The Silent Danger of Greed

I’m currently reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded 2.0 by Thomas Friedman. The book mainly discusses the ecological crisis we are facing, but the first three chapters also discusses the 2008 financial crisis. Ecological crisis and financial crisis may seem unrelated to each other, but Friedman argues that they actually have the same cause:

The way we were creating wealth had built up so many toxic assets in both the financial world and the natural world that by 2008/9 it shook the very foundation of our markets and ecosystems. That’s right, while they might not appear on the surface to have been related, the destabilization of both the Market and Mother Nature had the same root causes… The same recklessness undermined all of them.

Friedman explains the causes in more details, but they actually come down to just one thing: greed – the desire to get as much as possible for oneself without thinking about how things would be for other people or future generations.

Greed is the reason why people made irrationally risky investment in subprime mortgage assets. Greed is also the reason why people are depleting natural resources at an unprecedented rate. They want to increase their quality of life without thinking about whether or not they do it in a sustainable way.

The problem is people usually aren’t aware of the coming danger until everything is too late. Greed blinds them. Here’s what they might think:

  1. Nothing could go wrong. We have done this for years and nothing negative happens. Besides, the probability that things could go wrong is small so there’s no reason to stop doing it.
  2. Everyone is doing it. If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t enjoy the rewards that everyone else is enjoying.

The scary thing here is this kind of thinking also caused the collapse of many civilizations throughout the history. The book Collapse by Jared Diamond has many such stories. Here’s one of them:

The overall picture for Easter is the most extreme example of forest destruction in the Pacific, and among the most extreme in the world: the whole forest gone, and all of its tree species extinct… The further consequences start with starvation, a population crash, and a descent into cannibalism.

But why did the deforestation happen? Here it is:

… competition between clans and chiefs driving the erection of bigger statues requiring more wood, rope, and food.

This, again, is greed at play. Greed made the people exhaust their resources despite the apparent danger. Didn’t they realize that exhausting their resources would cause their civilization to collapse? Greed had blinded them, obviously.

The same thing applies to individuals. A greedy person may become obsessed with money or prestige at the expense of his health or relationships. Greed blinds him to the coming danger until everything is too late.

This is an important reminder for all of us. Beware of greed. Here is a simple rule:

Where there is greed, there is a silent danger.

Photo by NeoGaboX


  1. Greed can do more then just blind us from the consanguineous of our actions it can also distract us from what we are truly trying to achieve. When we let our selves be told what we want by outside sources, I am looking at you advertising, and not listen to our own harts and minds about what we want and need we get off course.

  2. I think it is difficult to put the blame on greed for all the examples given in the post.

    Greed is one motivator and may very well be the largest from a society point of view. But some people just don’t want to be the one to contradict the masses. Some go along not because of greed but cowardice, not wanting to go against the momentum of the majority.

  3. Greed is huge and common, especially in the Western nations, and is often rationalized as simply “having a few nice things.” The fact is, we have more than enough to provide for all of the world’s needs right here in America, but because of greed and other factors, the resources stay concentrated in the hands of a select few individuals. It’s hard to accept, but I’m glad that others are becoming increasingly aware of it. Thanks for your post.

  4. A vast segment of society has equated success with having money / stuff / things, and therefore greed (or the desire for more) is an offspring of the quest for success. Success does not rely on the showy things as they merely impress others.

    Success is within and at a higher level.\

    I am hopeful that at some point in our evolution that success will be equated with having less and living the simpler life. In some ways we must get there, but first we collectively need to get over our fixation on time and space that the way it was is something we must always hang on to.

    Once we can let go, we can grow. And hopefully with that, a quiet revolution will occur that puts possessions resulting from greed at a much lower priority.


  5. Commercialism and consumerism are so detrimental to society in their excesses. We live in a society where most cannot acquire and consume enough to be totally satisfied. There is always something new to ‘need’. Advertising is everywhere, prodding us on and shaping the lives of the next generation by targeting kids. There is more social stress as we work harder to purchase that next thing, perhaps forgetting our true values.

    It is difficult to see a reversal of this greed movement as it is driven by much power and money. It will require change in how business and government operate and their effects on society.

  6. Where there is greed, there is much room for human development. Those that are greedy, and we are to some extent on some level, have something to prove to themselves, some kind of insecurity that greed can be used to cover up and distract. It’s not only a sin, but a human flaw.

    Money can be found and created in overnight success, but wealth is built on the strength of the person’s spirit, emotion, and mental capacity.

  7. As with most disempowering behaviors, the habit of Greed may result in an immediate “feel good” yet will most certainly create the icky feelings we don’t want to feel over the longer term.

    It’s sad that even after the thousands of years humans have been on this planet that we have not learned these simple lessons…

    Greed begets greed.
    Hate begets hate.
    Love begets love.

    How much easier life would be if we GAVE MORE than we desired for ourselves.

  8. I have not read the book but have read the reviews, I have read his other book titled “The World is Flat” but I do plan to read this one soon.
    In a way he is right, how much is enough for us? The greed mentality has lead us to live off what we can’t afford and live way beyond our means through easy access to credit. The economic crisis has taken us back to realize what are the more important things in life and has taught us to once again live off basic things and cherish what we have as a community and as a family. We now place real value in our family, our friendship and the people who are important to us

  9. hey
    I totally agree with you
    Have you read “Atlas Shrugged ” by Ayn Rand?

    greed …and it’s consequences are horrific, as we are aware of
    look how complicated human being is: we are products of nature, so we may say that all we do are products of nature too. but those products destroy it’s origin- nature

    the fundamental rule of nature is progress and sustainable existence, but the difference between us and the rest of the natural world is the fact of disturbing fear, lack of self-awareness.

    I love the fact that you read those book you have quoted above, say: what do you think, what should be done to save the ecosystem and us?

    xx, much love
    Martyna Bizdra

  10. Some might argue that greed is what makes our capitalist nation, such a great economic force. A lot of entrepreneurship and innovation exists because of greed whether we like or not.

  11. i think self.control is the main role for preventing greediness

  12. Thanks for the all the interesting perspectives, everyone! There are many of them I haven’t thought about before.

    Paul and Marty,
    I agree that greed could be a strong motivator for improvements. But the problem with greed is the lack of responsibility and sustainability. While people could enjoy higher quality of life for some time, it won’t last long. Either they or the next generations must eventually pay the price.

    I haven’t read Atlas Shrugged yet but I’ve often heard about it. Looks like an interesting book to read (though I just found out that it has 1368 pages 🙂 ).
    Regarding what should be done to save the ecosystem and us, there’s a long discussion about it in Hot, Flat, and Crowded. In essence, we need to build a new energy system based on clean energy and – along with that – an ethic of conservation.

  13. Hi,
    Thanks for this post. I recently wrote an article about this book and bringing back focal/basics practices. You can find it here.

  14. Donald
    I will check out the book, I have visited and added it to my wish list. Have you written a post about how to read faster too??? 😛
    are you familiar with the problem – many astonishing books to read and not enough time, as life is so exciting itself?
    Need to learn speed-reading

    1.”cradle to Cradle” William McDonough and Michael Braungart
    I have just read an interesting paragraph in “The tipping Point” about the power of context- and the theory of broken windows – this is very revolutionary! check it out

    greetings, Martyna

  15. Ronda,
    Thanks for the information.

    Yes, that’s a problem of mine too, so many good books to read and yet so little time. Perhaps you can teach me to read faster 🙂
    I’ve read about the theory of broken windows in The Tipping Point but I’ve never heard of Cradle to Cradle. I’ll check it out.

  16. Great post (by both the content and the discussion).

    As with most things in life, it’s a balance. Work and play, family and friends, selfishness and unselfishness.

    If there were no greed (selfishness), there would probably be no progress. The drive to make money has also benefited society with higher standards of living and cheaper goods and services.

    As we all know, it can go too far.

    Life is a paradox. We need greed, but we don’t need greed.

  17. @ Donald – OK !

    @ Brian :
    Robert Kiyosaki once said :
    “If you don’t first handle fear and desire, and you get rich, you’ll only be a highpay slave” that says a lot …:)

  18. Brian,
    I agree with you: balance is key. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to maintain the balance when there’s a strong short-term incentive. People tend to forget about the long-term consequences.

Comments are closed.