“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” – Gordon Gecko, Wall Street
That wasn’t what the movie was championing, but it is probably the most quoted line. Dealing with the modern world can take a bit of looking past the memes or common catchphrases to remember the intent while contrasting that with the result. Movies and games reminded me of that.
If movies and games are the reminder, then the concept is part of the culture. Culture is something to consider when planning for finances.
Watch the movie. I haven’t in a while. But, reading some of the quotes from this 32 year old movie sounds like today.
“Gordon Gekko: 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. And you’re a part of it.“
This sounds like something out of a Bernie Sanders presentation. Not much has changed, except inequality has grown considerably since then.
The movie that started this contemplation was the too subtly contemplative Rollerball. The movie was supposed to be a warning about freedom versus security in a world run by corporations. The hero prevails after a violent ordeal; but the impression left on the movie industry was that of the violent ordeal, not the struggle against injustice. That’s why 27 years later the movie industry remade the movie emphasizing the violence, not the message.
People remember “Greed is good” and action, and forget the intent.
Monopoly is one of the world’s most popular games. Monopolize the market. Drive your opponents (friends away from the board) into bankruptcy. Own it all while everyone else owns nothing. The original intent of the game was to point out;
“It was intended as an educational tool to illustrate the negative aspects of concentrating land in private monopolies.” – wikipedia
I doubt it sells so well because it teaches the lesson so fully.
It’s like Star Wars, where the hero isn’t celebrated as much as the villain. Darth Vader is mentioned far more often than Luke Skywalker. Besides, Luke’s costume isn’t as popular and distinctive as Darth’s.
But Superman was all about Truth, Justice, and the American Way! Well, to paraphrase Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride; “You keep using those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.” (Pardon that I had to change the plurality of those words.)
Take your pick of political approval ratings, climate deniers, flat-earthers, and entrenched anachronisms. Things that are obvious to many aren’t obvious to everybody. Welcome to a recipe for dysfunctional attitudes and governance.
When I wrote Dream. Invest. Live., I tried to be clear about my assumptions. Basically, accept the system as imperfect but trust the regulatory organizations and justice in general to eventually return to some normal norm. Now, under-funded and under-supported SEC, FTC, and other governmental agencies require more due diligence from individual investors and people planning their personal finances.
Whether Superman would approve or not, we’re witnessing the reality of a diverse populace and the injustices inherent in the system. To ignore that reality is to plan for an unreal world. Advocate for the change you want to see, or at least vote. But when it comes to the rather objective and data-driven world of finance, it makes sense to acknowledge the existing risks.
Regardless of the details, the conventional wisdom continues to dominate on a personal level.
Spend less than you make. Invest the rest.
That’s true for an idealized world or a pragmatist’s perspective. Warnings about inequities have been pronounced for decades, yet misconstrued for just as long. For some people, truth, justice, and the American way include thinking greed is good, monopolies are a winning strategy, and strong villains are worth remembering more than heroes.
Do what you can, where you are, with what you have – and work to make a better future. Deal with today. Plan for tomorrow. And realize that a lot can happen between now and then.