I recently had to look up the word “cupidity” and when I saw the definition I was surprised that I didn’t already know it. On sight, I assumed the word had something to do with Cupid, that plump little angel who pierces our hearts with arrows of love that trigger a desire for chocolate, cut flowers and Hallmark cards. But Cupid has a dark side — cupidity means greed. I went down the greed rabbit hole of search results, and I discovered there is a legitimate debate about whether greed is good or bad.
Then I had to look up legitimate, because who could possibly defend greed? Turns out economists, academics, Wall Streeters, and politicians think they have found the good in greed. In this case they are using the adult definition of good, as in adult films. You know, the kind of films we don’t want children to see because a person does good by doing something that is technically wrong. For example, Dirty Harry.
Reading about good greed and bad greed, I found a trove of other terms worth knowing. “Irrational exuberance” is when Wall Streeters get high at work and play fantasy football with your money. You can have the same feeling when you buy a ring at Target that looks exactly like a ring from Tiffany’s. An “asset bubble” is like acid reflux for banks. They feel really full, but it’s just gas coming from where the money should be.
When irrational exuberance leads to an asset bubble you get a recession. A recession is a correction, like when your parents sent you to bed without supper because you got caught lying. A global recession happens when the Wall Streeters high on irrational exuberance insure millions of rings from Target for the value of rings from Tiffany’s, creating an asset bubble. Then they try to collect on millions of insurance policies, only to find a lot of smelly gas where the money should be. This is the bad kind of greed.
I did search for the good kind of greed, especially looking for a scenario that could make me feel better about taking too many napkins at the coffee shop. The words “Thou shalt not steal” were ringing in my head. Psychologists say greed is human nature, a survival instinct that’s balanced by altruism. A cultural obsession with materialism can manifest greed as an allergy to satisfaction, making a person feel like they can never have enough. Today we call this allergy hoarding.
Some say when cave people tamed fire to cook, they were motivated by a fundamental greed for more food. Experts believe greed produced civilization. Greed for comfort produced chairs. Greed for convenience produced clocks. Greed for speed produced the wheel. If that’s true, and I sure hope it is, maybe greed for good health will produce clean water. Because protecting water would definitely be the good kind of greed.