The Results of Greed


In the early 1980s I attempted several times to write sermons on the impact of greed. Ronald Reagan was President and greed was deemed a positive motivator toward wealth and national prosperity. Something seemed very wrong with that proposition, but I could not cogently anticipate and explain the outcome.

Nearly forty years later, the results are in. Greed undermines every other human value, without exception.

Everything in American culture has to be monetized to be worthwhile. Everything, even time and love, possess a monetary value. "Time is money," people say, ignoring the essential fact that money can be replaced once spent but time cannot. Time can be used to deepen loving, money cannot. Time and money are not reducible to one another, nor is there a common denominator. Quality time with those you love, particularly children, is of inestimable value.

We live in a culture that watches people die of treatable medical conditions that occur as a part of living, or whose innocent children suffer maladies they cannot afford to treat. In Kansas City we have Children's Mercy Hospital, primarily because of the righteousness and wealth of the Hall family and Hallmark Cards. Not every place does. We watch neighbors lose their lifetime savings with a single illness, put themselves into poverty and cease working in order to care for family members who become ill. All because we lack a reasonable national insurance plan, while insurance companies earn billions. Capitalism is our theology, our belief system, our rationale for all manner of evil that we perpetrate on one another.

In Kansas and Oklahoma, educational opportunities are diminished because taxpayers elect officials who promise tax cuts rather than better education. Every farmer knows not to eat the seed for next year's crop, but in an economy ever more dependent on education, in which robots are slated to take over 10 to 30 percent of jobs in the next decades, we refuse education while we bemoan unemployment and crime.

We watch as our legal system deteriorates, and we refuse to provide sufficient public defenders because they are too expensive. But the poor cannot get legal help, destroying democracy and the promise of the Supreme Court that every accused will have an attorney, while the promise of swift and fair justice are a joke on the poor.

Kansas literally steals promised money from its State employees by underfunding KPERS. Road repair has been shorted by billions of dollars. People elect representatives who promise the lowest taxes, without asking questions regarding our values: do we offer quality education sufficient for the future, are we sufficiently caring for one another, are we promoting or undermining our own democracy, are we creating and promoting equality among our citizens? In other words: greed has been allowed to undermine the very values we say we promote. But capitalism trumps all. Capitalism, an economic theory, has replaced our communal theology.

If this insanity continues, we will destroy our democracy, and the promise of equality will disappear. Already the gap between the wealthy and the common citizenry is the highest it has been in more than a century, and our elected officials pander to the wealthy while ignoring our wants and needs. The individual citizen, it has been found in examining our legislative system, has no impact whatsoever.

This is not a disease of the wealthy alone. We must stop admiring billionaires simply because they are rich and start promoting values because they, not wealth, will determine our destiny as individuals and as a nation.

Greed is not good. It undermines our democracy and our very humanity, and until we realize that reality and change ourselves, our nation will continue to descend into the abyss we see today. Wealth is not the key to success. Only the values that distinguish us, unite us, and truly give meaning to living no matter what our net worth will save us.

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© 2016 by Rabbi Mark H. Levin.