No one has ever freely admitted to be greedy. You’d never put greed as one of your winning attributes on your resumé. Other people, perhaps, are greedy and ruthless and rapacious but never you. What you are is successful, smart and lucky, and immensely rich through hard work (of course), preferably richer than anyone else, but never greedy. The word has negative connotations even as we all celebrate the unbridled ambition that fuels it. At its core, greed is an obsessive craving for what we lack, or think we lack. It is a kind of unrestrained hunger or thirst that cannot be sated. A power-hungry person who thirsts for wealth and power doesn’t have a natural reflex to tell him or her when they had enough. They can never feel full-filled, literally filled to capacity. As long as there is more to be had out there the craving persists. It’s a pathology. There is a medical term for this kind of disorder, usually applied to a similar inability to exercise self-restraint in eating. It is called Bulimia. A Bulimic will continue shoveling food into their mouth long after they have stopped being hungry. We don’t think of the obsessive wealth accumulator as someone sick who requires intervention, much less feel empathy for their plight. What we do is elevate them in our collective ethos to be objects of envy, models to be emulated, our billionaire entrepreneurs and great nation builders and leaders. Capitalism as it is preached in America is a fiction. It is a religion of greed, white-washed to masquerade as a benevolent boon to everyone. It has been the justification for deregulation, trickle-down economics, tax-cuts for the 1%, and the rest of the conservative claptrap. Is there anyone left who sincerely believes that letting the rich get richer benefits those honestly toiling for their bread? Aside from being disingenuous, this propaganda debases the very principles that should make capitalism work. By obfuscating the crucial difference between wealth as a fair reward for your labors and ingenuity and the orgy of greed we see all around us, justified only by what you can get away with, greed has been enshrined in our culture as an acceptable, even desirable, trait. I find nothing wrong with the ambition to succeed financially, of vying to become rich enough to never have to worry about money, able to satisfy every need and luxury you desire, within the bounds of decency. The crucial question is, “when is enough enough?” At what point does the attainment of your dream become a disease? The question is, can ambition ever be unbridled? Can excess be subject to some limiting code that would make the very rich stay within it? Of course you could legislate the code. Administer it from the outside. I don’t mean by the dictatorial methods of Communism. A democratic government has the power to limit the wealth of its citizens by levying such taxes that would ensure a ceiling that no one could exceed no matter how much they made. Norway is such a country. It is far from being Communist. It has a similar free market system to the United States, but its wealthiest citizens cannot be richer than a given amount (which by the way is extremely high, enough for them to earn many times more than the average citizen). Do the rich mind? Not a bit. In an interview on NPR, the head of the largest cell phone provider explained that the difference between what he could theoretically take home in the US and what he gets to keep in Norway is just a small price to pay for the kind of generous society he wants to live in. His “sacrifice” pays for social services that ensure that fewer citizens will turn to crime. “I pay for my daughter to be able to walk the streets safely. The average person in Norway feels fairly treated by society. My taxes contribute to that. And let me tell you by the way” he said with a chuckle, “I live very well”. That could never happen in the United States. It just goes against the grain. But legislating mega-wealth out of existence is not a real solution anyway. As great as the damage of income disparity is to the spirit of a nation the damage of setting up the mega-rich as the object of envy and an ideal to strive for is far greater. Unless the accumulation of obscene unnecessary wealth is seen for the grotesque behavior that it is the practice will continue to poison every aspect of our personal and social intercourse. Unlimited unbridled accumulation of wealth by an individual is a mental disorder like Bulimia. The reason we know when someone has crossed that line is because we have identified that transgression as an illness. Being obese or bulimic is not something to criticize but something to treat. We have not always been as broad minded. Until recently “fat people” were blamed for their lack of restraint. Alcoholics were mere drunkards. It took much education for practically everyone to accept the view that these behaviors are fundamentally self-destructive expressions of an illness. The recognition that an eating disorder, just like Kleptomania, is something that the perpetrator is powerless to change on his or her own, ushered in interventions that though not always successful at the very least have changed our way of seeing them. A person who already has a private jet who then goes out and buys three more (so as not to fall behind the competition) is likewise not a criminal to be heckled but a sick person who needs medical help. Consider a wealthy woman living in a 20 million dollar home in Montecito California, with a 2,600 square foot bedroom, who decides that she needs a second shoe closet because the one next door to her bedroom (the size of a bachelor apartment) is too full. This is not luxury. This is gorging on money. Anyone envying (or aspiring to) such wealth is like someone envying a Bulimic who gorges herself on three tubs of ice cream at one sitting and then throws it all up. If this is enviable to you, you too need to see shrink. In fact the same principle is at play in both people suffering from an eating disorder and those suffering from an acquisition disorder. Neither the food nor the private jet have much intrinsic value. The behavior in both cases is compulsive. The person acquiring companies is like the person stuffing themselves and then throwing up. Both are sick. The transformation of excessive wealth and conspicuous consumption from an object of envy and anger to an object of pity would have an inevitable effect on the sufferers themselves. A sense of shame associated with all mental illnesses would descend on the mega-rich as they try to get a grip on their obsession of earning and spending, or perhaps. like alcoholics, they would just pretend to do so. What a boon to an entire new self-help industry, a new branch of psychotherapy, “How to be less rich in seven easy steps”. Who knows, a new model for success may even arise from this, the modest movie star who lives in an apartment and drives a Toyota.