferences acting on certain incentives.”

“The philosophers of the eighteenth century confronted a formidable legacy of thinking on the subject of accumulation, almost all of it hostile. This hostility was based not merely on aristocratic or monkish prejudice, as is often alleged, but on the reasonable supposition that the only intrinsically valuable thing in the world is a good human life.”

“Above all, all pre-Enlightenment thinkers agreed that avarice, whether primarily a spiritual or a political evil, is at any rate an intrinsic evil. Even if it has habitually bad effects, it is not bad because of these effects, but because of what it essentially is—a deflection of the will from its proper end, be that God, the public good, or some combination of the two.”

“The term ‘avarice’ was sidelined in favor of the more neutral ‘interest.’ ‘Self-love,’ originally an Augustinian term of opprobrium, was transformed by Rousseau, and Smith following him, into a neutral term designating a natural regard for one’s own welfare.”

“For the thinkers of the Enlightenment, by contrast, there is a clear-cut binary division between lawful and unlawful economic acts, and everything lawful is innocuous.”

For those who may be tempted to think otherwise, there is a huge difference between having money and loving it.  You may not have much money, but love it dearly.  The other side is also true: you may have a lot of money, but truly use it as a wise steward. 

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