Hero of the Day - John Stossel Greed is how things get done. Michael Milken did more for the world than Mother Theresa. Civilization is built on greed! Greed is good, dammit.

There it was. National network television. Prime time. ABC's John Stossel reporting.

Wow. Of course, it's no scoop that there's a lot of acquisitiveness out there. As Stossel notes, most people don't turn down their salary raises. (Him neither.) And after two hundred plus years of formal economic science it's not even news (except maybe to the media) that the profit motive is the throttle of the economy.

But heaven forfend we be proud of our greed!

Yet "Greed," which first aired in February of 1998 on ABC, makes a case not only for profit-pursuit as virtue, but also as a virtue more important even than (gasp!) charity. It was an astonishing brief for network prime time. But just the kind of project that we had come to expect from John Stossel.

ABC must have been jittery about it. Their own ad in TV Guide pitched the show with ham-handed irony, depicting Stossel with a pig snout—clumsily insulting their own star. "Ha ha, don't take us too seriously, folks," seemed to be their not-so-subtle plea. "All we did was hire the guy."

Fortunately, the network is greedy, so they have little choice but to give the work of a quality reporter like Stossel the air time it deserves. He's got the smarts, the credentials, and the stage presence to pull it off with class; and he does.

A show like "Greed" succeeds partly because of the interview subjects. After all, with David Kelley on tap to make the case for rational self-interest, how far wrong can you go? But of course the main credit goes to Stossel, who impresses the viewer as eminently reasonable, willing to give a fair hearing to the opposition, go where the truth leads him.

That's what his career has been about. John Stossel began at ABC as a consumer reporter exposing the likes of a fifty-dollar "solar-powered clothes dryer" that turned out to be a clothes line. ("Greed" shows a humorous clip of Stossel intrepidly flourishing the clothes line.) Over the years, he came to realize that cheating is the self-defeating exception in the world of business, and his reporting started to take on a different focus.

He could have followed another path: swum with the tide regardless of what his own mind was telling him about the facts that he encountered. Go along to get along. But this guy had too much integrity for that.

Stossel's resiliently pro-free-market perspective were first exported from "20/20" to his own original network specials in the mid-90s. His first, produced in 1994 and examining the terror over common chemicals and other overblown risks, was "Are We Scaring Ourselves To Death?" Since then Stossel has tackled victimhood, sex differences, lawyers, happiness—you name it. He covers the subjects, and the perspectives, that his brethren in the media often don't want to touch.

Programs like "Greed" don't change minds overnight. But they made people think. Millions of them.

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24 Jul 2009