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Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #43: 

             Seeking Wealth and Power

alphabetical listing: A to K 

  alphabetical listing, continued: L to Z
Contrast Worldview Themes #43 and #16 --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!           

Contrast Worldview Themes #43 and #23B --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!   

Contrast Worldview Themes #43 and #42 --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!   

Contrast Worldview Themes #43 and #48 --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!   

Contrast Worldview Themes #43 and #49B --  these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!   

Contrast Worldview Themes #43 and #50B --  these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!   

capital -- an economics term referring to accumulated goods and resources (or their value) devoted to the production of other goods or set aside to produce income. Capital can take the form of money, raw materials, buildings, equipment, inventories, etc. While economists have long distinguished between “physical capital” and “human capital”, some have recently extended this scheme to include “natural capital”.

capitalism -- an economic system involving 1) private individual or corporate ownership of capital goods, 2) private rather than state control of investment , and 3) pricing, production and distribution of goods (for the most part) by agents or forces operating within the free market system. 

collusion -- a secret agreement between businesses or firms that sets price and output in a way that decreases competition and increases profits

conspicuous consumption -- a term coined by Veblen in the early part of the 20th century that refers to people buying expensive things just to show that they can afford them -- a snob effect that flies in the face of a cheaper is better orientation, or practical utility considerations.

corporate crime–corporations and/or their employees break laws and use their power to ruin lives, endanger public safety, or pollute the environment in their quest for profits.  Its negative impact on US society is great.  Russell Mokhiber, founder of the Corporate Crime Reporter, writes "The losses from a handful of major corporate frauds–Tyco, Adelphia, Worldcom, Enron –swamp the losses from all street robberies and burglaries combined.  Health care fraud alone costs Americans $100 billion to $400 billion a year.  The savings and loan fraud...cost us anywhere from $300 billion to $500 billion..." Of political campaign contri- butions & lobbyists, Mokhiber writes, "Corporate criminals are the only criminal class in the United States that have the power to define the laws under which they live." 2009 brought news of Bernie Madoff's corrupt investment firmthought to have ripped off $50 to $65 billion, and concerns about ripoff of government furnished bank bailout funds.  

corporate executive pay issues--According to many observers of top U.S. companies, the ratio of top corporate executive compensation to that of an ordinary private sector worker is excessively large. Based on figures compiled by the Institute for Policy Studies, in 2005 average annual CEO compensation for the top 350 American companies was $11.6 million, whereas that same year the average American worker made $28,300. Dividing the former number by the latter yields a ratio of 411 to 1.  This ratio is up from 100 to 1in 1990, and is much higher than the corresponding 11 to 1 ratio in Japan.  While some feel all such high corporate executive compensation is unjustified, many single out the outrageously high salaries, bonuses, and severance pay packages of executives who led companies which performed poorly.

distributive justice--is concerned with right or just ways to allocate the goods, benefits and burdens of economic activity to members of society. Plans for doing this vary according to 1) what is to be distributed: wealth, income, utility, opportunity, welfare, etc; 2) over what group is the distribution to be made; 3) how is the distribution to be made.   

egocentric -- the selfish, self-centered viewpoint that narrowly limits a person’s outlook to focus on his or her own feelings, needs, concerns, problems and activities

egoism -- the belief that individual self interest is the basis for all human behavior and that this is how it ought to be

envy -- painful or resentful awareness of someone who is more fortunate or enjoys some advantage

evolutionary ethics--approaches ethics from the role that evolution has played in shaping human behavior, including instinctual behavior.

financial literacy--according to the National Endowment for Financial Education, this is "the ability to read, analyze, manage, and communicate about the personal financial conditions that affect material well-being. Financial literacy includes the ability to discern financial choices, discuss money and financial issues without (or despite) discomfort, plan for the future, and respond competently to life events that affect everyday financial decisions, including events in the general economy."

financial market participants' roles / strategies --consider four of them: 1) investors / investing--buying financial instruments (stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, real estate, etc.)  and holding them (often on a long-term basis) for income and a stake in whatever is invested in; 2) speculators / speculating--buying financial instruments to profit from (typically short-term) fluctuations in price; 3) hedgers / hedging--a strategy to minimize financial risk by planning for different contingencies and still making a profit; 4) arbitrageurs / arbitrage--taking advantage of price differences in different markets to make a risk-free profit.  

grabber -- a derogatory term to be associated with those who succeed wildly in their search for wealth and power (sometimes through ethically questionable means) and, instead of using what they’ve won to help those in need or to make the world a better place, excessively indulge, waste and revel in luxury. It has been charged that their real religion is based on “a gospel of their own wealth”.

greed -- a dictionary definition is "excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness".  Brian Cruver, author of Anatomy of Greed (a book about Enron), argues that greed should be "defined by means, not the end" and adds "It's the behavior that should be tested for excessiveness." He goes on to connect "greedy" with "someone who lies, cheats, and steals in the name of possessing more than they need or even deserve." 

"Greed is Good"--one of several notable quotes from the character Gordon Gekko, a cutthroat businessman and corporate raider in the 1987 movie Wall Street.

Hobbesian view of human nature -- According to 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, human beings were selfish, aggressive, fiercely competitive, highly acquisitive creatures who were incapable of self restraint. With this dim view of human nature, he felt that authoritarian state offered the only way to keep human beings from killing each other in constant warfare and destroying civilization.

insider trading--the (generally illegal) practice of corporate executives and other insiders using company information not available to the general public to profit from trading in their corporate stock or securities. Such trading was outlawed in the United States in the 1930s, in Britain and Japan in the 1980s, and is similarly frowned upon by most of the world's securities and commodities markets.

investment decisions, basis for--typically the key piece of information behind whether to invest in something or not  is whether the expected annual rate of return on the investment exceeds the annual interest rate charged for the money borrowed to make the investment or finance the project.    

kleptocracy--a government characterized by greed and corruption in which the ruler (or rulers) loot the national treasury and use his (their) position(s) to extend his (their) personal wealth to the detriment of the people he (they) are supposed to be serving. In a 2004 study, the German group Transparency International identified five national leaders of recent decades who directed at least $1 billion of their nation's wealth into their own private bank accounts. Former Indonesian and Philippine presidents Suharto and Marcos topped the list--ripping off an estimated $25 billion and $7.5 billion respectively.  

  leveling mechanisms--customs and social policies that serve to reduce differences in wealth between members of a society.

lobbyist--a person paid to act on behalf of a particular corporation, union, organization, etc. in aggressively promoting their agenda to elected representatives or those in positions of power in governments.  In some democracies, (like the United States), lobbyists help funnel campaign contributions to politicians--which often subvert the will of the people critics charge.

machiavellian -- an approach to getting what you want summed up in the famous quote, “The end justifies the means”. Specifically, the desired end is increasing power and control. The opportunistic means employed to achieve this are whatever it takes, including deception, deviousness, duplicity, and cunning manipulation of others.

marginal utility -- the added satisfaction to be had by consuming an additional unit of a commodity. Economic theory suggests that as a person consumes increasingly more of a commodity the marginal utility eventually declines

master -- a derogatory term that refers to an individual or group -- historically often associated with a man or men -- who dominates and controls another person or group of people, and to some extent exercises authority that keeps those subject to it in a submissive state of servitude.

microeconomics --the branch of economics focused on individual decision making units, such as a person, household, or business.  To be contrasted with macroeconomics.    

money--a token or object that is generally accepted (both legally and socially) as a medium of exchange in paying for goods provided, services rendered, or settling debts. It also provides a measure of value or standard for gauging relative worth / wealth. Most economic transactions directly or indirectly involve money--one exception being a barter economy where money is not needed.

monopoly -- a situation in a market economy when but a single seller exists for a commodity that has no realistic substitute

narcissism -- an exaggerated sense of self love or heightened emotional investment in one’s self , detracting from one’s appreciation of or emotional investment in others . It has been suggested that this masks deep feelings of unworthiness and emptiness -- unacknowledged, but unconsciously lurking. Critics of individual excess in the consumer culture have linked the psychology behind it to narcissism.

noble savage view of human nature -- the belief that people, if they lived in a natural state away from the corrupting influence of social institutions, are fundamentally peaceful, co-operative, and altruistically concerned with each other’s well being -- not aggressively greedy, acquisitive, competitive and merely out to advance their own self interest. This view was popularized by 18th century French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau.

objectivism and the virtue of selfishness -- as popularized in the 1950s and 60s by Ayn Rand, objectivism values rational selfishness and views altruism as contrary to human nature. It sees the central purpose of a rational person’s life as productive work, and trade (which it links with justice) as “the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships”. Not surprisingly, this philosophy embraces laissez faire capitalism. Socially, objectivist ethics places the highest value on an individual’s happiness, and denigrates his or her putting aside self interest and sacrificing for others -- singling out as mistaken the belief that one person’s happiness necessarily leads to others’ misery. Politically, its basic principle is “no man may initiate the use of physical force against others”. Rand’s philosophy is embraced by many libertarians and many who rail against “the social welfare state”, “the common good”, "progressive income tax structures", etc. 

plutocracy--government by or conducted in the interest of the rich.  Generally in societies governed like this, the level of economic inequality--measured by the gap between rich and poor--is high, and social mobility-- measured by the % of once poor who escape their poverty and become rich--is low.  "By 2000 the United States could be said to have a plutocracy" argues Kevin Phillips in his book Wealth and Democracy.  

political campaign contributions--the money and favors that individuals and groups give to candidates running for political office. Supporters view this as people extending their free speech rights; critics charge that the contributions are an attempt to buy influence and that such money from a relatively few wealthy people can subvert the will of the majority of the people.

positive thinking, the power of -- This phrase is the title of a 1952 best-selling book by Christian preacher and author Norman Vincent Peale. The basic idea behind his book--and behind similar routes to empowerment advocated by various New Age enthusiasts-- is that repeating good thoughts brings good things, while continually dwelling on negative thoughts can bring bad things. In short, people create their own reality by their thoughts.  Many, Peale included, consider thoughts to be things.  Some New Agers don't stop there, but connect whatever they are promoting with the mysteries of quantum physics in claiming that all matter is condensed thought.  For others, similar positive thinking / visualization techniques--and belief that God wants you to have abundant wealth--serve as the basis for teaching others how to get rich.  Coupling such "ask, believe, and receive" recipes with the idea that "you can control the world by what you think" methods provides the essence of numerous books about how to obtain wealth and power.

power elite, the -- refers to the class of people in positions of power in the corporate state. The term was first used in the 1950s as the title of a leftist assessment of who runs America (a book by C. Wright Mills).

profit–the revenue taken in minus the cost outlay associated with a business transaction.

Protestant work ethic -- an ethic based on self reliance, hard work and frugality being the path to salvation that has been important in shaping post Reformation western (especially American) society of the last five hundred years. Thus, ingrained in my people’s heads, since their earliest childhood, were sayings like “God helps those who help themselves”, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, “A penny saved is a penny earned”, etc. Only recently has a consumption ethic begun to seriously compete with, some would say replace, this work ethic.

religion, social function of -- according to Michael Shermer, in his book The Science of Good and Evil, religion is “a social institution that evolved as an integral mechanism of human culture to encourage altruism and reciprocal altruism, to discourage selfishness and greed, and to reveal the level of commitment to co-operate and reciprocate among members of the community.”

risk vs. return--in seeking to profit from investment, greater returns are generally associated with taking greater risk.  Thus an investment earning 10%/yr has more risk (greater possibility of loss of principal) than one paying 3%/yr.  

Social Darwinism -- the application of Darwinian principles (natural selection, survival of the fittest, etc) to social practices as a natural defense of entrepreneurial capitalism

Tooth and Claw Ethics / Law of the Jungle--both of these date to the late nineteenth century, the former was made famous by "Darwin's bulldog" Thomas Huxley, one of the founders of evolutionary ethics, the latter by Rudyard Kipling (perhaps influenced by the Social Darwinist currents of the time) in The Jungle Book   Earlier in that century, British poet Tennyson had characterized nature as "red in tooth and claw".  The Law of the Jungle is basically "kill or be killed".

union busting--aggressive, sometimes brutal, practices employed by management to prevent employees from joining labor unions, or to break strikes / destroy the power of unions which get in their way.

wealth vs. income--wealth is often measured by an individual's net worth = assets or holdings minus debts or liabilities--it has money units. Income has units of money divided by time ($ per year, or whatever). It measures inflow of money (or its equivalent) over some time period, whereas wealth corrects holdings by subtracting off potential outflows and provides a cumulative measure.

Winner Take All Society--a phrase used to characterize what many see as a disturbing societal trend toward greater inequality.  The phrase is from the title of a 1995 book by Robert H. Frank and Philip J. Cook about income inequality in America and why, in the words of Molly Ivins,  "A few people get ungodly rich, and the rest of us fall behind!"  Simple-minded example of such a trend: Imagine a hypothetical state lottery switches from awarding $1 million prizes to twenty people and instead decides that one lucky person should take all $20 million! 

zero sum game -- generally speaking, a game (which can represent a social or economic interaction or conflict) in which someone wins and someone loses, to be contrasted with a game in which someone can win without someone else losing



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