Ken Connor

"Greed is good."

Thus declared Gordon Gekko in his speech to the stockholders of Teldar Paper in the 1987 blockbuster movie Wall Street. Gekko, a Wall Street raider played by Michael Douglas, assailed the company's management for underperforming for its shareholders. He offered a better way:

"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."

Greed in the Marketplace

Have Gekko's ideas taken root in the American marketplace? Some would argue they have. There is much to suggest that the organizing mechanism of the marketplace is "the evolutionary spirit" of which Gekko spoke. A few names come to mind: Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Lay, Ebbers, and Koslowski. Many others could be added to the list.

Old fashioned virtues are out. Economic Darwinism is in. It's all about "the survival of the fittest" and "let the buyer beware." Greed is good. He who dies with the most toys wins. Six thousand dollar shower curtains, fancy Persian rugs, golden parachutes—those are the signs of success in Corporate America. Self denial, integrity, hard work—that's for suckers. Grab all the gusto you can get. Carpe diem! The smart guys are cutting deals on their laptops and cell phones while lounging at the pool. Value is in the eye of the beholder. Let's not get hung up on who gets hurt. Casualties are a part of life. Business is not beanbag. Stuff happens!

These attitudes don't just circulate in executive penthouses anymore. They have "trickled down" to the ground level. They can be found in all the strata of the market place. The current housing debacle provides a good example.

Greed and the Housing Debacle

Eager to cash in on quick profits to be made in the housing market, many couples bought more house than they could afford. The market was booming; the price of housing was escalating; profits seemed quick and easy. The goal wasn't to establish a permanent residence. The goal was to "flip that house." They were speculating, plain and simple. From Wall Street to Main Street, "flipping" was becoming a way of life—real estate, stocks, commodities, you name it. The economy was booming. Prices kept going up and up. Only a fool would miss out on the ride.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.