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The Agnostic Pulpit: Controlling Greed

 article about The Agnostic Pulpit: Controlling Greed

This article belongs to Money theme.


Religious organizations will never do it, so perhaps it takes an agnostic to call for legal controls on greed.

Noble character—call it spirituality if you like—suggests self-control of appetite, humility, and a simple life. As we have evolved, however, we find ourselves the victims of the "I must get more" mentality. The desire for more of whatever we collect sometimes becomes overwhelming. Like manic squirrels, our success drives us to collect, hoard and control material wealth far beyond our ability to use or consume it.

Wealth accumulation often does not begin with greed; it may start as an unplanned result of creativity or invention. That's a good thing about humans. We solve problems, we invent things, and we make life better. As a result, we may find our way to wealth.

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Human greed should be monitored and limited by social controls for the good of all.
In the process of personal success we can do great harm to others who have been either less successful or too trusting of our good will. Many people have accepted the foolish, selfish, and destructive philosophy of Ayn Rand in the belief that sharing is wrong and greed is good. Sadly, the presidency of George W. Bush has encouraged uncontrolled greed and discounted the importance of honest labor. This blind devotion to unregulated greed has led us into a major economic depression.

Almost daily we hear stories of out-of-control greed: a governor tries to sell a senate seat, a financial consultant steals billions from trusting investors, and a physician lies about research results to get a payoff from a pharmaceutical company. This points out the obvious: human greed should be monitored and limited by social controls for the good of all.

In the Bush administration, high taxes on the rich were reduced significantly giving the stamp of approval on greed. The steeply graduated income tax had been a step in the direction of greed control. At the same time the rich were getting a tax break, government supervision and regulation over our financial institutions were relaxed

We need a personal income limit. Let's say, as a starting point, all individual income would be limited to two million dollars. Let's not tax the first two million for anybody. However, if someone goes over that figure, while it would not be against the law, the tax would be one hundred percent. Whatever top income level we select, it should be enough for the individual to buy a fine home, own two automobiles, and send kids to college. Productive, creative people should live well.

What we would have with an income limit would be a two tier tax system: nothing of the first two million and everything on any income above that figure. The top figure, of course, would be the subject of discussion and debate by the experts; I just picked that figure as a point for discussion. I think I could live pretty well on two million dollars per year, but the fact is, I live pretty well now on a lot less.

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In truth, money is often not the real goal of productive people.
How we tax industry and commerce in terms of removing the incentive for greed will involve complexity well beyond my ability as an amateur economist, but we very well could start by eliminating the subsidies and tax breaks the large corporations have bamboozled Congress into providing over the years. The petroleum and agricultural corporations in particular profit from these special gifts. Once that were done, we could think about how much profit is enough profit for any business so that all excess profits would revert to the common wealth pool.

How much is enough? As a society we need to answer that important question. Thousands of people in the United States would earn more than a two million upper limit and would be taxed accordingly. In truth, money is often not the real goal of productive people; when they exceed the limits of all they can use they often turn to charitable works in order to use the surplus. The motivation of successful people is far more complex than simple greed. I do not think that an income cap would stifle productivity or originality. In fact, if we look at the history of industrial society, we see that the really big inventions often came from individuals who were just starting out, people who had very little by way of personal wealth.

What we need to understand is that the common good is good for all of us no matter how uncommon we think we are.

Few humans alive today can really understand everything in the U.S. tax code. It will eventually collapse of its own weight and complexity. A limit on individual personal income would simplify the entire system and provide plenty of money to run the government. We could pay off our national debt. More importantly, it would encourage us to work for whatever rewards we find to be intrinsic in the work itself.

Why would limits of income be opposed by organized religions? Because, of course, thousands of people earn their livings selling religion. Some television evangelists become very wealthy in what is basically an entertainment business. Religion seems to be helpless in the face of greed.

(Julian I. Taber, Ph.D. is author of Addictions Anonymous: Outgrowing Addiction with a Universal, Secular Program of Self-Development: ISBN 978-1-60145-647-2, or go to: http://www.booklocker.com/books/3717.html)




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