Greed (or avarice) is an uncontrolled longing for increase in the acquisition or use of material gain (be it food, money, land, or animate/inanimate possessions); or social value, such as status, or power. Greed has been identified as undesirable throughout known human history because it creates behavior-conflict between personal and social goals.
The initial motivation for (or purpose of) greed and actions associated with it may be the promotion of personal or family survival. It may at the same time be an intent to deny or obstruct competitors from potential means (for basic survival and comfort) or future opportunities; therefore being insidious or tyrannicaland having a negative connotation. Alternately, the purpose could be defense or counteractive response to such obstructions being threatened by others. But regardless of purpose, greed intends to create an inequity of access or distribution to community wealth.
Modern economic thought frequently distinguishes greed from self-interest, even in its earliest works, and spends considerable effort distinguishing the line between the two. By the mid-19th Century - affected by the phenomenological ideas of Hegel - economic and political thinkers began to define greed inherent to the structure of society as a negative and inhibitor to the development of societies. Keynes wrote ‘The world is not so governed from above that private and social interest always coincide. It is not so managed here below that in practice they coincide’. Both views continue to pose fundamental questions in today's economic thinking.
Weber posited that the spirit of capitalism integrated a philosophy of avarice coloured with utilitarianism. Weber also says that, according to Protestant Ethic, "Wealth is thus bad ethically only in so far as it is a temptation to idleness and sinful enjoyment of life, and its acquisition is bad only when it is with the purpose of later living merrily and without care".
As a secular psychological concept, greed is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs. The degree of inordinance is related to the inability to control the reformulation of "wants" once desired "needs" are eliminated. Erich Fromm described greed as "a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction." It is typically used to criticize those who seek excessive material wealth, although it may equally be applied to the need to feel more excessively moral, social, or otherwise better than someone else.
One individual consequence of greedy activity may be an inability to sustain any of the costs or burdens associated with that which has been or is being accumulated, leading to a backfire or destruction, whether of self or more generally. Other outcomes may include a degradation of social position, or exclusion from community protections. So, the level of "inordinance" of greed pertains to the amount of vanity, malice or burden associated with it.
In addition, the resources important to humans changed. No longer was it simply food in order to get and keep the strength to procreate. Now there were other things, like land to grow food, and money to buy food, and pottery to store food, and methods such as ships and caravans and trading and military conquest to get food. Eventually, the food was not the end result desired -- the means to the end became the end itself.
The real problem arose when the population increased and the possible wealth became limited. There was only so much land and money and other resources to go around. Thus, for one person to amass a lot of wealth, rhe had to reduce what somebody else could get. This created conflict in the society between the haves and have-nots, the go-getters and the no-getters.
The purpose of a society is to reduce conflict between the members of that society. The society creates laws, religions, government, whatever will allow people to get along without fighting each other in response to their biological urges. Thus, there are laws and religious proscriptions against murder to keep people from killing each other and thus weakening the society's ability to support itself and the people in it. There are laws and religious proscriptions against infidelity to keep men from killing each other and enslaving women so men can be sure of their paternity (a biological imperative -- a male doesn't want to waste his resources and care on genes that aren't his (Daly, 1983), and men are male).
To reduce the conflict greed could create, societies, through their laws and religions, said that an extreme desire for wealth was harmful to the society since it concentrated too many resources in too few hands. Thus greed was decreed and decried as excessive and harmful, and proscribed.
The ancient proscriptions were to avoid societal conflicts. The proscriptions were also often easy to follow when people were nomadic. They had to carry everything they owned around with them, and thus there was little desire to accumulate things that would simply increase the burden. For example, the !Kung people of Africa have lived this nomadic life for centuries and have few material possessions. (Leakey, 1978)