Greed is Impossible

on Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This man quit his job working as a software engineer after September 11, and now spends his days cleaning a river that has been accumulating trash near an auto repair shop. I don't think there is a difference between the work he did as a software engineer and the work he does now, except that his previous work was much more beneficial to mankind.

A company used to be trading money (wealth) for this man's highly skilled labor, and now he is doing work that a person with no skills, education, or intelligence can do. If you don't include this man's personal enjoyment of the cleaning process, which job is probably better for the world? I think it is obvious, if this man's own feelings are removed, that the previous work was much more likely to make the world a better place.

And I think that the reason he is performing unskilled labor instead of using his mind, education and skills is that he does not understand that his previous work was good for mankind; he perceived it to be shameful pursuit of money; of personal greed. This an unfortunate gap in understanding among educated adults in the world. Most of us fail to realize that using our abilities to create wealth is beneficial to everyone.

When wealth comes into the world, be it a clean river or new software, it is usually very beneficial to those who create it, but even more beneficial to society. The person who creates the first computer becomes very wealthy, but the total value provided to the world is worth many times more than the inventor receives. To pay everyone on earth to destroy their computer and forget how they are built would take perhaps more wealth than exists on earth! Innovation and new wealth benefits not only the first man, but also the entire world, and its accidental influence is worth so much that all of us should be encouraged as much as possible to create wealth for ourselves. Each of us, weather we intend to or not, help the world with every moment we spend trying to help ourselves.

How much would you have to be paid to agree to never use a computer again? To never use a phone, the internet, a car, or most of the things in your home, like dishwashers and laundry machines and so forth... You would have to find machines from 60 years ago (and they would cost more to run) and use those, and your central air conditioning would not be allowed, and you would have to use cash and pay everything by check. No more movies unless you use actual film, etc. This is impossible because computers are used to process checks, currency, and send anything by mail, so we would have to imagine that we are penalized for the speed and reliability computers provide. Perhaps you could have your mail held for two extra days and be forced to randomly destroy some of it, and it would be like this for everything, and you would be forced to work for a company that does not use computers, which would be a tremendous task in and of itself. How much would that cost? How much do you personally benefit from even this single invention?

I would need to be paid many millions of dollars to avoid computers for the rest of my life, and even then I may not accept. Perhaps one billion dollars might convince me, but I can imagine an amazing future, where computers are billions of times faster and more useful than now, and that is worth a tremendous amount to me. And all of this was created by one man's greed. One man's passionate desire to create a computing machine for the home, and to become wealthy doing it. His personal desire to help himself has accidentally helped the world to be a billion times richer than before.

If computers are worth even just $1 million to each person in the united states, the total value provided to just one nation is over 300 trillion dollars, and the united states is only "worth" about 200 trillion (total estimated value of all assets owned by Americans and the US government). Intangible wealth, the stuff that is not traded but still exists among us, is unimaginably large. And it is the intangible wealth that is really, truly valued by human beings, and much of it comes into existence when people greedily pursue their own personal fortunes. We should not fault any of them, but imagine a world where everyone tries to help themselves in order to create the intangible benefits that all of us don't realize are always created when people work to create, think, and innovate, for any reason at all.

If this man is cleaning a river because he thinks pursuing money in an office building is not helping anyone but himself, that is a grand shame. His goals are admirable, but his ignorance is stopping him from living the truly purposeful life he desires.

To teach our children to be greedy is not my suggestion. We should teach our children how the world works, and encourage them to work not only for themselves, but to pursue the creation of wealth, the acquisition of money in legal and moral ways, with the full knowledge and pride that comes with knowing that every small action, every tiny piece of useful work they do, is helping future generations to live better than we can even imagine. It is impossible to be "greedy" if you know that your success is the world's succes too, many times over. It is impossible to become wealthy without helping the world more than you have helped yourself.