Is Greed still good on Wall Street Gordon Gecko?

I recently commented on Don Dodge’s blog post because Don is bestowing the virtues of Greed. In response I said:

“it seems to me that greed and selfishness is at the route of the current downturn. Like fear greed also has its downsides. Too much greed becomes destructive. The Bernard Madoff is a good case in point.”

To which Don responded in agreement, saying:

“It is hard for a confirmed capitalist that believes in free enterprise to admit this…but, you are right, greed has gotten totally out of control. The sub-prime mortgage crisis, the Wall Street derivative / credit swap mess, the Madoff ponzi scheme fraud, all driven by uncontrolled greed. I have never been a fan of regulation, but these cases certainly point out why there must be regulation and oversight on certain sectors. Sad but true”

gekko-fortune1

Like many things in life greed, fear, etc left unchecked can create imbalance. The very thing that motivated us can become destructive. We have  known the perils of greed for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Yet history repeats itself.

greedsevendeadlysins
Avaritia (Greed), 1558 by Pieter van der Heyden after Pieter Bruegel the Elder. A landscape depicinting the consequences of greed.

“Scraping Avarice sees neither honor nor courtesy, shame nor divine admonition.”

Today the greedy Bankers in London and New York don’t seem to be showing much shame. The University where I studied my MBA has a very strong focus on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and business ethics. Unfortunately it seems to me many businesses often only pay lip service to CSR and some business leaders have very few ethics. Is the caricature Gorden Gecko right when he says greed is in our nature:

“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.”

I know it’s only a film but art often mimics life. The Enterprise 2.0 blogger Susan Scrupski recently said of Generation X “Our narcissism is our legacy.” I think the problem of greed maybe more fundamental than just one generation. The question is what we and our next generation do about how much greed drives the future?

My other Banking crisis related posts: 

  • Laughing at the Bankers expense
  • Christmas nightmare on Wall Street
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    4 Responses to “Is Greed still good on Wall Street Gordon Gecko?”

    1. Anna Kidd Says:

      A good point , but what is the opposite or indeed the solution? How do we learn to know when enough is enough? If you are rewarded for pressing the accelerator, but not the brake pedal and you have no experience of how fast is too fast you only stop when you crash. Most of us learn this when we are young and the distance from the bike seat to the ground is short. Most governments (I hesitate to say all) have speed limits for cars as they don’t wish us to take acceleration to its conclusion, far too much mess to clean up. Ok I hear you cry where is she going with this – is the current situation caused by greed and the promoting of greed through rewards, or because people didn’t have the experience to know they were going too far or too fast? what is the average age of a trader anyway? What is the solution? Experiential learning or regulation? Lots to ponder I’m glad I’m not working at the FSA.

    2. Nick Barker Says:

      Hi Anna,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I believe we need more accountability in the banking sector as we have in many other parts of society. Unfortunately accountability and controls in the business sector often come ‘after the horse has bolted’. Enron being a case in point.

      I believe a new regulatory body needs to exist on a global scale because the world is now so economically interconnected. This standards authority should have real teeth and the ability to name and shame. Much of this enforcement would require international law reforms.

      Ultimately we need a strong signal and real deterrent that unethical and self-interested behaviour is unacceptable for companies as it is for individuals.

      All the best, Nick

    3. Claudia Frere Says:

      Hola Nick,
      As I look onto the horizon of what lay ahead, the road is challenging. I think there will be a realignment of values where we will need to identify within ourselves what we deem worth, or worthy. Perhaps this is an opportunity for a positive force for good, though I am an optimist by nature. I’m hoping that the solutions to the economic downturn will develop incentives for improving collaboration by business and public sector entities, that would marry innovation and efficiency. It could be a great opportunity for CSR, which could help mature practices of those companies who are doing it only for PR.
      Claudia

    4. Nick Barker Says:

      Claudia

      Great to hear from you. Economic and climate change is forcing us to reevaluate are our priorities. As you put it so well “what we deem worth or worthy”. I too am optimistic about the future and truly believe this is an opportunity. Perhaps the greatest opportunity for change before we are forced to change when its too late.

      I think this is also an opportunity for many of our global companies to embrace CSR and show they care as much for the future as short term profits. However this will require a refocus of economic values and an ethical shift change. Unfortunately many fear and resist change and so there is going to be some very unhappy people around.

      History shows that downturns create innovation by necessity and so I believe these are very exciting times.

      All the best, Nick

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