WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN DOCUMENTARIES
Greed is revealed to be one of the most important engines of human advancement and prosperity. [Executive Producer: Victor Neufeld/ Journalist: John Stossel/ 50 min/ Documentary-Educational/ Econ 101, Equality & Envy, Pro-Capitalism, Anti-Redistribution, Ayn Rand-Objectivism, John Stossel]
Greed is a much deprecated motivation. It is discouraged at its first manifestation in young children. It is blamed for untold evil in fiction and in real life. The very word greedy is a pejorative. However, as ABC’s John Stossel demonstrates in this solidly libertarian documentary, greed doesn’t deserve its bad rap.
Yes, says Stossel, greed may motivate some people to steal and cheat, but (government aside) these are exceptions. Greed motivates most of us to work harder, to innovate, and to cooperate with each other. More importantly, it motivates those few creative geniuses among us, on whom everything else depends, to bring to life the new ideas that move the whole world forward.
Why then is greed so vilified? Stossel invites Objectivist philosopher David Kelley to answer that one. Kelley says that because greedy people get rich, they appear to be getting a bigger piece of the economic pie at the expense of everyone else. What is missing from that perception, continues Kelley, is that greedy people make whole new pies—including products that never existed before, like high-speed computers and lifesaving medical treatments.
This argument is important to libertarians, because government force, to which libertarians are opposed, is often justified as a necessary counter to the effects of greed. If greed isn’t so bad after all, then maybe that force can’t be justified. Moreover, if greed is an impetus of human progress in a voluntary society, then everyone should be concerned about the effects of making it a moral crime.
Of course, the observation that self-interest is socially beneficial isn’t new. Adam Smith noted that people intending their own gain tend to promote the public interest as though “led by an invisible hand.” And Ayn Rand even wrote a book on the Virtue of Selfishness. But this may be the first time that this point has been made in such a concentrated way in a documentary. And in a day and age when people are many times more likely to watch a film than read a book, that makes this something of a milestone.
Stossel has done his usual outstanding job of making his points in an evenhanded manner and with crystal clarity, employing a variety of colorful examples. Even more importantly, he has done so without pulling any punches, at one point favorably comparing the good done by junk bond king Michael Milken to that done by Mother Theresa! Yes, as long as theft is illegal, greed is good. This film is recommended for outreach material.