Sunday, May 06, 2007

Is greed still good?

"The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed -- you mark my words -- will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA."-Gordon Gekko

I am not a big movie goer. But I do like to watch them now and then on TV, usually the classics. One of the better ones that came out of the 1980's was the movie Wall Street. It was supposed to be something of a morality play with the devil and an angel fighting over the soul of the hitherto innocent Bud Fox played by Charlie Sheen. The only problem is that in the movie the devil stole the show.

In the plot young Bud is a fresh out of business school guy, new in the big city (New York) looking to make his way in the world as a stock broker. He takes a chance and makes a cold call to one of the great financial wizards Gordon Gekko (brilliantly played by Michael Douglas). Enter the devil. The rest of the movie is about how Gekko corrupts young Bud and turns him into a soulless greedy... "Republican" for want of a better PC epithet. The counter to Gekko is Bud's conscience or angel in the form of his honest hardworking blue collar (presumably Democrat) father, played a bit weakly by Martin Sheen.

Alas most people (including me) who saw the movie seemed to fall for the suave devil. Gekko is a completely and utterly amoral character totally devoid of anything resembling a conscience. But he was a brilliant devil and a charismatic one. I can't count the number of lines from Gekko that became national catch phrases. In short he was the perfect villain. So why did so many people wind up quietly rooting for him?

I suspect that its because deep down there is a little bit of greed or avarice in all of us. That desire to live like a king and play with vast fortunes and the lives of others as though they were pieces on a chessboard. We wonder what it would be like to live in house with more rooms than the local Motel 6 and a staff of liveried servants. What it would be like to summer on the Riviera and winter in Aspen and travel between the two on a private jet. But more than that it is about the power that comes from money. Power is a fantastic addiction as almost anyone who has ever held a serious elective office can attest to.

A fascinating statistic I recall reading somewhere (I have forgotten the source) indicated that a solid majority of those who win the lottery, wind up broke. Why? How could you end up flat broke if you have just won a cool several million dollars after taxes? There are a couple of reasons. One obvious one is that many people who play the lottery are people who come from a socio-economic background where they have no concept of money or how to deal with it. And therefor they don't understand that it can disappear as quickly as it appeared. Even several millions of dollars is after all not a fortune anymore and can be squandered quickly by those who don't grasp that money is finite. Adding to this is the low regard people have for that which is not earned. This might be why inherited fortunes also seem to go rather quickly.

But I think one of the major issues with money is its power to play on and aggravate or exacerbate whatever vices you have. Money, in large amounts, permits the owner to indulge in things that would be difficult or impossible for those of us who have to work for a living. Think about some of the most common vices out there, drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, and any number of others you could add. Money can be a facilitator for almost all of them. A man who has 20 million does not need to worry about being sober in the morning to go to work. He doesn't need to worry about work at all. At least until the money runs out. And depending on your vices, they can eventually take over and destroy your life.

Oh by the way, the devil is coming back. "Money Never Sleeps"

"I create nothing. I own." - Gordon Gekko


Ben Johnson said...

Want to bet Gekko won't be portrayed as a wild-eyed left-wing billionaire, like George Soros?

God bless,

Ad Orientem said...

No bet. :-)

Christ is risen!