Is greed good?

greeddiceEven though we always have a few readers who resist it, I wish we were able to cover an even wider area of religious topics or topics that touch on religious issues than we do now. As last week's breathtaking corporate bailout occurred, I was surprised we didn't see any coverage of the moral or ethical issues involved. Leave it to Religion & Ethics Newsweekly to cover the matter. Anchor Bob Abernathy interviewed Brookings Institution economist Rebecca Blank:

ABERNETHY: And that's what happened in these cases. People were, traders were encouraged to take big risks and not pay attention to all the costs that there would be for people down the line if those risks didn't pay off.

Dr. BLANK: That's certainly true in part, but I will also say that there was also a culture where what those traders were doing was what everyone in all the cubicles next to them were doing. And, you know, there's always the question of to what extent is that an excuse -- and a justifiable excuse? There were also a lot of people at the very beginning of this, the whole sub-prime crisis that started this off, who saw themselves as providing more funds for low-income families. They were doing a good thing. So motives here are very mixed. I think it's hard to say this is all about greed.

ABERNETHY: What about justice? Was there injustice involved?

Dr. BLANK: So, you know, we love a world in which the people in the white hats get rewarded, and the people in the black hats pay the price, and that I have to say doesn't happen very often, particularly in a very complex economy. We're in a time of panic right now where people have lost trust in what the banks are doing, what the investment firms are doing -- lost trust beyond a level of reasonableness, to be honest, and it's got to be stopped. And, you know, taking account of that fear and panic in many ways is more important than assigning blame one way or the other.

Dr. Blank's perspective is interesting, but I think the show could have been greatly improved by a broader discussion. There are many different economic perspectives about what went wrong, which means there are different moral issues in play. I think a few more voices could have added a lot.

The other quibble, sent along by the reader who submitted the story, is that the discussion focused only on ethics and not on religion. While the topic of whether greed is a sin is engaged, Dr. Blank's answer is not necessarily representative of a great many religious beliefs. A discussion of economics and religion using this hook would be welcome. Perhaps Religion & Ethics or some other outlet will discuss it in greater detail in the future.

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