Published on Friday, August 20, 2004 by the Chicago Sun Times
America’s Disease is Greed
by Andrew Greeley
The most serious spiritual problem in the country today is reckless and untrammeled greed. Greed caused the disgraceful corporate scandals that fill our newspapers. Greed is responsible for crooked cops and crooked politicians. Greed causes the constant efforts to destroy unions that protect basic worker rights.
Greed has produced rash tax cuts that have given money to the rich and in effect taken it away from the poor. Greed has led to the immigration policy in which hundreds of poor men and women die every year as they struggle across the desert for the jobs that el norte promises them. Greed accounts for the efforts to take profitability out of the pensions and health insurance of working men and women. Greed is responsible for the fact that so many Americans have no health insurance and the fact that the recent reform of Medicare was a fraud. Greed causes newspapers to overestimate their circulation.
Greed is responsible for the obscene salaries of CEOs. In the ’90s the ratio of CEO compensation to average workers’ compensation was 250 to 1, meaning that the boss earned on his first day of work during a year as much as the worker did in a whole year. In European countries the ratio is closer to 100 to 1. Recent estimates put the current ratio at 500 to 1 — the boss makes as much before lunch as the worker does all year. Greed is the cause of the high wages paid to the bosses even if the company is failing.
Greed is responsible for the endless stress and ruthless competition of the workplace and the strains and tensions of professional class marriages. Greed (in this instance another name for relentless ambition) explains much of the cheating on college campuses. Greed is responsible for outsourcing, which is incapable of comprehending that the employees who lose their jobs are also the consumers who sustain the economy. Greed generates the reckless ventures that in part caused the bubble of the late ’90s. Greed causes expensive wars that shatter the budget. Greed is the reason that only the wealthy are benefitting so far from the economic upturn that is allegedly happening. Greed drives loan sharks. Greed is responsible for the success of big box stores that tax the poor with low wages to provide bargains for affluent suburban shoppers. Greed is the reason poor white Appalachians, poor African Americans and poor Native Americans must fight the wars that the wealthy start. Jessica Lynch joined the Army so she could go to college. Her Native American roommate, killed in action, joined so, single mother that she was, she could support her children. Greed is the reason why the country is being run by those whom the president has described, however inelegantly, as the ”haves and the have mores.”
No one said during the bizarre deification of President Reagan that he taught us that greed is good and that we should feel good about our greedy country. Greed is the reason that the country is being run by the insurance, pharmaceutical, weapons and petroleum industries. Greed causes worldwide sex slavery of women and children.
Greed drives the murders of the narcotics world. Greed is responsible for the exploitations of teen sports stars by colleges and for the mess in the pro sports world. It is also the cause of the use of performance drugs by young athletes. Greed is responsible for the bad advice lawyers gave the Church years ago to beat victims of sexual abuse into the ground. It is behind the scam artists who steal from the elderly.
Greed may have been a more serious problem for Americans, say, in the era of the robber barons. But the Garys and the Morgans and the Carnegies were a small bunch of men. Now their greed has seeped down to a much larger segment of the population.
The Catholic Church speaks of four sins that cry to heaven for vengeance. Two are cheating workers out of wages and exploiting widows and children. Both happen every day in our greedy country.
Ambition is not evil within limits. The struggle for success is not bad within limits. Hard work and fair rewards are good within limits. It is not good to take from the poor and give to the rich, and that’s exactly what this country is doing today.
Don’t let anyone tell you that lust is the most deadly of the deadly sins.
Copyright 2004, Digital Chicago Inc.