Whenever a conversation turns onto the subject of the world's problems, the favorite cause is nearly always how selfish and greedy people are today. This is merely an unthinking stock answer with which few would ever consciously disagree. Certainly, greed is a problem in the world, but to assume that it is the problem shows a lack of understanding of mankind.
Truly problematic selfishness and greed revolve around the will to hurt others for one's own gain. However, like what we might call "pure evil", it is rare among humans, who—in my understanding—are as incapable of pure evil as they are of perfect goodness. The widely publicized pirates, smugglers, and con men net relatively few "benjamins" when compared to the ocean of dollars lost to apathy and complacency.
With so many opportunities to connect, collaborate, and create, the twin sirens of apathy and complacency are the real cause of many problems. Apathy is a lack of enthusiasm or concern, and stems from the root of selfishness. However, unlike greed, which still maintains a sense of enthusiasm for personal gain, apathy lacks mobility. It then blossoms into complacency, which is a smug sense of personal accomplishment—I have enough, I'm satisfied.
It is no wonder that thinkers like Ayn Rand profess the virtues of selfishness. Compared to the shrinking prosperity caused by the lack of ambition in a populace, the mobile force of selfishness and even greed can be shown to create an upward spiral. Unfortunately, it is one based upon hostility and animosity, and is therefore plagued with cancerous relationships.
A person operating from a standpoint of selfishness tends to become frustrated by a lack of support which stems from the attitude inherent to selfishness. It is difficult to win honest support for what appears to be a selfish cause, and so these selfishly ambitious people face a choice to give up (become apathetic and complacent) or just manipulate people into going along with them (greed).
Not that I lay the blame solely on the people, but if we were neither apathetic nor complacent, there would be no motivator for the selfishly ambitious to cross the line into greed. I can't discount the existence of people who are malicious of their own accord, but most people tend toward what is easier and so resort to harming people only when no gentler opportunity presents itself. The goal is not to be greedy, the goal is to have things. In the absence of apathy, everyone would climb as high as they could, create millions of jobs, and smash all the world's problems with innovative solutions and teamwork.
The trouble is that a great many of us have been taught by school, the media, and peer culture that to be ambitious is always a sign of greed. Therefore, decent people are compelled to give up their ambitions in order to maintain their honest natures in the eyes of the world. This is a waste. Most people, if they really search their hearts, would have to admit that they have big dreams they'd like to bring to reality. These people would likely be enthusiastic about bringing a host of friends along for the ride.
If everyone could just get enthused about helping everyone else succeed, we'd all avoid greed and turn the economy around in a heart beat. But it seems a warm heart is missing.