Is greed good <<First Name>>?
‘The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends.’ These are the words that are reported to have been said by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, at a meeting of MPs on Tuesday night. Unsurprisingly he quicky withdrew them.
Many of us say things we subsequently regret. However, what troubles me about the Prime Minister’s comments is not so much the suggestion that the vaccine roll out was the result of greed – it clearly wasn’t – but rather the apparent conflation of capitalism with greed.
There are, of course, many definitions of capitalism and no doubt some of them do equate the idea with a rapacious desire for more. However, this need not be how we understand the term. It is perfectly possible to define capitalism in the absence of greed. Stakeholder capitalism, in which the purpose of a company is to serve the interests of all its stakeholders, including customers, employees and local communities, is an obvious example. I don’t know the folk at Astra-Zeneca but I’m pretty sure that most of them are driven by a desire to serve society rather than merely the profit-motive, or greed.
Johnson has suggested that he meant the comment as a joke, but the trouble with that is not only is it at odds with the facts, but it is also not the view of many in his own party, let alone the opposition. I know many Christian Conservatives who will entirely reject the idea that capitalism = greed.
This week has been the anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero. He once talked of ‘those who had become dehumanized because of their desire for profits’. The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that ‘Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.’ It is a timely reminder that when we allow greed to overcome us, we all suffer. To put this another way, there really is an alternative: a caring economy that puts people and the planet ahead of profit, and some of us might even use the word capitalism in describing it.
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