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date: 05 March 2021

Individual, Educational, and Other Social Influences on Greed: Implications for the Study of White-Collar Crimelocked

  • Long Wang, Long WangDepartment of Management, City University of Hong Kong
  • Ziwei WangZiwei WangDepartment of Management, City University of Hong Kong
  •  and David H. WengDavid H. WengDepartment of Management and Organisation, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


Greed is a central part of human nature. In history, feudal barons and kings, as war profiteers, continued to engage in war to acquire more after they had accumulated excessive wealth; in the modern era, greed is still rampant as the wealthy and powerful keep accumulating inordinate amounts of wealth and power. Greed does not exist in a social vacuum: it often involves a complementary reduction in other people’s outcomes, even as the greedy actor achieves substantive gains. In addition, people’s resource accumulation often stimulates rather than sates, creating a vicious cycle of extravagant spending and insatiable desire. Historical and philosophical approaches typically connect greed with immoral and deplorable behavior. Religious admonitions even make it more obnoxious and despicable.

Greed is often believed to be an obvious, perhaps too obvious, cause of white-collar crime. There is no shortage of notorious cases of corporate greed, where white-collar offenders engage in amazing frauds and/or extravagant spending sprees. Yet empirical research on the relationships between greed and white-collar crime is rather limited. Greed can be both personal and environmental. On the one hand, our natural needs and wants suggest that people cannot always easily escape the temptations of greed. Thus, for at least some people, greed may be intrinsic, dynamic, and grow across spans of their life cycle. This may make restraining greed a challenging task as it represents a dissonance of human nature. On the other hand, greed is not always portrayed as disgraceful or unacceptable because of its connection to self-interest maximization and market competition, foundational elements of business and economics education and management practices. In particular, when the push for profits is pervasive, traditional, and taken-for-granted in modern organizational life, greed may inadvertently become less derogatory.

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