Capital sins derive their name from the Latin caput, meaning “head.” Thomas Aquinas later would call them not “sins,” but “vices.” Aquinas declared that a capital vice is that which has a desirable end so that, in his desire for it, a person commits many sins. All sins can be traced back to a particular vice as the root source. To illustrate, if a man has a lust for his neighbor’s wife, that vice may cause him to commit adultery, to lie to many people, to neglect or abandon his family, and perhaps even to physically hurt people. The man’s multiplying sins are driven by the initial capital sin of lust.
It is true that pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth are sins, and it is true that such evil desires in the heart can lead to other sins (see Matthew 15:19). But it would be wrong to think of the seven capital sins, or seven deadly sins, as worse in God’s eyes than any other sin. All sins in God’s eyes are equal; they are all “missing the mark.” Stealing is no worse than pride, and greed is no worse than lying; there are no small sins or big sins, because all sin is equally offensive to our holy and pure God. God cannot and will not allow any sin in His holy presence—none (Habakkuk 1:13).
Capital sins, or deadly sins, are not named as a group in the Bible; however, the Lord does mention some things that He hates and even makes a list of them: “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who stirs up conflict in the community” (Proverbs 6:16–19). All sin results in death (Romans 6:23). Praise be to God that, through the blood of Jesus Christ, all our sins are forgivable. Even the “capital sins.”
“The largest single chunk of the highest-income earners, it turns out, are executives and other managers in firms, according to a landmark analysis of tax returns by economists Jon Bakija, Adam Cole and Bradley T. Heim. These are not just executives from Wall Street, either, but from companies in even relatively mundane fields such as the milk business.
“The top 0.1 percent of earners make about $1.7 million or more, including capital gains. Of those, 41 percent were executives, managers, and supervisors at non-financial companies, according to the analysis, with nearly half of them deriving most of their income from their ownership in privately-held firms.
“An additional 18 percent were managers at financial firms or financial professionals at any sort of firm. In all, nearly 60 percent fell into one of those two categories. Other recent research, moreover, indicates that executive compensation at the nation’s largest firms has roughly quadrupled in real terms since the 1970s, even as pay for 90 percent of America has stalled.”
While these new statistics are striking – suggesting a broader problem with high-level greed than might have been believed – the Post ducked any political analysis that would have laid blame on Ronald Reagan and various right-wing economic theories.
Greed has no regard for others. “Greed feeds only the greedy and feeds on everything and everyone within grasping distance.”
Theft, or Involuntary Transfers One of the methods a person can use to satisfy his greed for food, clothing, automobiles, cameras, computers, or the money to acquire these things is simply to take it away from someone else who has the desirable products. Theft has been a part of life in societies since the beginning and it is likely to remain a part of society for a long time to come. However, for theft to occur, or even be defined, it is necessary to assume one other thing; namely that there is property or possessions. Theft cannot occur without ownership.
If we didn’t believe that the car is “mine,” or the wallet is “his,” or her body is her own, then we could never conceive of a concept like theft. When the rightful owner of something has that item stolen away by another, the thief clearly benefits since he is now in possession of the valued item while the victim will suffer a loss since he does not possess and can no longer receive the benefits from the product. The victim will surely feel that an injustice has occurred and will demand the return of the stolen property and the punishment of the perpetrator if those responses are at all possible.
Regardless of what happens afterward though, theft involves a transfer of an item from a legitimate possessor to an illegitimate possessor, and the transfer always occurs involuntarily. Thus the term involuntary transfer offers a better moniker for this action because it will later be applied to situations that may technically not be considered theft, but which has similar characteristics. Around the world, societies evaluate theft in similar ways. It is generally considered bad, or wrong, or perhaps evil, with perhaps only a few exceptions tolerated.25 However, these exceptions are rare and societies have put into place an elaborate system of laws that prohibit theft in a variety of situations while providing penalties for those found guilty of having violated these laws.
Suffice to say the obvious then; the acquisition of benefits via theft is unacceptable in all societies around the world. Or in other words, profit-seeking, or greed, that is satisfied via theft is generally regarded as wrong. Although this is a seemingly obvious point, it actually forms the basis for most of the cry outs about injustices around the world. In brief, people claim an injustice whenever they perceive that someone is getting “ripped off” in some way. Later I will 25 For example, some may accept the necessity of theft in a desperate situation, as when it would relieve a potentially life-threatening outcome. consider several examples of perceived injustices during the recent financial crisis.
In each of those cases, I will argue that injustice is claimed because of a perception that an involuntary transfer, or ripoff, is the source of profit for a particular group. Beggar Man or Voluntary Transfers The second of George’s orders of society, that is, another main way in which people can acquire the goods and services that their greed inspires is to be given the products voluntarily by another. A beggar stands on the street corner and solicits money from passersby. That money represents a transfer of goods and services from the giver to the recipient. Although the giver loses, the money obtained by the beggar is not ill-begotten because it has been given to him willingly; it is a voluntary transfer.
From the giver’s perspective, this action is called the charity and as mentioned above, the action is held in high esteem in most societies in the world. Charity is not self-serving but is in the service of others. It is not harmful, but helpful. Charity is encouraged and promoted in all of the main religions. Some, like Mother Teresa, who have spent their lives giving to the neediest in the world, have been made saints to glorify their accomplishments. Of course, praise for charity is generally reserved for the giver while much less discussion is heard regarding the receiver. Perhaps this is because it is generally presumed that the recipient is in great need or else he wouldn’t be begging or looking for a handout.
Few of us would willingly beg for our sustenance if there were another way to survive. However, in other instances benefits acquired via voluntary transfers have a questionable reputation. Consider a woman who might be described as a gold digger. A gold digger is a woman who seeks to marry a wealthy man so she can live in a large home, drive an expensive car, and wear expensive jewelry and clothes. In other words, she obtains all of her consumption items, in effect, from the generosity and charity of her husband. Of course one wouldn’t normally call this charity, but it surely is a voluntary transfer between individuals.
Behavior like this occurs in all societies and there is typically a strong aversion to being characterized as a gold digger, suggesting the generally negative impression it generates. Nonetheless, in defense of the practice, one can always emphasize that the transfers are completely voluntary. Working Man, or Voluntary Exchange The third order of society that George mentions is “working man.” This represents the third method an individual can use to acquire the goods and services that his greed may inspire. Work clearly generates an income that can be used to purchase consumption goods, but it is important to recognize the underlying process.
Work is an activity to produce a good or service that someone else will wish to purchase; a product that is desirable. Through the free voluntary exchange of the product for money in the marketplace, a business generates the revenue that is used to pay its workers. That money, or income, is then used by the workers to purchase other goods and services produced by other workers. In the end, when you strip away the money part of the transactions, what is really taking place via market activity is the voluntary exchange of one good for another. And since both parties to a trade exchange voluntarily, it must be that both benefit from the transaction, for if not, why trade? The voluntary exchange represents the cornerstone to economic prosperity in the world.
One of the first lessons in economics is the principle of the division of labor, which says that the productivity of good can increase as the production process becomes more specialized; that is as labor or workers are divided into specialized tasks. For example, imagine how productive four people would be if they each produced all of their own meat, grain, vegetables and fish for themselves; compared to a community consisting of a shepherd, a grain farmer, a vegetable farmer, and a fisherman. Surely the community of specialists would be able to produce a greater total amount of food because each one would become more skilled in his own profession. Nonetheless, the abundance created by the specialists does not benefit the members of the group unless they can exchange their products with the others through voluntary exchange.
If the shepherd must eat only meat, and the fisherman only fish, etc., then individuals might prefer to produce everything on their own and consume less. But if they can exchange their meat for grain and fish and vegetables, then everyone in the community will benefit from the increased production. However, these benefits can only arise with the voluntary exchange. Based on this fundamental principle, economists have long supported free markets, which essentially means allowing free and voluntary exchanges without impediments. Indeed, societies everywhere generally accept and promote trade both within and beyond their borders. There is no community or society in the world that does not benefit from the voluntary exchanges and market activities that occur in abundance in everyday life. In a nutshell then, if greed inspires work that in turn inspires voluntary exchanges in the marketplace, then the outcome is good for everyone involved. Distinguishing “Good” Greed from “Bad” Greed In summary then, greed can generate either positive or negative outcomes depending on which great order of society, or in other words which method, is used to satisfy that greed. If greed inspires a person to work long hours to earn income in a business providing valuable goods and services to others in order to satisfy the needs of himself and his family, then greed is perfectly acceptable.
If greed inspires a person to innovate and create new products that others will desire in the market, then greed is good. In each of these cases, greed is satisfied via voluntary exchange. However, if greed inspires a person to acquire that which he desires by taking involuntarily the rightful possessions of another person, then greed is not good. Greed is also wrong when it inspires someone to place roadblocks in the way of others trying to sell their products in the market place. In both of these cases, greed is satisfied via involuntary transfers and is rightly condemned. Finally though, if greed for even basic sustenance inspires one to beg for food and clothing, or to seek out the charitable contributions of others, and if those items are indeed given voluntarily, then again greed is satisfied in an acceptable manner.
The compassion of those who are charitable, helping those who are less fortunate, engaging in voluntary transfers is clearly unobjectionable. Under this more carefully delineated definition, there can never be too much greed. We would never portray greed in general, as good or bad, right or wrong. Instead, under this definition, greed can be satisfied in either acceptable or unacceptable ways. The distinguishing feature isn’t the presence of greed itself or even the intensity of the greed, but rather the way in which greed is satisfied.
Even intense greed, if satisfied via hard work producing products that others wish to buy in the marketplace, is clearly good. However, greed satisfied by outright theft or by enacting schemes that effectively and involuntarily transfer money from others is clearly wrong. Following George’s great orders, the greed satisfied by a working man is commendable, the greed of a beggar man is unfortunate but acceptable when necessary, whereas greed satisfied by thievery is the primary source of injustice in the world. Source
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