The need to overcome pernicious greed
Acquisition is a basic human instinct. People acquire material resources for consumption, investment and bequeathing purpose. Consumption is broadly defined in this write up: it not only includes consumption of goods and services of tangible nature, it also includes sensual pleasures and utility derived from charity and emotional fulfillment. The essential requirement is that one has to consciously feel that he is getting perceptible utility from such activities.
Investment is a more benign option for using one's asset; its outcome is value addition, provision of employment and welfare augmentation of citizens. Investors, of course, earn profit, a part of which they save for further investment. The prodigal will be interested more in extravaganza and wasteful expenditure. He may squander away huge resources without understanding its social and economic implications. His activities run counter to the interest of society and the people at large.
How much money does a man in need to lead a decent life in Bangladesh? I have discussed this issue with many people. If a person does not indulge in hard drinking, he can maintain a family of six with a monthly income of Tk.150,000. If he is a free-wheeling type he will need more money, but not exceeding Tk.250,000 per month at any rate. If he needs more money he is either an extremely bad manager or a wretched sucker deserving no sympathy. On the contrary, his activities are suspect and should be closely watched; they may be linked to criminal world as it happens more often than not.
With a heftily surplus income at his command, a person may soon want to buy influence to protect his income and indulge in self-aggrandizement. He thinks he can get away with anything, however heinous that action may be. As he gets deeper into these unethical or illegal activities, his appetite for money and material resources is whetted beyond limit. Those who amass huge resources are likely to spend a part of it on undesirable activities, except a few who are endowed with intense ethical values. The latter usually prefer to spend a part of their assets on charity. This is an acceptable proposition as it is based on good intention.
Someone may develop a fixation, a mania, for acquiring money and material resources for the sake of it. He really does not know what to do with it, all he knows is that he has lots of assets and he can spend as much money as possible whenever he wants to do so. He enjoys the kick that comes from a sense of ownership of huge assets. This may be called "minomania," a kind of psychological impairment that afflicts a human being selectively. We have heard of a first lady who collected a few thousand pairs of shoes, most of which she did not even have a chance to see. She just enjoyed the ownership. This sort of ownership is a deadweight loss to the society because no one consumes the items and no benefit is derived from them except the perverse psychological satisfaction of the owner.
One may argue that perverse satisfaction is also satisfaction that benefits at least one economic agent; so it should be counted as a positive benefit to the society. This is a flawed argument in that such benefit to a maniac comes at the cost of many other individuals who are adversely affected in the process of acquisition of wealth by the greedy exploiter. Somebody may derive benefit through satisfying his criminal instinct. Such tendency has to be arrested to protect the life and property of citizens. Acquisition instinct should not also be allowed to cross its limit, lest it turns into a social opprobrium. Left to itself, an extreme acquisition instinct soon degenerates into killer instinct, oftener than not in figurative sense though literary sense is not ruled out.
It is known from various sources that some people have amassed wealth worth billions of taka at home and abroad. From my knowledge about the intelligence and education of some these people, I have reasons to believe that some of them cannot even count five hundred sixty two thousand four hundred forty three taka, let alone higher quantity involving millions and billions of taka. Managing a fund of this dimension is simply beyond their capacity. They trust some near and dear ones to manage the fund. All that they are interested in is to ensure smooth flow of money and material whenever they need them.
Their prime consumption comprises acquisition of landed properties, houses including luxury flats, costly vehicles, clothes, ornaments and gizmos, travelling abroad with friends and relatives when they go on shopping binge. The fund managers and the cronies make sure that their whims and caprices are taken care of during their visit abroad. A few industries are also established in their name though the real management authority is exercise by their cronies. Once out of power, they soon lose control over these industries because of inadequacies and complications in the relevant documents. Ownership of fabulous resources is prone to breed hubris and power hunger, which may in turn lead a person to persecute his opponents at any cost and in any manner he deems fit. In extreme cases he is ready to annihilate the rock-ribbed opponents. Over-acquisition of wealth is therefore a potential source of big crime.
In Europe, particularly in the Scandinavian countries, a movement has started to limit the acquisition of wealth by an individual. The corporate executives who draw a staggering amount of compensation are the targets of this campaign. The proponents of the campaign contend that a person needs only limited amount of wealth to lead a decent life, to meet the need for his health, security, all types of sensual pleasure, charity, bequeathal and old-age comfort included. The unnecessary heap of money is the source of many evil doings, they hold. The company and the society will be greatly benefitted if the compensation package can be appropriately shaved off to a really necessary level.
A similar line of thinking is discernible in China as well. Some political caucus has started questioning the extravaganza which is demonstrated by the filthily rich people in that country. Such extravaganza is vulgar and an affront to common citizens and it should be severely restrained.
In our country we have seen how unmitigated greed destroys the social fabrics and what a great cost it imposes on the nation. Unearned income, huge unproductive wealth and the concomitant power hunger must be contained through concerted efforts. The entrepreneur, the risk taker should have adequate incentive to go for productive enterprises, he would be allowed to lead a high quality life as defined earlier. He should also be encouraged to reinvest and earn normal profit which should, however, be heavily taxed once it crosses the ceiling defined for an individual. In short, income should enable a person to lead a healthy, peaceful, secure, decent, benign and joyful life. It should not be allowed to push him into desolate idleness or spur him into criminal pursuit. The world will be a much better place to live in if the problem of income obesity can be appropriately addressed.