I thought most people knew the origin of the expression “infectious greed”, but it seems from conversations lately that many people do not. Well, it comes from that coiner of phrases extraordinaire, Alan Greenspan, and a presentation he made to Congress back on July 16, 2002 on why so many business malfeasants popped up during the equity boom of the late-1990s:
Why did corporate governance checks and balances that served us reasonably well in the past break down? At root was the rapid enlargement of stock market capitalizations in the latter part of the 1990s that arguably engendered an outsized increase in opportunities for avarice. An infectious greed seemed to grip much of our business community. Our historical guardians of financial information were overwhelmed.
Granted, “infectious greed” is a nice coinage, so I’m happy to nick it. But it is also worthwhile noticing how adept Greenspan is at working with words, despite his reputation for obscurity. Check, for example, “opportunities for avarice” in the above, a phrase that comes trippingly from the tongue.
But it isn’t just that Alan is adept at coming up with two-word catch-phrases. He is also good at sneaking in starker stuff, like biblical imagery. Consider, for example, the very sentence in which he introduced IG, where he says it “…seemed to grip much of our business community”. I am not alone, I’m guessing, in hearing echoes of the Genesis in those words:
“When the famine had spread throughout the land, Joseph opened all the cities that had grain and rationed it to the Egyptians, since the famine had gripped the land of Egypt.” [Genesis 41:56]