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Sweepstakes of Greed, 2006 | The Nation

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Sweepstakes of Greed, 2006

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It's getting close to New Year's and time for annual awards. One of the most coveted is the Golden Greedy Guts Prize--a banana cream pie in the face--to the year's most disgusting rich guy.

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Nicholas von Hoffman
Nicholas von Hoffman, a veteran newspaper, radio and TV reporter and columnist, is the author, most recently, of...

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High up on the list of contenders is Robert H. Glassman, MD. Dr. Glassman is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School and not too many years ago was making a six-figure income practicing medicine and doing cancer research. With a wife and children you might think the good doctor was leading both an exemplary and fulfilling life, but no, not so. Apparently one morning he wakes up, decides he is not making enough money and hies himself off to Wall Street, where he joins Merrill Lynch and is now really, really rich.

His job is to scope out investment opportunities in the drug business, an activity that is legal but hardly elevating and certainly not as important or necessary as the work he abandoned. On the plus side, he recently got a picture of himself and his family playing Monopoly on the front page of the New York Times. It looked like he was giving his children greedy lessons, teaching them that the ethos of medicine as lived by physicians since Hippocrates 2,500 year ago is passé.

It all boils down to "gimme the money." After his conversion to the fraternity of the Golden Calf, Dr. Glassman began to see the world through free-market eyes. He says he went to a class reunion and, "There were doctors at the reunion--very, very smart people," he told the Times. "They went to the top programs, they remained true to their ethics and really had very pure goals. And then they went to the 20th-year reunion and saw that somebody else who was 10 times less smart was making much more money." Thus it appears that the greedy guts virus is infecting others who are giving up useful occupations for the pure money play.

Making out big time on Wall Street is easier than distinguishing oneself in medicine--and the pay is much, much better. As Dr. Glassman puts it, "It has to be easier than the chance of becoming a Nobel Prize winner." The implication here is that any researcher who comes up short of that particular prize is more or less a chump for preferring to do real work rather than make shrewd investment guesses.

Who can argue? Dr. Glassman is rich, which is the only marker that counts, assuming he and his stay healthy. Wouldn't it be something if he got sick one day, called his doctor and discovered that the physician he was counting on had taken him as a role model and moved to Citibank?

Did Harvard fail with this man? He was in attendance there for years; the university graduated him twice. Considering the human effort, the time and, yes, the money that went into educating Dr. Glassman and what he did with that education, he turned out to be a rather poor investment if the school were grooming altruists.

Dr. Glassman apparently does not see it that way. He holds up Warren Buffett and Bill Gates as men who have done inestimable good. "They are going to make much greater contributions by having made money and giving it away than most, almost all, scientists," the doctor declares. As obtuse self-justification goes, this one is a whopper.

The doctor does not have a clear field for copping the Gold Greedy Guts. He has competitors. When it comes to oinking, few can keep up with Barry Diller, chairman and chief executive of IAC/Interactive and the travel site Expedia. Last year Mr. D's total compensation came to $470 million, or almost a half a billion bucks, which works out to about one-third of IAC/Interactive's cash flow. By one calculation Diller's compensation as IAC chairman represented one-third of the companies' profits, but the way Dr. Glassman thinks, that feat puts him in the same company as Galileo or Einstein.

Regardless of what Mr. Diller did for his company--and by some lights it was not much--nobody can earn that kind of money. You can get it, snatch it, sneak it away, cop it, snag it, but you cannot earn it. No human can make a contribution sufficiently great to earn that kind of pay.

As distasteful as Mr. Diller's performance is, Dr. Glassman's is worse. By turning the ancient professions into businesses, he aids in the corruption of medicine, law, science and education.

What's amazing is that even after the Dillers and the Glassmans have done their worst, there are still thousands and thousands of doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, scientists and social workers who, struggling as they have to, continue to live up to their honored callings.

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