What Gordon Gekko Got Right About Greed

(Photo by Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)

Source: Jessica Hromas/Getty Images

The word “greed” is usually synonymous with bad in American culture. It’s bad to hoard, it’s bad to steal, and it’s bad to covet what someone else has, at least in theory. Yet, while the idea of wanting too much is certainly a bad thing, greed itself can sometimes be good. Wanting to do better, and wanting more, can actually be good, if the desire to achieve or obtain something includes making someone or a particular situation better.

Motivated people certainly help society, and in America, where people are often rewarded for working harder and longer, greed itself isn’t necessarily bad. Michael Douglas (as Gordon Gekko) famously said in Wall Street: “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.”

The evolutionary spirit is certainly alive in America. Workers are often pushed to work harder, to accomplish more, and to put in more hours. Although outrageous work hours can be exhausting and dangerous, the drive to succeed and the ability to motivate oneself and one’s team are not. Part of success in America often means doing better than someone else, and if we didn’t have people who were greedy for money or advancement, there would be no one to compete with. Greed increases our productivity and our drive to learn more and do more.

If one person, or a few people, controlled all the money or food in the world, crisis would ensue. Currently, the one percent richest people in the world have sixty-five times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population. This affects some people and some countries more than others; in America, even the poorest people have more than the richest in many other countries. Ideally, the wealth would be distributed differently. Yet, people who have less money continue to spend in addition to the rich, and this boosts the economy. So while it isn’t great for so few people to have so much money, at least in America, the fact that many people have enough or more than they need, does help our economy.