Saturday, January 19, 2008

What do greed and salt have in common?

The word greed has been kicked around in some recent comments on this blog. It reminded me this video (it's short- only 2 and half minutes) video of my hero, Milton Friedman, talking about greed.

I am not suggesting that greed is a virtue, but it is not altogether evil, either. Much like salt, it can be a vital nutrient or it can be poison. Think about the electronic medium that I am using to communicate these rambling thoughts. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell and countless other people did not make their significant contributions to computers and the internet because they are virtuous people (although they may be virtuous people). They made their contributions to advance their own self interests. They did well by doing good. If the genesis of the computer age were left up to virtue alone, there would not be a single microchip on the entire planet. The world runs on individuals working together to further their own individual self interests.

6 comments:

jim adams said...

Greed is just a word, just a group of letters. It needs people to give it definition, is it a sin, is it a virtue.

Good post FM, especially the last sentence.

"The world runs on individuals working together to further their own individual self interests."

I have a feeling Milton Friedman would have enjoyed your blog.

Freemarket said...

Speaking of Milton Friedman and blogging, Milton has a ridiculously smart son that is a blogger. You can find his blog here. Two of his recent posts on religion have been really interesting.

jim adams said...

FM, you continue to make life interesting.

John G. Boyle said...

A little of either adds a bit of flavor, I suppose. But I'd suggest that more than a little (of either) is bad for your heart.

---

Self-interest is fine. It's natural. But GREED? That's selfish or excessive desire. There's a difference between it and basic self-interest. I'd argue that it's WAY different than what motivates the folks you mentioned.

A lot of the tech giants were nerds who were trying to build a better mousetrap. Some got mega-rich. That's swell! But to assume that they were greedy and that personal advancement was what was fueling them? That's a real stretch...

FreeMarket said...

It is really a matter of how you want to define "greed". I don't see a difference between self interest and greed, whereas you seem to think of self interest as "greed lite".

John G. Boyle said...

FM: you hit the nail on the head. I do see a difference. Maybe others don't, but I definitely do.