Kaieteur News – Greed is groovy. But does this make it right or best for all concerned? And is this what the people want. Today’s column examines these issues.
Since the capitalist system is based on accumulation of wealth, greed is seen as being good since it is this greed (or need) that drives the capitalist to produce more and more goods and to consolidate capital towards this goal.
Thus, if greed is good, one would expect that under capitalism unhindered greed would be the mantra: the more profits and surpluses made, the better for all concerned. After all, if greed is responsible for the expansion of capital formation and the increase in the production of goods and services, then the more greed the better. So long as wealth is acquired through legitimate means, then under the capitalist system, there should be no criticism to persons making a financial killing in the market.
The fact is, however, that the vast majority of citizens are uncomfortable with the notion of wealth being concentrated in the hands of a few. They are equally unhappy with persons making an obscene profit, for example, through buying cheaply and selling through the roof.
They see this form of speculation, strictly lawful and legitimate, under capitalism as being wrong. They also see as wrong the concentration of capital leading to monopolies. When this sale involves a resource of the State, then people will feel disrespected.
Right now in Guyana we are seeing a movement toward financial consolidation within the communications market in Guyana. Steps are being made to corner the market and eventually to place it under the financial control of a few individuals.
Regulation is weak – anti-trust legislation is virtually absent – and therefore existing legislation is unable to adequately safeguard the public interests. The print media is not exempted from this and it is evident that one particular newspaper is enjoying a disproportionate number of government ads which effectively translates to it being floated by the government. These are worrying trends.
Within the manufacturing sector there are developments that need to be followed closely because they can also result in the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few individuals with strong political connections.
Then there is the financial sector where interest rates on deposits are low and spreads high, resulting in massive profits for the major banks in Guyana. This, too, is something that needs to be looked at closely because while the banks are complaining that because of risk and reserve requirements dictate high costs of lending, their profits are soaring higher and higher each year.
People are also not happy when benefits and concessions are doled out in a less than even handed manner. People are not happy when too much resources end up in the hands of a few individuals. People are not happy when they see things that cause them to question the transparency of government privatisations and the award of contracts.
In summary, moral prescriptions are made about the market. These moral prescriptions place limits on the need for greed. The market must be guided by more than just greed. It must also be guided by moral considerations. After all if there were no such considerations, then the survival of the fittest would mean the extinction of the weak. Without the weak, there will be no viability of the market. Therefore the very existence of the market depends on injecting moral prescriptions. This issue of morals and markets was the central theme of last year’s Reith Lectures, which made some valuable points about the need to redesign markets to serve the best interests of society.
Markets cannot be left to run on automatic pilot. They have to be remade to serve the interests not just of the rich but also of the poor who invariably represent the vast majority of society. But even if markets are unable to extricate themselves from class interests; if they are unable to break free of the vice of the bourgeoisie class, there is still a need for safeguards against the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.
The dangerous concentration of wealth becomes, as mentioned yesterday, particularly acute in poor countries where there are small markets and competition for limited resources.
And it is, particularly in these small economies that political patronage and connections can play a decisive role in determining how wealth is accumulated and in whose hands the greatest share ends up.
Thus it is to the politicians that the people must look to ensure that the appropriation of wealth is not concentrated in the hands of a few.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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