We don't usually have much compassion for people who are indisputably greedy, such as Ken Lay. He appears to have no conscience or scruples when he cheats thousands of their life savings and sells his stocks before they drop into the toilet.
How can a person do such a thing? How can he talk about God's plan? He is the son of a preacher, for God's sake! What he does seems unforgivable, as well as not understandable. But there is a way to understand it. Understanding does not excuse greedy behavior, it merely attempts to explain it.
I can tell you, from a lifetime of professional experience, my own experience and numerous readings, that the basis of greed is need. It's not a real need, but a felt need. Nobody needs a ten million dollar house or a private Boeing 747, or a huge office atop a glass skyscraper, or the presidential suite at the Plaza. Nobody needs stretch limousines and million dollar parties or a multi-million dollar yacht.
What is the basis of this insatiable need?
What I'm going to say may sound incredulous or simplistic or off the wall, or it can be dismissed as Freudian and unlikely or counter-intuitive. Or it may make a certain sense, if you are tuned in to your memory bank. We tend to forget our childhood, and we certainly don't remember our infancy, but we do observe infants from time to time and see their neediness and vulnerability. And some people cannot stand to hear a baby crying, especially the sound of a hungry baby... and especially the sound of a very hungry baby.
The baby is inherently needy. If its needs are not met, it will simply die, but in the meantime, it fights for its life by screaming, and usually, eventually, it gets fed and life goes on, its life goes on. It doesn't starve to death except in certain tragic places around the world.
But if its needs are not met repeatedly, even though they are met eventually, there are preverbal, inchoate 'memories' in the memory bank. None of our experiences are completely forgotten. They are indelibly recorded and cannot be erased. Defense mechanisms, such as repression (forgetting) and 'splitting' (dissociation) help us cope by burying our painful infantile feelings. We simply don't remember them, but events in adult life trigger them off, and we must deal again with these painful feelings of the emptiness of hunger and the pain of loneliness, and the primitive rage which only infants feel, and can only express in screaming.
That's why "Primal Scream" was once a trendy psychotherapy, with the idea that if we can only let the scream out, we will feel better. Time has shown that Primal Scream has no lasting benefit, because the ancient scream is still in the memory bank. It does not get erased. There's not a limited reserve of scream that can simply be let out.
Some of the very rich, such as Ken Lay, probably were left hungry for long periods of time, and that empty feeling is always ready to be evoked in everyday life, by any trivial disappointment, or major setback or loss. These people hate that feeling so much, they have a plan to become so wealthy, that they can buy anything they want at a moment's notice, and so they imagine they will never have to experience frustration or disappointment. Unlimited money and power become a substitute for mother's milk, and they cannot get enough of it. It's never enough, they are literally insatiable, and so they will do anything and everything to accumulate their 'pile,' which they think will eventually lead to their feeling full, or fulfilled. It becomes an addiction, much like other addictions.
So greed is the product of need, and excess neediness is the result of a bad infantile experience. We all have a touch of it, because no infant has the perfect mother. We were hungry; we were fed, but we will always remember the fearful hungry feeling and the overwhelming panic which ensues, and we will do almost anything to prevent that feeling from overwhelming us.
Not only wealthy people are greedy and needy. Even among the poor, those with the most deprived infancy, will beg, borrow or steal or become welfare cheats or join the underground economy and get the most they can, without scruples. There's nothing inherently noble about the poor, except for those who are poor but obviously are not greedy or grasping, but will share their last bite with someone less fortunate. These poor people are rich in their infantile memory banks, in which their basic needs had been met, and they feel secure within themselves. They can tolerate hunger, because they know that eventually nourishment will be forthcoming. Their emotional cups runneth over, even as their material wealth is minimal. We all have met such persons and have admired them, but their apparent lofty morals are the result of their early luck and good fortune, to have had a loving mother with much tender loving care.