As T-shirts and baseball caps declaring ‘capitalism promotes greed’ proliferate, so do arguments defending capitalism on the basis of its appeal to greed. Against this background, Peter Heslam seeks to provide some perspective informed by scripture, history and Transforming Business’ research.
New York is famous for many things. Above all it is renowned for being, over many generations, a beacon of virtue. It has offered hope and freedom to disadvantaged people from all over the world. That association is still very real and is part of what makes it a great city. But in recent decades New York has also been associated, along with other financial centres such as London, with vice – principally with greed. This is largely due to a media fixation on wealth. It is generally easier to identify greed in terms of money than with other things human beings grasp after, such as a successful career, public recognition, or academic esteem.
One such media portrayal contains these words: ‘Greed…is good. Greed is right. Greed works.’ The speaker is Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, in the 1987 film Wall Street. In his portrayal of Gekko as a wealthy but ruthless corporate raider, producer Oliver Stone hoped his film would serve as a warning against the greed and excess of the 1980s.
Ironically, however, it had the opposite effect, perhaps because of Douglas’ brilliant portrayal of Gekko’s oozing machismo, charm and wit. Ambitious young workers began taking Gekko as an inspirational role model for a career in financial markets. A steady stream of them have approached Douglas to let him know that their decision to enter that world was triggered by his role in this film…