The Normalization of Greed, Hustle, and Money-Centrism

New York Times “Room for Debate Question”: “Why We Like to Watch Rich People: Why do American television and movie audiences like to watch the antics and questionable behavior of the 1 percent?”

The lives of the outlandishly rich are so unreal and so bizarre for most of us that watching their self-indulgence, careless spending, and decadence can be an escape from the unpleasant reality of our own constant money worries.

And while many of us believe that the American Dream of rags to riches through honest hard work still exists, our experience tells us that far more common is wealth acquired via hustles and scams—both illegal ones and legal —and so we resonate to stories that validate our experience.

While many of us believe in honest work, we also see that wealth is mostly acquired via hustles and scams, and so we resonate to stories that validate this.

Greed is now normal in our increasingly “money-centric” society, one in which money is at the center of virtually all thoughts, decisions, and activities. While money has always been a big deal in America, greed was once seen as the practice of the spiritually sick— such as Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But today, greed is seen as both normal and acceptable by the mass media and mainstream politicians.

The novelist Ayn Rand championed money-centrism, selfishness, and greed; and at her funeral, in accordance with her request, a six-foot floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign was placed near her casket. Rand’s admirers include Alan Greenspan, Clarence Thomas, Paul Ryan, and many other elected officials.

And greed is acceptable not just for Republicans. In 2010, when asked about Goldman Sachs C.E.O. Lloyd Blankfein’s $9 million bonus and JPMorgan Chase C.E.O. Jamie Dimon’s $17 million bonus, President Obama responded: “First of all, I know both those guys. They’re very savvy businessmen. And I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth.”

Having a president who is unembarrassed to “know both those guys” makes it even easier for Americans to feel unembarrassed for being obsessed by wealthy hustlers.

3 Responses

  1. Res Ipsa
    Res Ipsa March 4, 2014 at 6:28 am |

    Indeed, the institutionalization of greed means that we’ve institutionalized failure, as a person can never satisfy greedy desires, and it sublimates all other impulses. Its part of the major failure of our society that has caused such widespread depression and disillusionment.

  2. Bill Heyn
    Bill Heyn April 8, 2014 at 10:08 pm |

    I have now read several of your articles over time. I think they are inciteful and have some thoughts to contribute. The basic concerns brought up by occupy: the incumbency of wealth and power, the similarity of the political parties, the disenchanfranchisement of the population, the basic disconnect between the populous and the things that are happening- these all concern me, especially now that I am the father of a three year old. I heard Benjamin crandel who created ukindista speak about his ideas prior to the launch and myself, with a few others founded the one occupy entity that is still operating at full steam. I was a neuroscience major; the advice I gave Benjamin was to endeavor to make any tokens of merit (descriptions of kind acts in that case) safe from counterfeit. Occupy Medical I developed (with lots of help) into a consistently functioning organization that has served thousands with free healthcare, though now it flags due to internal corruption. Anyway, I just wanted to bring up the topic of organizing and of exploitation of credulity. Obviously this occurs on a societal level, but it is even more frustrating when activism itself is the medium of corruption. Someone greedy and dishonest has assumed control of my organization and I have given up trying to stop them. Among their tactics in doing this were the serial use of slander against individuals in their way, and some skilled manipulation of the group’s perceptions.

    The thing I keep kicking myself for is, as I advised Benjamin, the most fascinating class I took was behavioral ecology, which illustrates that wherever people cooperate, the disingenuous have an advantage unless that risk is accounted for in the organizational rules. This is the stuff of Richard Dawkins’ thinking- and he is often misused to justify Ayn Rand like thinking- social Darwinism and the like. Anyway, as I mention these are misapplications and should be a critical thing dealt with upon the formation of any cooperative effort of any scale.
    Thanks for your ongoing reporting.

  3. Fede
    Fede August 23, 2014 at 11:24 pm |

    Hi Bruce
    Ive found your website via one of your articles published somewhere else”Is our worship of consumerism and technology making us depressed?”
    First of all excuse my english Im spanish.
    I dont have a college degree or psychology studies but Ive had the chance to travel the world since very young age spend time in Africa, US and the EU.
    Its very refreshing reading your articles cause I see the world has changed evolved tremendously in the last 15 r 20 years but nobody is paying atention.
    I think about all these matters everyday as I see the world my society my life and myself changing. Trying to understand where we are going to as I try to find thte answers to articulate my life ina positive way.
    Its interesting the way you talk about US with self criticism.I had the chance to spend time in US back in 1996 and I had that sense of money centrism and greed,the mall lifestyle,the celebrity and outter appeareance worshippping but in Europe we had not gotten that far at that time yet. I was only 14 years old,and through the years Ive seen my society transforming into the same.
    Then internet took over in the 200os decade,then the social networkd took over since the late 2000s and right now I really cant relate to this society anymore.I feel a bit isolated watching this so called virtual world taking over the real one I used to love. I find myself holding on to the past cause I cant relate to these values.
    Regarding the moneycentrism and greed,we are watching all these huge celebs from the 80s and 90s that we thought were happy because wealth equals hapinnes in our minds.Yet they are depressed and falling in drug addictions,some dying.When you see 2 of the biggest american icons like Mj and Whitney that represented the American Dream like nobody else dyiing before 50 years old common sense tells you that the fairytale weve been sold for decades may not be that good. Success and money doesnt mean hapiness.
    You see walstreet executives working 24/7 barely seeing their families just to get those extra bucks. Its the same for the burguerking guy working non stop for that new Iphone or whatever the media tells him is cool to have…
    So Bruce I guess Im just trying to understand the world we live in and try to survive.I just cant think where will we be in 20 years from now,probably people wont comunicate in a “traditional” way.Weve got to the point where you go to a supermarket and a machine is taking your money and saying Thank you.Like a science fiction movie from the 80s. The sad part is we have a 25% unemployment here in Spain,yet I have to go to the supermarket and a machine is taking my money. But nobody complains cause everybody enjoys a fast “modern” service…Its all about these big corporations that have eaten the little grocery store and aretaking the money without creating any benefit to the comunity in terms of employment.Politicians dont talk about these things. and everybodys is too busy sending pictures on their iphone to even care about these things.
    Ill keep cheking your website and thanks for sharing these wonderful articles. Blessings

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