Sunday, December 02, 2012


Greed or avarice is a human desire. And greed knows no bounds. The more investors or speculators profit, the greedier they become.

By definition, greed is an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth or power. (

Laozi and Confucius knowing human nature well taught people in their respective Tao Te Ching and the Analects to guard against greed, especially during old age; since it would prove more difficult for the old to recover from a financial disaster. The young and middle age would more likely have the necessary time span, the energy, and the courage to make a complete recovery from such disasters.

But it has always been tempting when there seems to be easy money to be made together with readily available credit and everyone else is doing it. Think of bull runs in the stock and commodity markets, property bubbles, and gold rushes.

If we look back at the Asian Financial Crisis 1997/98, the Global Financial Crisis 2008/ 09, and the ongoing PIGS* Credit Crisis we can see history repeating itself time and time again. Almost everyone trying to make easy money from the stock markets and/or from real property with free flowing credit from the financial institutions, and did not stop in time, got burnt. Many titan financial institutions also required rescues from their respective governments. (The Book of Changes has had forewarned with omens on the time to get out of the markets to avoid the crises. Refer to the then yet-to-unfold respective Yijing omens blogged in 2008 and 2009.)

Yet do we really think that most of these burnt investors, speculators, or institutions can ever learn from their mistakes?

If investors or speculators keep repeating the same mistakes on financial or property investments and perchance bankrupt themselves, they may tend to blame it on fate or even Heaven. The bankruptcy would not have happened if they have learned from their past mistakes and/or have not gambled beyond their financial means. They should not have tempted fate in the first place and then blame any mishap on it.

But in this day and age, where even previous rulers of nations responsible for emptying the state coffers because of protracted wars and they together with captains of industry and regulators have had played a major part in causing the Financial and Credit Crises and these culprits are let off scot free without paying any restitution – an anomaly of the times – who wants to accept the buck or the blame and be sued for their huge mistakes? Certainly those who had failed in their investments or job scopes would likewise not accept the responsibility for their own failures. Therefore it was much easier to whitewash the mistakes or failures and start on a clean slate again.

If only rulers, captains of industry, regulators, the investors and speculators had learned from history and the ancients; then they would not have repeated the same huge mistakes down the ages caused by human greed.

Such mistakes have caused suicides and intense sufferings including the innocents especially children across the world. Greed for material wealth and power has been the main cause for the hundreds of millions in the US, in Europe and in the Middle East still suffering today.

Investing or speculating with credit (borrowings) - and playing with someone else’ monies - beyond our very means to repay the debt is something that the Book of Changes advises against – if we know our Yijing studies well and if we can interpret prognostications accurately. This advice from the ancient classic upholds my contention that the Book of Changes can be used both as a Book of Wisdom and a Book of Oracles.

To avoid greed and as part of self cultivation, Laozi in his Tao Te Ching chapter 46 exhorts people to be contented with their means. The Buddha by giving up his princedom and lived as a hermit is an exceptional exemplary example of this.

If we have been contented and lived within our means, we would have been more prudent and not borrowed to make speculative gains and live to regret any disastrous financial mistakes. If we are not greedy, we will also not be easily conned (or ‘Madoffed’) for a ‘few dollars’ more.

In line with the advice from the Book of Changes and the three named great ancient sages, contentment with our means, especially when we are old, is good for our self cultivation.

*PIGS - Coined acronyms by the global finance industry for Portugal, Ireland or Italy, Greece, Spain; and certainly an apt name for their imprudent financial institutions, inept regulators and/or greedy speculators.

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