September 16, 2004

The Golden Touch

I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.

Ivan Boesky

There was recently an item in the news that reported that since the fall of Soviet communism and the initiation of a capitalist free-market system, that Moscow now has more billionaires than New York City.

When I was a child, I was taught the Greek fable about King Midas and the golden touch. I checked out the story in Google, which has 13 pages on King Midas. Here is one version of the myth:

King Midas was a very wealthy king. Collecting gold was his hobby, his joy and his life. One day as he sat counting his wealth he saw an old man asleep under a tree. He saw that it was Silenus from the court of Dionysus, god of wine. Midas was cunning and treated Silenus like a king for ten days before taking him back to Dionysus. Dionysus was grateful for the care lavished on his old servant and told King Midas that he would grant any wish that he made. Midas asked that anything he touched would be turned to gold. Dionysus granted his wish but warned him about his greed. Midas was very happy. He touched a tree and it turned to gold. He touched the walls of his palace and they turned to gold. He touched his horse, then his servant, his food and finally his children. Everything turned to gold. Midas began to feel very unhappy. He could not eat, sleep, drink or touch anything because everything turned to gold. He missed his children dreadfully. Finally Midas went back to find Dionysus and told him that he wanted to get rid of his golden touch. Dionysus laughed when he saw the change in the king. Eventually he decided to take pity on him and told him to go and bathe in the river Pactolus. King Midas went to the river. He was afraid to get into the water in case it turned to gold and killed him. He got a jug and washed himself down. Little by little the gold washed away. King Midas was so relieved. He took jug after jug of water back to his palace to wash his children, his servants, his horse and the whole palace. He did not stop work until he had restored everything to its normal state.

That story is out of date, so I have written a new fable in keeping with our present-day values. Here it is:

Once upon a time there were two good friends. They were both intensely interested in computers and both learned all that they could about them. Together they perfected a computer system that was far superior to anything that existed at the time. They started a company that manufactured and sold the new software that they had designed. Their product was very successful and both became very rich. One was so taken with riches that he continued to accumulate more and more money until he became the richest man in the country. The other retired to a very comfortable obscurity and was not heard from again. What he did with his life is not generally known. Presumably he lived a very comfortable life, made more comfortable by his wealth. The other, however, continued to acquire more wealth. He also acquired a number of people who treated him with respect and what he took for love. He soon discovered, as John D. Rockefeller had, that being the wealthiest man in the country also made him the most hated man in the country. So he started spreading some of his money around in good works. Did his spreading money around doing good works make him universally loved and respected? As Rockefeller found out, it did not. <

Return to the Economics Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page