Goldman Sachs, Greed and Self-Interest; Self-Denial Is Key to Keeping a Handle on Selfishness

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 19, 2012 | Go to article overview

Goldman Sachs, Greed and Self-Interest; Self-Denial Is Key to Keeping a Handle on Selfishness


Byline: Jay W. Richards and Anne Bradley, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

On Wednesday, Greg Smith, an executive director at Goldman Sachs, announced his resignation in the pages of the New York Times. His reasoning: The company's employees and culture have morphed into a gross entity that sidelines the interests of the client in favor of making a quick buck. By his account, Goldman Sachs' culture has become toxic and destructive. Mr. Smith no longer wants to be associated with the Wall Street giant. People who care only about making money, he argues, will not sustain this firm - or the trust of its clients - for very much longer.

Without taking sides, we can say Mr. Smith's consternation gets to the important and often misunderstood difference between greed and legitimate self-interest.

From a Christian perspective, greed is not good. Jesus says, Beware and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has abundance does his life consist of his possessions (Luke 12:15).

Greed (corporate or not) traditionally has been counted as one of the seven deadly sins, an excessive desire for possessions that allows us to hurt ourselves and others.

Self-interest is different. Every time you take a breath, eat a meal or brush your teeth, you act in your self-interest. That's good, not bad.

Paradoxically, greed - because it's spiritually destructive - is contrary to your self-interest, while self-denial, writes theologian Art Lindsley, is in your self-interest.

In the Gospel of Mark (8:35-36), Jesus said: For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Our chief end is to know, glorify and enjoy God. If we're selfishly fixated on ourselves, we miss what we are created for.

This paradoxical biblical principle, that self-denial is in our self-interest, is also an important economic principle. …

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