March 4, 1994


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

Ivan Boesky

When I think of the word greed I visualize a nursery school kid sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by all of the toys in the place and screaming, over and over, MINE!!

I had a similar vision when I saw a documentary on William Randolph Hearst. That man was greed personified. He wanted it all: money, power, prestige, respect, obedience -and as much as he could get. Since he inherited a small fortune, it seemed to him that it might really be possible for him to have it all.

Unfortunately, Hearst is not one of a kind; there are enough people like him to make the world a very uncomfortable place to be in. Just one in the whole world should make us uncomfortable. They envision everyone as having been put here solely for their use. It's the modern version of the divine right of kings.

I suspect that, like the greedy little kid in the nursery school, Hearst had no friends. The people who surrounded him wanted only what he could give them. Friendship is a two way street in which people give to one another. The Hollywood sycophants went to visit Hearst as they would anyone with money and power. One never knows when one will need someone with money and power.

It's great to have money. There are lots of things to enjoy if you can afford it. It's nice to be able to go anywhere in style, eat what and where you want and to be treated with respect. It wouldn't bother me one bit to not ever look at the prices on a menu, or to fly first class. However, it takes a lot less than a million bucks to do that.

The people who really enjoy their money are usually not fabulously wealthy -just well off. There are some real problems that go with being fabulously wealthy. For one thing, you have to guard your money, your property and your children.

I once had a tiny taste of that kind of life. One evening of it was all that I could stand. It fit my vision of hell as well as anything I have ever experienced --a place where everyone is frantically trying to get as much as he can. There were none of the human things that make life worth living. Perhaps the sycophants are even sicker than the greedy one.

Maybe trading an illusion of friendship for money is OK. It is the stock in trade of courtesans. The word courtesan is derived from the people who surrounded the king and kept him happy. It now means a high priced whore.

I suppose that everyone has, at one time or another, fantasized that he had unlimited money or power. However, like living forever, it's an impossible dream. There are even limits to how much wonderful cuisine you can eat. If you look at pictures of Hearst, it's obvious that he tried to eat it all too. Orson Wells, who made the movie Citizen Kane about Hearst, also seemed to have wanted to eat it all. Like attracts like, I guess.

If his parents and teachers do their job, that greedy nursery school kid will probably outgrow his unrestrained greed. If he doesn't, we consider him to be a pretty sick adult. I imagine that, sick or not, such people rarely go to psychiatrists, even though they can afford it. Why not? Because they don't want to share any of themselves with anyone. Besides, since he believes that everyone wants what he can get, you can't trust anyone -even a priest or a shrink.

People like Hearst don't end up in mental institutions, because people like him are not considered sick, any more than were some of the mad rulers of the past. At least they were never officially pronounced crazy.

I have tried to find something nice to say about Hearst and his ilk, or the people who surrounded him, but I can't. Maybe he loved his mother or his mistress, or both.

Next column

Return to the Psychology Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page