TUMBY BAY - In the 1987 film, Wall Street, the central character, Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, famously says: “… greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works.”
The 1980s was the era of the ‘yuppies’ (young, upwardly-mobile professionals) during Ronald Reagan’s conservative presidency and the reign of his British equivalent, the ‘Iron Lady’, Maggie Thatcher.
The film was remarkably prescient because it prefixed the era of increasing inequality and the normalisation of corporate greed in which we now live.
Gordon Gekko was a fictional character based on a real life yuppie who was jailed for securities fraud but he could also have been a younger version of the current US president, Donald Trump and many of his peers.
While greed may have been good in the 1980s it has now reached toxic levels.
The film was supposed to be a cautionary tale about how greed leads to self-destruction but that aspect ultimately went unheeded.
Several studies now confirm that the world’s richest 1% own half the world’s wealth. Sixty-seven billionaires currently possess as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people. Greed effectively dictates how the world is run.
According to the World Food Program, nearly a billion people don’t have enough food to lead a healthy and active life, despite there being more than enough food to feed every human being on the planet.
As writer and media commentator Richard Eskow has said, “Love of money for money’s sake is the social disease of our time.”
These facts make you wonder whether greed is a natural human trait.
Owen Jones, writing in The Guardian says that “selfishness and greed are often conveniently portrayed as innate human characteristics.”
The people who promulgate this argument say that: “Attempting to build an order where people’s needs are prioritised over the interests of profit is doomed, because it goes against the grain of what it is to be human.”
They argue that greed is a necessary component of economic success. An attack on greed is not only an attack on capitalism but an attack on human nature.
This view seems to be add odds with our evolutionary history. If humans hadn’t been cooperative, equitable and selfless it is highly unlikely that they would not have survived.
Our ancestors were the complete opposite to the dog-eat-dog neo-liberalism that is so pervasive today.
Nowhere is this contrast more obvious than in modern Papua New Guinea.
On the one hand there are the rural communities still operating as consensus driven entities ruled by the common good and on the other are the urbanised elite that have succumbed to the temptations of greed and all it promises.
Which one is natural and which one is an aberration? Are the greedy politicians and smart lawyers’ natural human beings or are the subsistence farmers and their families more like what it means to be a human being?
This sort of comparison is, of course, overly simplistic. People are much more complex. Nevertheless, the question is well worth considering.
I know that when I think about Papua New Guineans I don’t envisage people like Peter O’Neill or his cronies. If I do it is only in terms of them being unfortunate aberrations.
When I think of Papua New Guineans I think of all those people I know or have met who live unassuming but often deeply rewarding lives in both the cities and the countryside.
And, I guess, I think mostly of all those wonderful people who I have met or heard about who love literature and writing.
In contrast to O’Neill and his ilk, I suspect that they are the real human beings.