You’d think by now I would be used to left-wing political rhetoric, but, giving credit where credit is due, I have to admit that Sen. Jim Webb’s rebuttal to President Bush’s State of the Union address last week was over the top. Had he not been speaking in English, I might have guessed he was the reincarnation of Ho Chi Minh or Karl Marx.

Mind you, I didn’t flinch when he dragged out the timeless red herring known fondly to populists as (yawn) “raising the minimum wage,” not even when he described it as “an example of the way forward.” Translation: That which creates unemployment is progress. Good thinking.

But it got really nauseating when Webb started babbling about the fruits of the economy “not being fairly shared.” Beating the class-warfare drum, he went on to talk about the huge gap between top-executive pay and that of the average worker. As though a CEO’s mega-salary is somehow responsible for holding down the pay of a rank-and-file employee.

Webb’s rhetoric got me to thinking about a front-cover story Time magazine ran last year. The purported purpose of the article was to explore the factors most responsible for some people being ambitious and others not.

Among other things, the Time article stated, “Of all the impulses in humanity’s behavioral portfolio, ambition – that need to grab an ever bigger piece of the resource pie before someone else gets it – ought to be one of the most democratically distributed. Nature is a zero-sum game, after all. Every buffalo you kill for your family is one less for somebody else’s; every acre of land you occupy elbows out somebody else.”

The Time article must have been a big inspiration to Webb. It’s precisely this kind of Marxist rhetoric that deters the underclass from doing the very things they need to do to lift themselves up. Ignorant, left-wing college profs have been teaching such gibberish to malleable-minded college kids since the days of the Greek Empire, while at the same time shameless and/or ignorant politicians have been brainwashing the parents of those same children.

Surely any half-intelligent, rational individual in this day and age of highly visible entrepreneurial wealth creation realizes that neither nature nor business nor life itself is a zero-sum game. In every country where zero-sum-game rhetoric has been an integral part of the government’s party line, the results have been catastrophic.

The list is a long one – the former Soviet Union, Albania, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, China, North Korea, Cuba and Mozambique, among others. Every country on the list has three things in common: torture and suffering for the masses, special treatment for the anointed privileged class, and failed economies.

Unfortunately, Western societies seem intent on following the shrieking voices of the zero-sum-game crowd down an egalitarian path that leads only to real communism (as opposed to theoretical communism, which is but a fairy tale). What the pinheaded left cannot seem to grasp (in most cases, I suspect, do not want to grasp) is that those who create wealth almost always do so by creating value for others. Or, to continue the metaphor, they increase the size of the pie.

The ever-increasing size of the pie is why the poorest families in the U.S. have the means to buy state-of-the-art television sets, DVD players, video-game consoles, computers, cell phones and an endless array of other electronic products that are strictly discretionary in nature – which you’d think would make them grateful to the producers who make these toys affordable for them.

Not so. The left fully understands that if people were satisfied, it would have no constituency, which is why it continues to portray the “wealthy” as greedy. The only hope for these greedy people is rehabilitation, a phenomenon that has brought about an acceptable transformation in such misinformed pseudo-capitalists as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Ted Turner.

But what, exactly, is greed? The dictionary defines it as “an excessive desire to acquire more than what one needs or deserves.” I guess I’m not smart enough to understand who has the wisdom, let alone the moral authority, to decide what anyone else needs or deserves.

Since the words “excessive” and “more than what one needs or deserves” are subjective, what greed really means is possessing a desire to acquire. And, though it may ruffle the feathers of many to hear it, the reality is that all human beings have an unlimited desire to acquire.

One person might desire to acquire power over others by leading or joining a humanitarian crusade. Another person might desire to acquire material wealth by providing products or services that people are willing to purchase from him. And still another individual might desire to acquire the respect of others through artistic achievements. In any event, all of these people are “greedy” in the sense that they “desire to acquire.”

Though the audience was set up to hiss and boo when Gordon Gekko (in the 1987 movie “Wall Street”) spewed out those now-famous words “Greed is good,” the fact is he was absolutely right. Or at least he was conditionally right. Greed is good if it leads to honest wealth creation.

By this I mean that, as Brian Tracy has pointed out, greed is actually neutral. Greed is neither good nor bad. It is the methods that a person employs to fulfill his desires that are good or bad.

Just as guns don’t kill people, neither do greed or ambition, of and by themselves, harm anyone. However, some people do choose to use greed and ambition to do harm, just as some people use guns to kill.

So long as you do not use force or fraud to acquire what you desire, you never need to apologize for being “greedy” – and certainly not for any success you are able to achieve. And, as an added bonus, through the invisible hand of the market, every dollar you make benefits society as a whole.

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