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Is Greed Good? Don't Ask George Will

In his weekend Washington Post column, George Will takes on the subject of greed. Eschewing Burke quotes and baseball metaphors, he attacks the issue directly.

Greed, we are agreed, is bad.

Already I was confused. The column is entitled 'Greed's Saving Graces,' after all. Perhaps Will is just being sarcastic. He continues:

Greed grows when Republicans hold the presidency. They did so throughout the 1980s, and no less an authority on probity than American journalism named it the Decade of Greed. Furthermore, everyone knows we are in our current economic pickle because greed, which slept through the Clinton administration, was awakened by the Bush administration's tax cuts and deregulation. The day after the 2008 elections, the New York Times (see above: probity, authority thereon) ascribed America's economic unpleasantness to "greed and an orgy of deregulation." The political pendulum swings, so Republicans will capture the presidency now and then, igniting greed revivals.

Will then goes on to explain (using an academic study of ticket scalping) that the market in fact takes care of greed, and rewards the less greedy. What's more:

To give the greedy their due, they perform a service: By overpricing, they preserve an eve-of-game supply of tickets for persons willing to pay a premium for last-minute impulse purchases.

He concludes:

Greed is worse than a moral defect; it is a cause of foolish pricing. That is why markets know it when they see it. And when markets are allowed to operate, greed generates its own punishment. 

Now refer back to Will's opening paragraph. What is he arguing? As far as I can tell, he is mocking those who scold greedy Republicans, even though he would presumably be fine if Republican administrations led to more greed, since greed is good. And what does this analysis suggest? The obvious answer is that the the Bush economy was swell and the greedy have been punished (just look at his last sentence). I feel terrific about this analysis, don't you? Although if we (somehow) enter a recession, it would render Will's sufficiently confusing column even more ridiculous.

--Isaac Chotiner