Avarice versus Greed

Bosch's The Seven Deadly Sins

Image Credit: The Wikipedia
Image Credit: The Wikipedia

Avarice and greed are often used as interchangeable synonyms, with greed having the higher frequency of use and avarice appearing only rarely. However, if you look at the finer distinctions in their connotations and their etymology, you will find that they describe completely different mindsets.

Now, you won't find this distinction explained in most dictionaries, and you can forget about getting the Catholic Church to recognize the difference between the two. In fact, maybe I am the only one who makes this distinction. So bear with me while I explain.

To me, avarice is a word that means "miserliness". If you are avaricious, you behave a little like Harpagon in Moliere's L'Avare. You just can't bear to be parted from your money. Avaricious people refuse to consume, even when they could and possibly should. They are like anorexics who have a refrigerator full of food, but refuse to eat.

Greed, on the other hand, is a close sister to gluttony. People who are greedy try to get money because they are addicted to spending money. Sometimes they even try to get it unfairly.

By my defintion, avarice is a very strong desire to hold on to what is already yours, even to the point of living in a state resembling poverty when you have plenty of money saved away. Greed refers to the extremely strong desire to acquire more, even to the point of taking it unlawfully from others.

In the current financial crisis, those who have savings, if they insist on holding onto what they have and maintaining its value, might be labeled avaricious by those who oppose this policy. We have been encouraged to spend money for the sake of the economy. People who have money but don't spend it are setting themselves up for an accusation of avarice.

On the other side of the same coin, those who haven't got any money, because they spent it all, and are now asking for government sponsored handouts, are open to an accusation of greed.

Now I know that many people believe that moderation in all things is the best path. One should be neither an anorexic nor a glutton for optimal health. But if you had to choose, which is your vice? Avarice or Greed?

And here's an even more interesting question. Which is best for the country as a whole? Avarice or Greed? While you are pondering that, ask yourself this: which vice is best for Planet Earth? Avarice or Greed?

Where I got the definition of Avarice

Where, you may ask, did I come up with this completely idiosyncratic definition of avarice? Well, when I first started writing this hub, I thought my definition was the standard one. That's what I understood avarice to mean. The difference between avarice and greed was obvious to me. Then I started looking it up and found that none of the dictionaries supported my view of the matter. Finally, in despair I tried my old Petit Larousse. Here's what it said:

AVARICE [avaris] n.f. (lat. avaritia). Attachement excessif aux richesses.

"Excessive attachment to wealth." Not desire to get more wealth, but the unwillingness to part with what you've got. See, I didn't make that up. I just had the wrong language.

Anyway, I think avarice sounds so much better than miserliness. So bear with me. Etymologically, at least, I'm right.

Motivations for Avarice and Greed

People's choice of avarice or greed is never made in a vacuum. It may depend on the history of their lives or the society they live in. It may also depend on their most basic inclinations, talents and pleasures.

Some people enjoy productive work, not because they expect to be paid for it, but because they feel a compulsion to engage in it. They may be gardeners or painters or people who are very much into animal husbandry. They could be writers or pilots, singers, composers or craftsmen.They could be scientists or seamstresses. They could be auto mechanics or baseball players, horsemen or fishermen. Whatever their area of interest in life, what they chiefly need and want is time. Time to do their own thing. For these people, money equals time. The less they spend, the more time they can milk out of every dollar so that they won't be forced to do something they don't like to do.

Now occasionally one of these people actually gets a job where he or she is paid to do what they like. However, often conflicts with the employer crop up concerning how the work is to be done. Employers who try to motivate this type of employee only by means of a salary find that they don't get the results they want. Because of this, many employers prefer workers who are motivated primarily by greed.

To someone with a vocation, true pleasure comes from the work, and working for anything but pleasure is experienced as pain. Because of this, such people try to live frugally, and their vice of choice is avarice.

On the other hand, there are people who don't have a favorite line of work and for whom work is chiefly a way to get money. For them, the joy in money is the ability to spend it. No sooner is it spent than they need more money. It's a never ending cycle, and some people call it the business cycle.

For a very long time now, our economy has been fueled by greed, and avarice has been frowned upon.

If you haven't guessed till now, I'll confess: my vice of choice is avarice.

Coexistence and Cooperation between Avarice and Greed

Both avarice and greed can be effective motivators. In a free economy people motivated primarily by greed can exist side by side with people motivated primarily by avarice and everybody can be happy. Some people will simply do whatever pays the most, and their choice of occupation will be determined by supply and demand. Some people will insist on doing everything their own way, and they will be willing to live more frugally, when doing things their own way is not in high demand.

Yes, occasionally some of these self-motivated people will hit the jackpot and find that what they like to do is suddenly in demand, and then they can be well compensated. Occasionally, when things are not going so well, even the people who are willing to do anything for a buck will find that their earnings aren't so high. The ratio of people motivated by avarice to people motivated by greed will fluctuate, and these fluctuations will create ripples in the marketplace

In an economy that is not entirely free, the market can be skewed in the direction of either avarice or greed by means of government intervention. In the United States, the following measures have been put into effect to give greed the upper hand over avarice:

Government Sponsored Measures to Promote Greed and Discourage Avarice

  1. Corporations were granted limited liability so that large business entities could control large amounts of capital without being responsible for damage caused to others. This encouraged investment and discouraged savings.
  2. Money was not allowed to be indexed against anything of permanent value, like gold or silver.
  3. Wages were given a minimum below which they were not allowed to drop.
  4. Employers therefore had to pass the extra outlay onto consumers, because they couldn't act like Harpagon and try to pay their employees less.
  5. Because consumer prices went higher, other employees, who earned above the minimum wage to begin with, began to bargain for higher wages to compensate themselves for what they lost in purchasing power.
  6. Every time an employer had to pay any employee more, this was again passed to the consumer, and again the consumer, who was an employee himself, asked for more money. This created an endless cycle of inflation.
  7. Lenders were prohibited from charging a high enough interest rate for money so as to keep up with this inflation.
  8. People depositing money in the bank lost value, so it seemed that the only way to maintain value was to invest in something else.
  9. People invested in stocks, real estate, and other specualtive ventures in the hopes of not losing their savings.
  10. Taxes, at the local, state and Federal levels kept going up, but as long as people kept trying to make more money, there was some hope for them to make up the difference.
  11. People worked longer and longer hours in order to earn money that was worth less and less.
  12. Because people who were motivated by the love of their work could not be bought, they were not promoted, and less and less was produced by the companies who employed all these wage-earners who were working only for money.


Alternative Scenarios

What would the alternative have looked like? What would a country that promoted avarice be like? More people would be independent. They could be, because no matter how poor they were when they were born, they could save money from their earnings to buy themselves freedom from wage slavery. Fewer houses would be built, because people would not have access to easy credit, but more older houses would be refurbished. Fewer trees would be cut down. Fewer forests would be denuded.

There would be less business, but what business there was would be sound. People would buy things only after serious deliberation. They would make quality products that lasted a long time, and these products would be costly, but they would be worth it. If you couldn't afford to buy something made by someone else, you could always make it yourself. There would be less mass production, and people would make less money, but the money would be worth more and its value would be stable. People could afford to build up a nest egg for retirement.

What makes a Person Prefer Greed or Avarice

Are greedy people and avaricious people born that way? Can they change? Can they be motivated to alter their behavior? You bet. We are not all equally set in our ways. We have conflicting motivations, and we can be induced to take a different road when presented with a different set of circumstances. Many people who are motivated by greed today have chosen this path, because, given the government interventions that I listed before, avarice didn't pay and greed did.

Anytime someone proposes a measure to "stimulate the economy", what is really involved is setting things up so that not spending money doesn't pay. More and more people are induced to adopt the lifestyle of greed and to give up avarice.

What is the lifestyle of greed? It means working for a living all the time and trying to spend as much money as possible. For some people this is easy, because they can't imagine not having a job. In fact, if they don't have a job, they can't find enough things to do. They get bored. They need someone to fill their days with activity and fill their bank account with money they can spend till the next paycheck. These people are happier when they are in debt. They feel strangely out of sorts if they're not. For them debt is not a terrible burden, but rather a way to find meaning and purpose in life.

Others really suffer when they are forced to live in an economy that promotes greed, because their avarice is so ingrained that they can't change to help themselves. They can see that things will work better for them if they just go with the flow, but they can't.

Unfortunately, people are trapped by the majority in whatever system seems to please the most people. We can't all be happy all the time, and this is the era of greed. It's all just a matter of preference, right?

Well, not completely. There is one other important factor that needs to be considered: depletable resources.

The Economy and the Environment

Like all other animals, man has a habitat. We live in the real world on a planet of finite proportions. This planet is full of valuable resources, many of which are renewable if properly managed, but some of which are depletable and, once consumed, will not be replenished.

What are some of the depletable resources? Coal, petroleum, natural gas. Gold and silver. Can you think of anything else? How about land?

Any economy is based on two things: (1) natural resources and (2) human effort and ingenuity. An economy that promotes avarice will conserve natural resources and encourage human effort and human creativity. An economy that promotes greed is going to grind on until it consumes all the depletable resources, and then it will have to stop.

So the bottom line is: greed is not sustainable as a primary motivation for an entire society. Avarice is.

Or, to be less dramatic, one might say this: avarice is an important ingredient in any functional economy.

The Solution: A Balance Created by the Marketplace

I don't actually believe that all people can be divided into two categories, nor do I believe that avarice is always best and that greed is never good. I intentionally used the names of two vices, rather than the name of a virtue and the name of vice. I could have said it was thrift versus greed, for instance, but that would have made it seem that one motivation is always good and the other is always bad. I don't believe that. It takes all kinds to make a world, and greed wouldn't exist if it didn't serve a useful purpose.

If it weren't for greed, we couldn't get anybody to do any work that is not creative. We would have all chiefs and no indians. It's good that some people are willing to do what other people ask them to do in return for money. It's also good that there are other people who will not do anything for money, unless they think it is right. It takes both kinds to make an economy run.

So the fact of the matter is that we're not dealing with two vices here: both greed and avarice are virtues. In a free economy, they would balance out naturally, and things would not get out of hand.

Money would maintain its value and some work would always get done, but we would not all feel we had to work all the time until we used up all our resources.

It's not us versus them. It's us versus us. If we could just stop for a minute and realize that, we could bring everything into balance.

Which vice is best

Which vice is best for planet Earth?

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Comments 71 comments

issues veritas 7 years ago

Aya

nice try


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Issues Veritas, could you elaborate? Are you saying that you are not convinved? Or are you saying that other people will not be convinced?


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Aya -- Having been once married to the kind of man who must have been in mind when it came to coining the word "Avarice" in the extreme it gave me a good frame of reference. However, I understood completely what you were getting at, and it seems the world needs balance. I thought this hub was a breath of fresh air. I'll be bookmarking it.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Jerilee! In fact, when I was reading your hub about the gentleman in question, I'll admit that while I was generally in your corner, a tiny bit of my heart went out to him, because we share the same vice! When taken to extremes, any virtue can seem a vice. That's why the market, and not legislators, should find the balance.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Aya -- I have to admit a bit of him rubbed off on me and he would find it most hilarious to know that I have to admit he was dead on right about a lot of things in life. 

His extreme was what did him in with me, otherwise there never was a more intelligent man as far as I'm concerned. He could no more help his extreme than I could help not being what he needed.


nhkatz profile image

nhkatz 7 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

Aya,

I'm not sure if this is useful to you, but in the theoretical finance literature much of what you are writing about is referred to as risk tolerance (or on the flip side, risk aversion.) Bureaucrats are often quite explicit in saying that they want to increase (or reduce) the "appetite for risk."

Just for atmospherics, and not to make any particular point, I add this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQnCFdjLJAM&fea...


issues veritas 7 years ago

Aya,

I had written a whole response to your 12 points and annotated them in my answer, but when I posted the comment only half of it made it into the comment. So nice try was the result of the comment editor hosing my response.

Corporations are not bad but they have been mutated over the years by Congress. Over the years they relaxed mergers and acquisitions which resulted in Super Corporations. These Super Corporations are getting bigger and bigger and they also became multi-national corporations like AIG that are global.

These corporations can't be controlled or adequately audited. These corporations are the poster child for "greed".

 


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Jerilee, I think things tend to rub off from other people we know well, even when we didn't agree with them at the time. My parents were always very thrifty, and I didn't always appreciate it as a child, but they were right.

Nets, I was really inspired to delve into the different and conflicting motivations of market participants as a result of your hub about Supply and Demand. I suppose avarice can be seen as an extreme form of risk aversion, but it doesn't capture the way in which producers behave differently from consumers. Do the economic strategists take into account that more productive workers might also be more risk averse and more likely to decide to become defectors? Or that being a defector is likely to make you risk averse?

That's an interesting clip. Do you recommend the movie?


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Issues Veritas, I'm sorry I didn't get to see your complete comment! Talk about the computer editing the comment and changing its meaning!

The clip from the movie that Nets posted above deals with both greed and accountability where the management of corporations is concerned. I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know the context. I'd be curious to see what it had to say about limited liability.

Anyway, I still believe that if you remove limited liability, then stockholders, who are the real owners, will have to oversee management. That will restore accountability.

But this hub isn't primarily about that. This hub is about the motivation of people in the marketplace and how that has been skewed by government intervention.

Notice that I did not mention either the graduated income tax or welfare recipients. I didn't find it necessary to do so, because I believe that the differences between greed and avarice can be accounted for even without that.


nhkatz profile image

nhkatz 7 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

Aya,

The most common usage of risk aversion is in reference to investors. But it is a technical term and could be used more generally.

I suppose it would be too much to hope that there might be an etymological connection between avarice and aversion?

The movie is Oliver Stone's Wall Street. It's a classic. I recommend it highly.

Nets


issues veritas 7 years ago

Aya,

Don't you think that the greed of the corporations in how they make money and the greed of the government and how they tax have tracked each other. As the government increases taxes the corporations buy other corporations and try to be bigger than the rest so they get all the bananas. (800 lb gorilla).

I think we agree on the problem but differ radically on the solution. I want to include the government as a big factor in the problem and you can't fix the problem without fixing them.

 


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Aya - I think it is always a good thing to rescue disappearing distinctions between words and concepts. Avarice and greed can become blurred in careless usage. But for most of us, we learn about greed at a much earlier age and then it usually applies to sweets, or similar, where the fusion of acquiring and consuming more than our fair share is very clear. Avarice is a more grown-up word that nearly always applies to money. I don't fully agree that it just means holding on to what you've got though. Attachment after all can be akin to lust (for the things of the world) and an avaricious person is likely to be driven as much to acquisitiveness as to retention. The nice old word for the acceptable face of avarice is "thrift". I don't think there is an acceptable face of greed, but it's opposite is probably "restraint". Good thoughtful hub.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Aya - I love the way you've distinguihed between the two and yet not thrown one out for the other. Yes, in an evolving world we need both - but balance as you say is the key.


countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 7 years ago from Washington, USA

Based on your definition I would go for avarice to be the lesser of the evil (but sometimes it may become a virtue too). And going forward in those lines recently I had a discussion where a couple who were earning pretty high and the house they wanted to buy was only about 2.5 times (less than thrice which is the good rule of thumb) but still didn't go for it. But they feel when they are paying the high taxes why the government should bail out those who are "irresponsible" to take the loans which work out to 5/6 times there annual house hold income. I was till then pretty sympathetic towards the cause of those families who are facing foreclosures but when they raised that issue then I was thinking about this other dimension too.

Maybe in US society avarice isn't necessarily a virtue by itself. Thumbs up for a thought provoking hub.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Nets, I would have been quite happy if "aversion" and "avarice" were related etymologically, but they're not. Historically, averse/ a-vert means turn away from something, while avar means to crave.

I will try to get a cheap copy of Oliver Stone's Wall Street for Sword, Bow and me to watch.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Issues Veritas, you write:

"I think we agree on the problem but differ radically on the solution. I want to include the government as a big factor in the problem and you can't fix the problem without fixing them."

My point was that we need to get rid of all the government interventions that I listed, so my hub does suggest fixing the government.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Paraglider, thanks for stopping by. You write: "I  don't fully agree that it just means holding on to what you've got though. Attachment after all can be akin to lust (for the things of the world) and an avaricious person is likely to be driven as much to acquisitiveness as to retention. The nice old word for the acceptable face of avarice is "thrift". I don't think there is an acceptable face of greed, but it's opposite is probably "restraint"."

You are right that my usage is not the standard one, but the distinction that I am trying to make, whether the realm of discussion is fiscal, nutritional or romantic, is between the motive to retain or the urge to get more.

Greed in the nutritional realm means "appetite." Any mother can tell you that when a child has no appetite, that is cause for concern. Children who aren't born with a healthy appetite experience "failure to thrive." Sometimes they will not expend the effort necessary to suckle, because they don't experience a sufficient inducement from the nutritional content of the milk.

There is such a thing as healthy greed. All it really means is an appetite for life and all that makes life enjoyable. When not taken to excess, greed is good. In my book, it is never evil, unless it involves unfairly taking from others. 

You mentioned that the word "attachment" has an application in the area of romance, which is true, but you mistakenly named that application "lust." Actually, "lust" is like greed, a reference to healthy animal appetite. Attachment refers to bonding, and is more akin to avarice. The ugly side of bonding or attachment is jealousy. The ugly side of lust is profligacy. They are not at all the same. But there is also a healthy side to each.

I wrote a hub about romantic love a while back that explains that not only are attachment and lust different emotions, there are actually specific neurotransmitters that target different area of the brain responsible for generating these emotions. In fact there is a third one, which is much more rare: attraction (or limerence). Almost all people experience lust and attachment, but only a rare individual experiences limerence. The name of my hub about that is "Love and Limerence."

In the same way, most market participants are motivated partially by greed and partially by avarice, to different extents. But it is a rare individual who experiences a true vocation!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Shalini, thanks! What we need is a balance, but each person has to find his own balance, because each of us has a different balance point, depending on our different needs, talents and inclinations. One person can't find the balance for another. That's why the government should stay out of the market, and let things sort themselves out.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

CountryWomen, thanks for stopping by. Neither greed nor avarice are bad, as long as they don't involve harming others. If the government would just stay out of the market, people would be able to make their own cost/benefit analysis and decide according to their own internal needs and their own situation what degree of risk they are willing to take in order to provide for themselves and their family.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

John, thanks for your comment.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Aya - you know that's so profound. If each person found his own balance without it being imposed from outside, that really woud be true freedom, wouldn't it! I love the sound of that!


issues veritas 7 years ago

Aya,

Your comment "My point was that we need to get rid of all the government interventions that I listed, so my hub does suggest fixing the government."

I really didn't see anything in this hub that fixes the government problems that I am concerned with. The government is too large and too costly and it is ineffective in benefiting the people. The government is the worst of the greed mongers and changing corporations to unlimited liability is not going to change the government. The government, cannot go bankrupt by definition, they exempt from most if not all liability from their acts, and they are exempt even from the laws that they pass for the country.

The members of Congress and the President an his administration don't even have limited liability, much less unlimited liability.

You asked....


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Shalini, yes! That would be true freedom!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Issues Veritas, the government could indeed go bankrupt, if the dollar were indexed to the gold standard. The government could not get too big, if it couldn't keep raising taxes. The government could not devalue the dollar, if it didn't engage in all the practices that I mentioned. Every wrong you see could be remedied this way.

Now, implementing it -- that's a whole different question. In order to implement it, we would have to get the majority to agree that it's a good idea. But that's true of your suggested reforms, too. My reforms, if implemented, would make your reforms unnecessary. But your reforms would not touch the heart of the problem.

They're like thinking that limiting the presidency to two terms will combat tyranny.

It does no good to tell people or entities that they are too big and they should be cut down to size. What works better is to create a situation where it pays for everyone to rise to the occasion and find the best within them.


Gin Delloway profile image

Gin Delloway 7 years ago

nice hub... I think that people can argue about sins and virtue for ages... It's a very philosophic theme...


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Gin Dalloway, thanks for your comment. I certainly mean these terms in the widest possible philosophical sense. ;->


issues veritas 7 years ago

Aya

Issues Veritas, the government could indeed go bankrupt, if the dollar were indexed to the gold standard.

Aya: But the dollar is not indexed to gold or anything else

The government could not get too big, if it couldn't keep raising taxes.

Aya: Nothing you have suggested, would stop the government from raising taxes.

The government could not devalue the dollar, if it didn't engage in all the practices that I mentioned. Every wrong you see could be remedied this way.

Aya: Your 12 points don't hit on the government. For example, the minimum wage is not the real problem. The real problem is giving welfare and aid to those that don't make the minimum wage. Your other 11 points also don't point to a solution on the government issue. Now, implementing it -- that's a whole different question. In order to implement it, we would have to get the majority to agree that it's a good idea. But that's true of your suggested reforms, too. My reforms, if implemented, would make your reforms unnecessary. But your reforms would not touch the heart of the problem. They're like thinking that limiting the presidency to two terms will combat tyranny. It does no good to tell people or entities that they are too big and they should be cut down to size. What works better is to create a situation where it pays for everyone to rise to the occasion and find the best within them

Aya, there is no such situation for the government.

Aya, I guess we are still on different wave lengths. I want to modify the government and keep the spirit of the founding fathers but I get the impression that you want to change the government type to something other than a Republic..


issues veritas 7 years ago

Aya

Issues Veritas, the government could indeed go bankrupt, if the dollar were indexed to the gold standard.

Aya: But the dollar is not inexed to gold or anything else

The government could not get too big, if it couldn't keep raising taxes.

Aya: Nothing you have suggested, would stop the government from raising taxes.

The government could not devalue the dollar, if it didn't engage in all the practices that I mentioned. Every wrong you see could be remedied this way.

Aya: Your 12 points don't hit on the government. For example, the minimum wage is not the real problem. The reeal problem is giving welfare and aid to those that don't make the minimum wage. Your other 11 points also don't point to a solution on the government issue. Now, implementing it -- that's a whole different question. In order to implement it, we would have to get the majority to agree that it's a good idea. But that's true of your suggested reforms, too. My reforms, if implemented, would make your reforms unnecessary. But your reforms would not touch the heart of the problem. They're like thinking that limiting the presidency to two terms will combat tyranny. It does no good to tell people or entities that they are too big and they should be cut down to size. What works better is to create a situation where it pays for everyone to rise to the occasion and find the best within them

Aya, there is no such situation for the government.

Aya, I guess we are still on different wave lengths. I want to modify the government and keep the spirit of the founding fathers but I get the impression that you want to change the government type to something other than a Republic..

I have written a hub on one part of what I think is the problem with government.

I know that you will disagree with it but it is at

http://hubpages.com/hub/Can-the-structure-of-Congr...


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Issues Veritas, I want to return the governmental form to that of a Republic! In a republic, not everything is open to government intervention. There are some ground rules that everyone agrees to, which are not negotiable. I think the following would be reasonable ground rules:

1) Money issued by the government will be indexed to gold

2) the government many not legislate about or regulate interest rates, wages, the price of goods, or any other contractual term between consenting adults.

3) The government will not grant to groups of people collectively rights that they do not have individually. (This applies to corporations and many other artificially created entities.)

4) The government may not seize the property of one person and grant it to another, except in fulfillment of contractual obligation or to compensate for a tort commited by the one against the other.

These four ground rules cover the (12) matters that I discussed above which gave greed the upper hand.

Greed would still be okay -- and it would be a good motivator -- but no person could hope to acquire anything at the expense of another without the other person's consent. This would allow a balance between greed and avarice.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Correction: In 2) change "many not" to "may not". ;->


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA

Aya Girl, you sure do get the comments. Eamonn de Valera had in mind an ideal agrarian society for Ireland where everyone lived "light" and was able to buy what they need but not get involved with excessive greed. I don't like miserliness as you define "avarice", because those people who keep their money in a sock are not contributing much to the economy or society. Not only do they not spend their money in the local economy, but they spend inordinate amounts of energy figuring out how to avoid doing so and as such avoid getting involved. However, the "buy buy buy because it's patriotic" that has been the USA mantra for most of our lives has played out. Not only is it not sustainable ecologically, but it's not sustainable economically. Personally I really like de Valera's Utopian ideal but it would require a major cultural upheaval to achieve it. People today all over the world just don't have those values, except in a few remote and economically insignificant places.

And I beg to differ with your statement that the Catholic church is no help. Sure if you read the popular twaddle it's pretty brain dead. I just had a long chat with my spiritual advisor because I was upset at such things and he told me to ignore the stuff that's written by people who are so steeped in the acquisition mentality that they can't see clear to write dispassionately about such matters. But reading the fathers of the Church, Augustine, Francisco de Assissi and others will give you a pretty good idea of the context in which the people of that day regarded avarice, and you're right there is a subtle distinction, which is why avarice is themore general term than greed but for most purposes either will suffice and they are interchangeable when it comes to sin because either one reflects an attitude that causes sins against the virtue of generosity. It is a very fine distinction that you are making.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Hot Dorkage, thanks for stopping by.

None of the problems associated with wealth would exist if not for the possibility of creating a surplus. Neither greed nor avarice would be at issue if we couldn't keep for tomorrow what we had hunted and gathered today. Agriculture created this problem. Hunter-gatherers do not suffer from it.

I have a hub called "Bread: The First Fast Food" that explains, in realistic terms, how the discovery of agriculture led to social stratification, and that the story of the garden of Eden and fall from grace was all about the invention of bread.

I long for that simpler life myself, and I see it in the lives of chimps in the wild. But... since we do have agriculture and industry, we need to allow greed and avarice to be kept in balance. Risk aversion is a good thing, and it helps us to keep from using up all our natural resources. It helps to keep greed in check.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Sophieqd, thanks for your comment.


Raven King profile image

Raven King 7 years ago from Cabin Fever

This hub blew me away it is a force of nature. I think avarice is tragic in that you hear about people who lived like miserable beggars even though they had a lot of money. I think avarice holds people back from taking a chance toward happiness or a chance that leads to a more fulling life.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Raven, thanks for your comment! Yes, in its most extreme form, avarice is pitiable. But there is a balance, and a society that is balanced is best achieved by allowing avarice and greed to motivate different people to different extents. Another, alternative motivation is that of a true vocation, where we are productive not because we hunger for the fruits of our labor, but because we enjoy the process.


shibashake profile image

shibashake 7 years ago

You bring up many good points. Japan's economy is more "avarice" based, and ultimately, it did not bring good results either. So as you and many others have said, in all things, balance is needed.

The devil of course, is always in the details. How do we achieve this balance and how do we sustain it? Free markets *do* automatically balance for these opposing forces, but they do not necessarily project a smooth trajectory. If we were to leave everything free, we would probably get ourselves into a never-ending cycle of boom and busts. To smoothen things out, some controls are needed.

Then, the issue is what controls, and who controls, and all that muck; and that is when I try to leave the room :)


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Shibashake, thanks for your comment.

Maybe we should be willing to accept some booms and some busts in our pursuit of natural balance. If the booms and busts are a normal part of the way people behave in the marketplace-- and not something contrived by special interests -- then maybe the best thing to do is to let them play out.

The natural booms and busts may be mild compared to the contrived ones, however hard it may be to go through one of those busts, when it happens.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 7 years ago from San Francisco

Interesting hub, although I agree with most of the dictionaries you consulted: avarice is synonymous with greed.

If you want to talk about miserliness/thrift vs avarice/greed, however...


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Livelonger, I know it may seem counterproductive to go against the dictionaries, but I actually feel that I have a good reason to do so. Sometimes the connotations that words have are derived from the value system that is prevalent in society. Then a particular denotation gets stuck in the good bin or the bad bin. This makes it really hard to talk about things more objectively, and outside the value system of the society.

Most people agree that thrift is good and miserliness is bad. They don't  notice that they're the same, only the connotation is different. Most people agree that being industrious and working for a living is good, but that greed is bad. They don't notice that these are essentially the same things, only one of them has a bad connotation.

Until we break out of that cultural trap, we'll be stuck with the same values that the Catholic Church is pushing when it gives the same definition for both avarice and greed.

To break out of a value system and see beyond it, we sometimes need to redefine old words more precisely, disregarding their connotations.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 7 years ago from San Francisco

I'm certainly all for getting away from dogmatic definitions set forth by the likes of the Catholic church. And actually I don't think trying to maximize your earnings by itself is wrong (although some may differ). I think greed and miserliness both have connotations of selfishness; whether this is the Catholics' doing or not, I don't know.

Greed connotes amassing wealth at the expense of others--taking more than your fair share of a limited resource--while industriousness can certainly lead someone to have the same wealth, but without the sense that something is being taken from someone else.

It's the same with thrift and miserliness; you can be thrifty but use the money you save not only for yourself, while miserliness implies that you'll save money to the detriment of even your loved ones.

Now where people draw the line between greed & industriousness, and thrift & miserliness, is completely personal, but that's what happens with these subjective types of terms, right? Personally, when I see a multimillionaire televangelist asking pensioners to send him money to get into heaven, I think greed, not industriousness. Likewise, when Hetty Green had her son's leg amputated instead of paying for proper medical care, when she clearly had the money, I think miser, not thrifty.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Livelonger, we are not that far off in our personal judgments, and when it comes to what degree of thrift becomes pathological or what degree of ambition to earn or acquire is too much, I agree it is in the realm of the personal.

Where we differ is that my mission here is to go further than that. To conflate avarice and greed in many instances leads people to argue that 'the rich' are rich at the expense of the 'poor', equating every attempt to acquire, and every attempt to hold on to what is acquired, as somehow being part of a zero sum game where all wealth is ill-gotten. Under this scenario not earning and not saving both become somehow virtuous.

The balance that I mention would be between two competing natural impulses that are currently being treated as one and the same impulse -- and a vice at that.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 7 years ago from San Francisco

I completely agree that wealth, earning and profit are considered dirty words by many, because value creation is poorly understood. But there are also many exalted people who've made millions on the backs of others and without creating value, so there are opportunities for the corruption of words on both sides.

But yes, I agree completely that value creation is the key to understanding why the creation and accumulation of wealth is not a zero-sum game. Wealth is not a finite resource.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Livelonger, we are agreed on this. It's not a zero sum game.


sarah dawkins 6 years ago

Hi

I just went to google to look up avarice and came across your hub. Very informative, thanks x


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Sarah Dawkins, thanks! I'm glad that Google has got this hub well indexed under avarice. Hope this helps.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Sorry, maybe I'm just a simpleton, but how does one square all this high-flying nit-picking jargon-mongering with the fact that millions go to bed hungry every night, millions die of hunger, millions are brain-washed into violent acts for which the justification is either perceived injustice or, for lack of a better word, empire-building? And all this while some live lives of conspicuous, I would say, obscene, spending on luxury.

There is something incredibly wrong when the rich continue to get richer and the poor continue to get poorer, not through their own fault. Sorry, but I don't get it.

This Hub is impressive in its fine talk about the difference between greed and avarice, and clever reasons why one might be better than the other.

The reality is that people die, are killed, in fact, by greed or avarice or whatever you want to call it. I'm not sure if life is a zero-sum game, though I rather suspect it is. Resources are not unlimited. There is evidence that co-operation is advantageous in situations of limits. However nicely you define greed or avarice, or the distinction between the two, the effects on the vast majority of people in the world, not to mention the environment, are negative. And have a negative inlfuence on people's freedom.

But maybe I'm just a naïve romantic, being concerned with human rights and all, and the environment. But there it is, I'm not convinced by your arguments. I still prefer to talk about human rights. I still would like to see an end of poverty and hunger and children dying for lack of food or shelter. And what seems to keep the situation the way it is, is the untrammelled pursuit of wealth. Because it seems to me there is only so much to go around.

So thanks for the informative Hub, but I have to say I'm still unconvinced.

Love and peace

Tony


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Tonymac04, thanks for your heartfelt comment. A lot of people talk about the need for balance, lest consumption of natural resources outstrip what is available. But "balance" implies an equilibrium between countervailing forces. What are the forces that need to be balanced? In my opinion, it's avarice versus greed. The desire to keep what you have and not risk anything (avarice) is normally balanced against the desire to get more things (greed). But when spending is rewarded and encouraged, and all debts are forgiven, there is no balance between avarice and greed. It's all greed and no avarice and in the end everybody loses!


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors

This hub is full of interesting food for thought. I think your definition of avarice suggests a focus on self-preservation without contributing to a greater good. The problem with the concept of avarice or greed is that it puts focus on the individual without concern for the needs of the community. There is nothing wrong with working toward a self-sustaining life, if it doesn't strip others of their opportunities to succeed as well.

I enjoy reading your articles. They are intelligent and interesting. I love your etymological explorations.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Wannabewestern, thanks! I actually prefer to focus on the individual with the understanding that every community is made of individuals, and each of us makes a contribution, whether we realize it or not. My point is that greedy people work hard, and that this hard work usually benefits the community in some way. Why? Because greedy people only do work that others are willing to pay for -- so they must be doing something that helps others. On the other hand, avaricious people save for a rainy day and their self-restraint ultimately also benefits the community. Without enough avarice, greed can't work!

We don't always have to know exactly what each of us is contributing to our community nor do we have to judge our neighbors on their choices. If left alone, I believe that most communities balance themselves.


Deborah Demander profile image

Deborah Demander 6 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

This is a well written hub, and I particularly appreciate your last line, it's not us versus them, it is us versus us.

That is the most accurate thing I have read in a while.

I like your definition of avarice, and I appreciate the differentiation you make. Thank you for writing this.

Namaste.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Deborah Demander, thanks! It's always great to hear from someone who understands the distinction between avarice and greed and sees that both can play a positive part in creating a balanced world.

I was going to reply to your namaste in devanagari, but Hubpages blanked out the characters.


ghost of future past 6 years ago

You're splitting hairs.

Whatever floats your boat.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ghost, you may be right. Avarice and Greed are both good. Whether you spend your whole wad on luxuries or pinch pennies to save a nest egg, it's all good as long as you are making the decisions about what to do with your money and not someone else.


mandatory retirement 6 years ago

Yes, we need both. HOWEVER, most young people don't think about retirement. And retired people sometimes lament their youth. A great many people look for a solution when they're in the thick of a problem. A few years before retirement is not the time to find out how much you'll need to live in retirement and how much social security you'll be getting. Some planning earlier in life will make all the difference in retirement.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Mandatory Retirement, thanks for your comment. I'm glad that you agree that we need both avarice and greed. Sure, many young people don't think about retirement, and many retired people who were prudent in their youth lament that they did not allow themselves a little more recklessness and enjoyment of life before thinking of providing a nest egg for themselves. There is a time to sow and a time to reap. One can be too reckless, and end up improvident. One can be too careful, and miss enjoying life. Finding the balance -- the right balance for each individual -- is a matter of making wise choices.

However, the very existence of things like social security can tip the balance toward improvidence. The psychological effect of having a safety net is to make us behave less prudently. When we are forced to pay for other people's safety net, the situation is even worse.


Jeremey profile image

Jeremey 6 years ago from Arizona

Each hub of yours I read is better than last. You have a brilliance about you I wish to steal!lol!Please go to my hubs and explain to me what I am trying to say!lol!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Jeremey, thanks! I need all the encouragement I can get!


Debby Bruck profile image

Debby Bruck 5 years ago

Wonderful Hub, Aya. We also have these rubrics in the repertory and like to understand the expressions of avarice and greed in individuals who have illness. You can see a discussion about it here. http://ning.it/ht5Xxe Congratulations on your Hub Awards and reaching milestones! Blessings, Debby


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Debby! I followed the link you provided, and I think your understanding of avarice is much like mine.


Debby Bruck profile image

Debby Bruck 5 years ago

exactly. just some confirmation.


lobonorth profile image

lobonorth 5 years ago

At one point you acquaint avarice with frugality - generally frugality was regarded as a virtue before the current era when we've been encouraged to believe that there is an equation between happiness and the things and the amount we buy.

But the distinction you make between the two terms does need to be made. I have known people who were avaricious but they were known for driving a hard bargain and then tightly hanging onto their earnings or profits. Little in their lifestyle suggested the wealth I assume they held and enjoyed by not spending it.

Greed, as you point out, has been encouraged by our culture and economic system. It suggests owning or consuming a large amount more than is necessary or needed. It may be good for modern economies but is not a good recipe for the survival of our own or most other species. Often acts of greed are legal and encouraged although they bring harm to the purchaser, the purchaser's culture and the planet as a whole. Avarice may but does not necessarily have the same consequences.

For most of the post war years, Americans was told that what was good for GM was good for them. It seems remarkable that we haven't woken up to the fact that the system was broken when GM had to be bailed out.

The matter of criminality is not necessarily connected to either greed or avarice. However, as is repeatedly pointed out, very few of those who have looted billions from taxpayers are regarded as criminals. On the contrary, many who have benefited quite immorally from public money continue enjoying the benefits of their greed.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Lobonorth, neither avarice nor greed have to take a criminal turn. In a free market, those who are avaricious and those who are greedy can live side by side and act as good neighbors. But the distinction is nevertheless real, and understanding it helps to understand the way the economy has been manipulated.


Martyn 4 years ago

This article is very well written and extremely interesting. On a more personal note I was wondering if you could give any guidance or information as someone I know seems to. E suffering Averice with Greed as an illness. They deny they have savings, choosing not to pay bills and to stress over finances even though in truth they are wealthy and have plenty of savings. This person has even started to deceive and commit fraud to get yet more money. However they don't spend it, instead hoarding it in over 20 bank accounts and hiding its existence from everyone. It to me is an illness and I don't know how to help them. Any advice?


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Martyn, thanks for your comment.

If the money that your acquaintance is hoarding is kept in fraud of creditors, then there should be legal recourse to force payment of just debts. A judgment can be obtained by creditors, and the accounts can be levied upon. That's just legal advice.

I don't feel competent to give psychological advice, though. If you are a friend of this person, and if speaking directly about the problem does not help, then it may be that they are incompetent to handle their own financial affairs and need a guardian. (Again, a legal suggestion.)

For ideas on how to deal with the underlying mental problem, you may want to consult a mental health professional.


katiem2 4 years ago

Very interesting read. You have me rethinking the tossing about of the word greed. Thanks for the powerful food for thought. I'm so happy not to suffer from either Greed or Avarice. :) katiem2


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Katie! I'm glad you found this hub thought provoking.


ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 4 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

Like a lot of people you seem to confuse avarice with self-interest. One of the things that Keynesian economics does is penalize savers and force people to spend. They look at things like the "velocity" of spending as if they've created some sort of perpetual motion machine that can ensure full employment and endless prosperity.

The horrible thing about the whole system is that only savings and investment can save us from the boom/bust cycle. The end of World War II is the great example of this. Due to either fighting in the war or facing rationing at home, people were unable to spend money. So there was an enforced savings on the population due to the War. As the War was winding down, the acolytes of Keynes began prophesying doom and destruction with a return to the Great Depression.

What happened instead was the greatest boom in the history of the world. One that lasted until the late 1960's. It was the war spending of the Kennedy/Johnson administrations as well as the insane monetary policy of Nixon that ended that and ushered in the age of stagflation; something incidentally that Keynesian economists were sure could never happen. It was only the tax relief that Reagan pushed through that saved us from that. Even then the revolution was only half won, spending didn't decrease, it increased and has almost destroyed us.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Ledefenstech, I'm not sure I understand your point about avarice. Mine was that neither avarice nor greed are vices, and that both contribute to a healthy economy. Calling those who save "avaricious" and allowing that to have a bad connotation is just as bad as calling those who earn "greedy". The degree to which each of us is governed by avarice or greed depends in large measure on our personality type, though the current economic situation can affect it.

Are you saying that we got through WWII without incurring a large national debt for the expenses of the war? Or that enforced savings at home offset the expenditures abroad?


ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 4 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

Most of the cost of WW II was paid for in bonds. We actually didn't incur that much debt from WW II. Unlike, say, Vietnam which was funded by increasing the monetary supply because nobody would have bought bonds to finance that war. It's not really worth looking at the economics of the homefront because there were really no consumer goods because every manufacturer was building for the war effort not consumption by individuals. So while people were being paid in dollars for their labor, they couldn't use those dollars on the homefront, they had to use ration tickets. So people saved those dollars and were able to use them to invest in new business after the war. This didn't happen prior to the war because the government basically confiscated savings through taxation and eliminated purchasing power by inflation which they used to pay for useless New Deal programs.

My point about avarice and greed is that they are very subjective terms. Many people use avarice and greed to describe people who don't follow any sort of collectivist ideology. People who don't follow a collectivist ideology are, generally speaking, self-interested not greedy or avaricious.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

I think it's important, in order to win the battle of ideas, to ignore connotations and to pay very close attention to the denotation of words. We could go on and on with arguments like "I'm not stingy -- I'm thrifty!" where both words denote exactly the same thing only the first has a bad connotation and the second a good one. No information is being transmitted there, except "think well of me -- not badly." If we cede words like avarice and greed to the enemy and say: "I'm not greedy, I'm hardworking" or "I'm not avaricious -- I'm self-interested" then there will be no real communication between ideological camps about what is at stake. It's better to say: "Yes, I am greedy, and greed is good." Or "Yes, I am a miser, and miserliness is a virtue."

That way, at least we're talking about the same thing and challenging their ideas. It's for this very reason that Ayn Rand spoke of the "Virtue of Selfishness." She could have denied being selfish, knowing it was considered a bad word. Instead, she focused on the denotation and worked logically to dispel the connotation.


ledefensetech profile image

ledefensetech 4 years ago from Cape Girardeau, MO

I think it was the edition of Webster's Dictionary published in the 1960's that really began our slide away from words having a concrete definition and the language becoming more fluid. I think it was Lenin who said something like "If you wish a revolution to succeed, first confuse the language". It's the same idea behind newspeak that Orwell talked about. You see evidence of it every day on the forums. Sad really.

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