That trait is manifested in the political context, by members of Congress and their constituents. Examples from the recent fiscal cliff legislation: Decreasing tax receipts in excess of $300 million over 10 years from certain favored film and television producers and motorsports entertainment complexes, which will cause an increase in debt to cover the shortfall.
The gratification of present desires, in whatever form, is a powerful influence on one's behavior and often dominates the promise of a richer gratification in the future (e.g. remaining on the couch instead of exercising). The influence becomes even more powerful when the gratification is centered in one person and the threat in another. Acceding to a desire in that instance may, I submit, partake of greediness.
It is entirely plausible to believe that greed is the best explanation of why the American public and the officials it elects are largely content to borrow $46 for every $100 spent by the federal government, rather than taxing the present generation, the spenders, to recover the $46 in revenue needed to satisfy its needs and desires.
Indeed, the public and its executive and legislators have become co-conspirators in greed. The public demands entitlements and other monetary benefits from the federal treasury with hardly a thought of the vast borrowing needed to provide them. Elected officials, heedless of the future, merrily provide them, in exchange for votes -- their gratification.
The co-conspiracy between the public and their elected officials, when coupled with the federal government's seemingly unlimited borrowing power, may well be the most significant flaw of a democracy and could lead to its demise.
Is the current generation in its greed exercising the tyranny of the voting majority to the detriment of the unborn to come, saying to them that our present interests come first and you who come hereafter will not only have to take care of yourselves but pay the indebtedness we have incurred as well?
President Obama in the concluding paragraph of his second inaugural address urged the American people to answer the call of history with passion and dedication "and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom."
Yes, Mr. President, "Together, we, with passion and dedication, must not, in our greed, extinguish a now flickering light of freedom, but rather look to the day when our "selfish gain no longer stain(s) the banner of the free." (A plea in America the Beautiful.)
Although the president has exhorted "we" -- the American people -- to do so many things "together," he omitted a more likely togetherness brought on by his policies: "Together, we take to the barricades to protest cuts in our government benefits when forced upon us by lenders no longer willing to lend."
McElwee is a Charleston lawyer with the firm Robinson & McElwee PLLC.