Was Gordon Gekko right?

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good!”


If you haven’t seen Oliver Stone’s incendiary 1987 film Wall Street you really must; even if just for Daryl Hannah’s character’s interior design work. It is genuinely a great watch, and features quality performances from Martin and, a pre “winning” disaster area, Charlie Sheen. It is, however, the performance of Michael Douglas as corporate raider Gordon Gekko that makes this film a classic. When addressing a room of investors, in the midst of a hostile takeover attempt, he delivers the infamous lines:


“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good! Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of evolutionary spirit.”


Wow! The words seem so repellent on first reading, but are they wrong? Most of us have been taught since childhood that greed is not good. That greed is the “inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than you need”. Conceptually, greed rails against the better angels of our nature. Gekko continues in his speech:

“Greed in all forms. Greed for life, for money,  for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge in mankind”


This qualification of “greed”, it’s hard to deny, shines a light on our willingness to greedily pursue our own desires, beyond those that are purely financial. But whatever peccadillos you and I may possess when it comes to greed, based on the revelations of the Royal Banking Commission this past fortnight, we are but minnows in a vast ocean of greed.


I found a review of Wall Street written by the late great Roger Ebert, on December 11, 1987. The review’s final paragraph reads:


“(Oliver)Stone’s target is the value system that places profits and wealth and the Deal above any other consideration. His film is an attack on an atmosphere of financial competitiveness so ferocious that ethics are simply irrelevant, and the laws are sort of like the referee in pro wrestling – part of the show.”


Thirty years later this remains the climate in which we interact with financial institutions. What does it say about us that basically the same “value system” exists unchanged? Are we complicit? We demand that our financial systems be competitive. We expect them to thrive. To provide us loans for acquisitions, and returns on our investments. Are the unconscionable and illegal activities of those currently in front of the Royal Commission, simply a by-product of the performance we demand?


Personally, I think not. But, I’d love to hear your insights.

Have a great weekend ahead,


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Was Gordon Gekko right?