Wall Street released in 1987, was one of the 80’s movies. And when Gordon Gecko told us, “Greed is good!” the performance was so good, we believed him.
Gecko entered the zeitgeist and the phrase became enmeshed in the era’s collective unconscious.
The corporate world certainly embraced the credo with both hands; greed was good, better than good, Wall Street made greed cool.
The party continued until around 2000 with a couple of blips like Enron.
But by the late Noughties it started going off the charts, first there was Bernie Madoff.
Now, there’s Barclay’s rate fixing and HSBC’s money laundering.
And they’re both small potatoes compared to the $21 trillion hidden offshore by the uber-rich.
Before Wall Street, there was a time when Hollywood was not so obsessed with bling.
Sometimes I’ll catch that old-school Hollywood on TCM.
A Fever in the Blood, made in 1961, mixes murder and courtroom drama with a gubernatorial nomination race.
It’s no classic, just an entertaining film noir or technically neo-noir, of a type Hollywood used to turn out by the hundreds.
It stars Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Don Ameche and the gorgeous Angie Dickinson.
There’s a synopsis of the plot here for movie buffs.
Suffice it to say that the movie’s final scene has Efrem Zimbalist Jnr’s character Judge Leyland Hoffman nominated as his party’s gubernatorial candidate by popular acclaim.
It’s a dramatic moment as he is applauded through the convention hall and takes his place on the podium behind a lectern loaded with microphones.
Of course he gives an inspiring speech, but I wasn’t really listening because something caught my eye.
On the front of the lectern was a campaign slogan:
HEALTH EDUCATION PROSPERITY
I don’t think it was there to make a political statement.
It was probably thought up on the spur of the moment by an art director as a plausible generic campaign slogan.
And if movies represent or mirror the culture, then the culture this one reflects is an altogether less greedy one.
Of course that was before political debate got reduced to sound bites like, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
A phrase coined by Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville.
You might reasonably expect the Democrats at least to proclaim, “It’s healthcare stupid.” or “It’s education stupid.”
Their reticence speaks volumes and also highlights the extent to which free market capitalism has taken over the debate.
Today the sign on the lectern would read: PROSPERITY PROSPERITY PROSPERITY.
And it doesn’t add up, because HEALTH and EDUCATION are prerequisites for PROSPERITY.
At least for what might be termed a genuinely prosperous society which I’ll loosely define as one where the majority get a chance to fulfill their economic potential.
Which of course free market boosters tell us we already have, with fortunes waiting to be made by everyone with an ounce of grit and derring-do.
Well I don’t believe it.
What I believe is at some point we forgot that there’s a difference between prosperity and greed.
When billionaires are up to their necks in offshore tax evasion, do we really expect young men from the projects to spurn a Hummer ridin’ Hennessy sippin’ thug life, for a slow and steady college education, or minimum wage job at Micky D’s?
Why should they, if greed is so good?
At the risk of sounding like a neo-hippie, we need to re-think this.
We need to find a more balanced way.
Or just douse me in patchouli and lead me to the commune.