Ever since last year’s announcement of the sequel to the all time great Wall Street movie, one key question has burned in the minds of those who drew inspiration from the legendary Gordon Gekko:
Is greed still good?
On September 23, when the new film, Wall Street 2 – Money Never Sleeps was released, the answer was revealed.
Greed, it appears, is no longer good. But now, Gekko observes, it seems to be legal.
Gekko’s new view on greed
It’s been more than two decades since Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) make the famous declaration in the original Wall Street movie that, ‘Greed, for lack of a better word, is good’.
Fast forward to 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis. Gekko, released six years earlier after serving eight years for securities fraud, appears to have re-evaluated his world view. He now has a book, ‘Is Greed Good?’, and whilst he does not provide an explicit answer to that question, he does make clear his disdain for the herd mentality by which some of the practices leading up to the GFC had been followed.
‘Is everybody out there nuts?’, he exclaims during an address in a lecture theatre, an address which inspires Jacob ‘Jake’ Moore (Shia Lebouf) – an up and comer at troubled investment bank Keller Zabel Investments who is set to marry Gekko’s estranged daughter.
Gekko also wryly observes that, in contrast to the type of activity which landed him in prison, few of the practices that led up to the GFC were actually in breach of the law.
‘Someone reminded me, I once said ‘Greed is good’, he says. ‘Now it seems it’s legal.’
Gekko, declared the Weekend Australian Review on 11 September, is a ‘changed man’.
Or is he? Is he simply up to some of his old tricks again?
The new film, in my view, is nowhere near as good as the original. But it is still worth seeing – those involving Michael Douglas usually are.
Some issues surrounding the film
Here’s my take on a couple of issues surrounding the film.
• Corporate criminals are quickly forgotten.
The first scene shows Gekko walking out of the prison gates after being released from prison in 2002.
Who should be waiting for him?
In his hey-day, financial market participants would watch his every move. Up and coming brokers like Bud Fox (Charlie Sheehan) virtually idolised him.
Now, no-one cared. Disgraced and estranged from his family, his release did not register with anybody. Whilst fellow former inmates were picked up – one in a limo that Gekko assumed for a second was his – nobody came for him. He was alone.
I am not saying that this is necessarily right. For anyone to experience this would be awful, no matter what they have done.
But there is a clear lesson. Those who engage in dishonest activity in the pursuit of wealth are soon forgotten.
• Gekko is no role model.
After the release of the original Wall Street film, Douglas apparently found himself being approached in restaurants and on the street by finance industry executives, who told him it was Gekko who inspired them to get into the industry (Weekend Australian Review – Sep 11-12).
To be sure, there is nothing wrong with the finance industry. It is a good profession which offers excellent prospects for a rewarding career.
But drawing inspiration from someone who ends up disgraced and in jail is unusual, no matter how much of a legendary character they might have been.
Gekko is great for entertainment, but those who wish to succeed in the finance profession would be well served looking elsewhere for a role-model.
• Those who over-borrow are asking for trouble.
One aspect I liked about the film was the lack of sympathy given to Moore’s mother (played by Susan Sarandon), who borrows to finance property with little regard for her debt related responsibilities.
Individual borrowers did not cause the GFC – irresponsible banking practices did. Nevertheless, at an individual level, each and every one of us is responsible for what we ourselves choose to borrow. Those who over-commit themselves are not acting responsibly and have no-one but themselves to blame when they get into trouble.