Monday, May 16, 2011

The Greedy and the Needy




Was having this rather stimulating quasi-philosophical discussion with the wife the other morning. Though it rendered me being incommunicado for a couple of days - it's still probably worth recounting for it's sheer existentialist import.

The context was the conviction of Raj Rajaratnam by the U S Trial Court in the Galleon Hedge Fund case and possible implication of his friend - Rajat Gupta,till just a few days ago the poster boy of - not just the Bongs - but the entire Indian diaspora - accused of leaking priviledged market sensitive information to him.

The question - obviously was - why should such a successful and respected professional like Gupta ("Ratan" - literally, meaning 'jewel'- to his friends and family ) falter thus (if true). The theory doing the rounds is - apparently, Gupta was suffering from "billionaires envy" and wanted to be in the charmed circle of Kravis (of Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co) and the likes (Read article).

Fresh from the parent's orientation at the Valley School - where we heard that, modern day life was all about "management of greed" - I was quick to pronounce it as a case of abject avarice.

But, then came the news of Dominique Strauss-Kahn - the IMF Chief, who it seems had gone a little beyond lifting the skirt of the hotel maid in his USD 3,000 suite in Manhattan. Was this also a case of 'greed' ?

Here, I had a point of difference. While the desire for money and power - can be attributed to 'greed' - sex is a matter of temptation. And, it is not just a matter of semantics, I argued (at my peril !!).

When Adam and Eve succumbed to the apple - it was not greed at work but sheer temptation. The same is true of alcohol or drugs. The temptation could lead tio craving and ultimately even to addiction - but the same can't be equated with greed.

There is another point of distinction to my mind - however, subtle. Temptation (or addiction) is the cause of undoing of the self - it seldom (at least directly) harms others. The same is not true of 'greed' , which is necessarily at the cost of others.

The owner of a publishing house I worked for, was rather tolerant of the sexual peccadiloes and drinking problem of his journalists. On being asked why - he used to say they were neither murderers nor thieves - whatever they were doing was at their own peril - so who was he to exercise his moral judgement upon what was, after all, a matter of their personal choice.

But,there is also the story of the honest prostitute who never took married clients -because she said her's was a noble profession to serve the 'needy' and not the 'greedy'.