Gordon Gekko was Right: Greed is Good
Wall Street is a classic movie. I decided to watch it again this week because I’m mildly interested in the sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The original movie was about Gordon Gekko, a powerful Wall Street mogul with an insatiable thirst for money. I expected the movie to really resonate with me because of all the crap that’s happened in the financial world recently.
It didn’t. Instead, I found myself focusing on the infamous speech Gordon Gekko gives to Bluestar stockholders:
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.
It’s a very convincing piece of rhetoric, and it’s no wonder so many young people wound up wanting to become the next Gordon Gekko, which was the exact opposite of what director Oliver Stone was trying to accomplish with the movie.
Greed is Good
It is. Think about it: without greed you wouldn’t have any companies churning out new, exciting products. You wouldn’t have Pfizer pumping millions of dollars into researching new medicine that cures all kinds of diseases. They do it for the money—for profit—and we all get the benefit of feeling better/living longer.
For a price, of course.
There would be no Apple if it wasn’t for greed. Maybe Steve Jobs does actually have a more altruistic reason for pushing Apple as fas as its gone. Maybe it’s not about money, but he’s still greedy. He wants to be on the cutting edge of technology and design. He wants his products to be the sexiest. He wants to be in control.
That thirst to accomplish these things—it’s all one form or another of greed.
We Are All Greedy
With our time, with our money, with our freedom. Think about it these questions:
- Why do we want more money?
- Why do we want a promotion?
- Why do we want to pay as little as possible in taxes?
- Why do we want to leave work at 5pm on the dot every day (or earlier)?
- Why do we want to be our own boss?
- Why is there such a thing as “alone time?”
It’s all about greed—be it money, time, knowledge, or personal freedom. We want what we want and most of the time greed is the motivator.
Morality vs Greed
Nobody has ever gone to jail for greed. In the movie, Gekko and Bud Fox go to jail for breaking the law, not for being greedy. The key here is that greed didn’t drive them to break the law, it was their lack of morals. They were willing to break the rules in order to make more money, and that was their downfall.
But that’s not greed, that’s a lack of morals.
This is where most people get it wrong: they like rail on people like Gordon Gekko for being greedy and being “in it just for the money.” Well guess what? Without that inherent interest in the money, the world wouldn’t be where it is today.
Gekko was right on that: it has marked the upward surge of mankind.
And we should use that insatiable feeling of greed (for whatever it is you really really want) and turn it into a motivator.
Warren Buffett is Greedy
If there’s anyone in Wall Street (or just in the world of business) that is the anti-Gekko, it’s Warren Buffett. He’s known for being honest and anything he aligns himself with immediately benefits from his cachet. But guess what? Warren Buffett is greedier than most of us.
It’s why he pored over an ungodly amount of financial statements and annual reports in his life—he was looking for opportunities to make money. People like Warren Buffett don’t need any more money—but there he is still making deals left and right trying to get a proper return on his investment.
It may sound odd because we’re so used to using greed as a negative word. Instead, let’s use greed as a motivator to get us to contribute to this “upward surge of mankind.” And if that’s too much to ask for, then at least the upward surge of you.
Next time you feel guilty about spending too much time on something or trying to make more money or trying to make things better for yourself somehow—don’t. Accept the greed and use it to push you ahead and get things done.
And please don’t break the law.
This article was included in the Carnival of Financial Planning.