About greed

Despite some who hanker after the good old days of barter, when one could shepherd to market, say, a flock of goats, or a bevy of one's daughters to exchange in marriage — whom I understand are even harder to herd than cats — it appears money is here to stay.

Jesse Knight (1845-1921) had a genius for making money. Yet he had very little personal use for the stuff. Starting from nothing, he became a multi-millionaire. But when it came to spending any of this fortune, it was nearly always to increase the social good of those around him.

He founded many mining camps and three separate towns, giving free land to the residents.

To deal with the serious unemployment problem at the turn of the century, Knight created jobs in all sorts of occupations — power plants, mines, sugar refineries, ranches, construction, etc. — generally paying up to 25 percent more than the going wages. When criticized for this, he replied that he got much more work out of his satisfied employees, while incidentally producing many good works. He also provided personal loans to the needy.

Occasionally, when out of ideas, he would even provide jobs that were of no practical value, just to allow people self-support and self-respect. He financed a mile-long tunnel into a mountain, that went nowhere.

He was the godfather of Brigham Young University.

In contrast, the world's first billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, who also seemed to have charity ingrained in him from the start, apparently considered business to be a zero sum game. After inventing corporations, he was soon intoxicated with the power that leverage provided. He is generally regarded as one of the most ruthless entrepreneurs in history.

So it seems the problem is neither money nor capitalism per se. It is greed, and if you go to entrepreneur seminars you quickly find that greed is heartily endorsed. Thus, what is needed is thorough, well thought out regulation.

Things in the U.S. have gotten totally out of whack. As but one indication: For at least the last three generations health care has been taken over by a bunch of vampires. It seems that we might not be able to get rid of them until we break out the wooden stakes.

Michael Moore, in his latest documentary, "Capitalism: A Love Story," has wonderfully illustrated this insanity, the huge disparity in wealth, and that we have long been a plutocracy, delusions of democracy notwithstanding. As for the vampires, it is discovered that some companies, e.g., Walmart, find that you are more valuable to them dead than alive.

Froma Harrop (see Sept. 29 column "Liberals — choose your friends wisely") has warned us about associating with Michael Moore. I think Harrop is wrapped a little tight. I have no idea what Moore might be like personally, but he has consistently produced several outstanding documentaries of considerable social benefit. This latest achievement is his best, and I heartily recommend it.

Aaron Corbet has lived in Ashland for the last 14 years.

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