An Essay on Greed
In American Finance and Culture
"You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself."
Sentenced to prison for insider-trading, barred from dealing in securities, and ordered to pay $100 million in penalties, November 14th 1986.
Greed has been a topic of religious, socio-economic, and moral discussion for centuries. Anthropologists have assigned it as one of the “mean genes” in human nature because without it, hunter gather societies would have never proliferated and societies would never have developed. One of the seven deadly sins; greed is the cornerstone of the other six: lust, sloth, pride, anger, gluttony and envy. According to Adam Smith, the “father of free-markets”, greed is the driving force in a free market system where competition to attain the greatest value for an asset is tested through auction. Psychologists maintain greed is driven out of fear, that it is not hording resources for the sake of having more than our share, but rather, the fearful angst of being left without enough to satisfy over-stimulated needs.
Yet, in American Culture, the preoccupation with money, and the greedy accumulation of as much of it as possible, is so pervasive that it has driven an extreme divide between the haves and the have not’s; it has created massive corporate corruption, mind boggling consumer debt and galactic proportions of national debt with escalating numbers of bankruptcies, government bailouts and overwhelming incidences of economic crime along with deceit and distrust in almost every daily economic transaction. As Gordon Gekko, the main character in Donald Stone’s movie “Wall Street,” triumphantly declared “Greed is good” and espousing about the free market system he bragged, “The richest one percent of this country owns half our country's wealth, five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation. It's bullshit. You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now you're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you buddy? It's the free market.”
Don Stone’s “Wall Street”
“Picking the Rabbit out of the hat” by unethical business executives and captains of industry has captured business headlines for the last 25 years, starting with the Hunt brothers attempting to corner the silver market to the latest fiasco in the mortgage banking industry. Greed has been, and still is, alive and well in the financial industry and in the regulatory community where bureaucracies, responsible for over-seeing them, have been bought out by graft and diminished by political sway, asleep at the switch; although Rudy Giuliani, New York’s Attorney General in the 1980’s and later, Elliot Spitzer, submarined after blowing the lid off the mortgage banking scandal, did a pretty good job.
And so the song still plays, with greed singing the loudest, as the American public sits in front of their 36 inch flat screened TVs made in China, shocked by the escapades of the commanders on Wall Street, the corruption of the bureaucrats in the swamps of Washington DC and the diminished value of their homes and 401Ks while the threat of layoffs and foreclosure looms ever closer to becoming a reality. It’s last call for the drunken binge of easy credit and soaring stock prices; the “days of wine and roses” are over and the shift from McMansion ownership to a Coleman 12X8 tents is now on the horizon for many of the prestige seeking, two-bit millionaires that flashed around in leased $80,000 Hummers and...
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Rawls, John. A theory of justice, Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1971
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Vilhjalmsson, R.,E. Sveinbjarnardottir, and G. Kristjansdottir. “Factors associated with suicide ideation in adults.” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 33.3 (Feb 1998): 97
Wall Street. Dir. Donald Stone. Perf. Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen and Daryl Hanna. 1987 Videocassette. 20th Century Fox, 1989.
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