It’s Official: Greed is now legal

general 9 Comments

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?

No-one.

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).

Curious.

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.

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9 Responses to “It’s Official: Greed is now legal”

  1. Brad Shorr Says:
    October 6th, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Andrew, Oliver Stone is a cheap shot artist who panders to the public mood by taking on easy targets, and there’s no easier target than Wall Street these days. Unfortunately, Stone is also a brilliant filmmaker and story teller, so his films, besides being entertaining, take on a quality of higher truth. And what is the result of this? The public transfers its trust from the business sector to government, an institution as responsible or more responsible for the financial meltdown. Anti-business bias is making the situation worse, not better.

  2. Andrew Heaton Says:
    October 7th, 2010 at 7:15 am

    Brad,

    It is amazing how many times entrepreneurs or corporate high-fliers are portrayed as the bad guy in the modern cinematic experience. But then again, so too on occasions are those in government.

    I guess there is a natural suspicion any film characters who hold a high profile position, and portraying them in some form of immoral way often makes for an entertaining story.

    To some extent, it is up to the general public to separate fiction from real life. In real life, my own perception is that the vast majority of successful businesspeople and entrepreneurs conduct themselves with a high degree of decency and integrity – that’s certainly true of the ones who I myself know or am aware of.
    Andrew Heaton recently posted..It’s Official- Greed is now legalMy ComLuv Profile

  3. Brad Shorr Says:
    October 12th, 2010 at 6:18 am

    Hi Andrew, True enough: we have a responsibility to evaluate films and not take them at face value. And to be fair, big government has also been the cinematic victim of some pretty reckless story telling. I suppose this will never go away. Conspiracies make for great entertainment and are a source of endless public fascination.

  4. Karen Swim Says:
    October 12th, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Hi Andrew, I have not seen the new Wall Street film but your analysis certainly grabbed my attention. The film captures it seems the current financial environment and the fragile boundaries between legality and ethics. All the more fascinating as the film had to be written before many of the recent events and their consequences came to light.
    Karen Swim recently posted..Secrets of a Solo Business OwnerMy ComLuv Profile

  5. Andrew Heaton Says:
    October 12th, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Karen,

    The film does tap into many of the issues associated with the GFC, and this was obviously intentional. Indeed, if I remember correctly, at the time the film was announced, the American banking system was in the process of being rescued and many of the events associated with the GFC had only recently unfolded.

    Indeed, from my understanding, the onset of the GFC was a significant factor in Stone’s decision to actually make the film.
    Andrew Heaton recently posted..It’s Official- Greed is now legalMy ComLuv Profile

  6. Fred H Schlegel Says:
    November 4th, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Hollywood’s always been able to turn emotions upside down. Make you feel sympathy for the scoundrel, dislike the good guy, cheer a horrific act without thinking… Its good practice to take apart both the story you just saw as well as your reactions to it so that you can learn from the experience. Nice analysis.
    Fred H Schlegel recently posted..Sustaining Wealth Creation- Economic Recessions and HousingMy ComLuv Profile

  7. Andrew Heaton Says:
    November 5th, 2010 at 6:58 am

    Thanks Fred.
    Andrew Heaton recently posted..It’s Official- Greed is now legalMy ComLuv Profile

  8. Mark Brown Says:
    November 6th, 2010 at 6:29 am

    Andrew,
    I enjoyed your take on these two films. I have not seen the new one yet. Many would say that what Gordon did wrong was he got caught. For most the greed is self consuming and in the end you get “caught” in one way or another. We are each responsible for the financial collapse, we each contribute to the reality in which we live.

  9. drew Says:
    November 19th, 2010 at 5:34 am

    Hi Mark,

    Sorry for the delay in your comment appearing and my subsequent delayed response – your comment was waiting in the ‘moderation’ queue and I only just noticed it.

    I agree. Whilst many individuals behave responsibly, collectively, the GFC was a result of irresponsible behavior.

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