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What Gordon Gecko Really Said

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David Rogers Posted: Thu, May 26 2011 10:53 PM

Gordon Gecko is reputed to have said "Greed is good." What should he have said? What could he have said?

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John James replied on Thu, May 26 2011 11:22 PM

Well, if you listen to the full speech, that's not all he said...

 

 

What should he have said?  That depends on what he was trying to achieve by talking.  What could he have said?  In about the 30 seconds he had, not much.

I think just those three words are quite effective for what I think the purpose was.  He was trying to make a point.  But perhaps that point is much more easily absorbed, and much less easily distorted when stated by Milton Friedman:

 

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Also, the speech should be put into context. He was slamming the board of directors and the executives for running the company inefficiently. Properly put, Gekko's speech is about being efficient, which is driven by (partly?) greed.

To paraphrase Marc Faber: We're all doomed, but that doesn't mean that we can't make money in the process.
Rabbi Lapin: "Let's make bricks!"
Stephan Kinsella: "Say you and I both want to make a German chocolate cake."

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It's not like altruism is good for humanity, and greed is bad. Neither Hitler nor the Khmer Rouge were interested in greed, they were selfless social engineers. Yet the people who produced every consumer good that lifts your standard of living above hunter-gatherer status was motivated by 'greed'. I don't understand how people can be so caught up in the intentions=results dichtomy that they are blind to the empiric observation that greed is generally beneficial while 'selfless' action almost without exception has been destructive.

"They all look upon progressing material improvement as upon a self-acting process." - Ludwig von Mises
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John Ess replied on Fri, May 27 2011 10:21 AM

The film is meant to be anti-capitalist and a caricature.  So he said exactly what he was supposed to.

Oliver Stone meant it that way.  He and the writers hated bankers.  But the dialogue was meant to be based, ironically, on Stone's own ranting.

They spent three weeks 'researching' and figured that the industry is too boring.

http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/05/entertainment/ca-wallstreet5/2

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z1235 replied on Fri, May 27 2011 10:48 AM

Define "greed". By my definition, greed is nothing but the desire to improve one's own situation, and as such it is the driver of all human action, including scratching your own itchy nose. The implication that greed (hence, human action, and especially its sub-class of free market exchanges) is inherently aggressive and/or destructive stems from the fallacy that values are objective, hence all exchanges are inherently exploitative. The destructive/aggressive ("greedy") exploiter is coercing (or cheating) the exploited into an exchange whereby all the former's profits must come from the latter's losses. 

However, values are subjective, and all voluntary exchanges are mutually beneficial, by definition. As such, they are the fundamental quants of wealth/prosperity creation. Both ("greedy") sides in the exchange are, in fact, richer after the exchange than they were before it, as revealed by their voluntary participation in the exchange (action). 

To answer your question, he shouldn't have said anything else/more. As explained above, greed is not only good, but it is a defining feature of life (action) and an antithesis to death. 

 

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Sorry guys. I seem to have goofed. I saw two boxes. I figured the top box was for a tag line of some sort and the bottom box was for the actual post. When I used the Preview tab, it showed my whole post. Now I can't even find what I wrote there. Any suggestions on how to retrieve things written in the bottom box?

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I think the libertarian's tendency to define greed too broadly or spin it as a primarily positive virtue is a mistake.  I mean, by Z's own definition, if you believe giving to charity will improve your situation then giving to charity is an act of greed.  Redefining everything as greed certainly supports any arguments that greed is good, but it also makes for really frustrating discourse.

Maybe the point when self-interest becomes greed can't be easily determined, but people have general notions that serve well enough.  The father who works all day and all night at 2 jobs to put food on the table isn't greedy.  The father who works all day and all night to move ahead in the firm might be greedy.

they said we would have an unfair fun advantage

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z1235 replied on Fri, May 27 2011 11:49 AM

mikachusetts:

The father who works all day and all night at 2 jobs to put food on the table isn't greedy.  The father who works all day and all night to move ahead in the firm might be greedy.

By what (hopefully consistent) standard?

If I had to narrow down the definition of greed, to mean something negative, I'd probably try to define it as aggressive action. As I explained before, if one views the world as comprised of objective values (as most leftists do), all exchanges are inherently exploitative, hence aggressive and "greedy" for the "exploiting" side. In a world of subjective values, "greed" can not be associated with voluntary (hence non-aggressive) action (exchanges).

By the constrained definition (greed is aggressive action), neither of the fathers in your examples is greedy as neither is aggressing against anyone with his voluntary actions. By the wider definition (greed is simply all action), they both are greedy but so are you when you choose to scratch your nose as opposed to not moving your finger. 

 

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Here's a reconstruction of the text I meant to post:
 
Gordon Gecko never said "Greed is good." Not as it's commonly taken. I know. I saw the movie. The "greed" portion of his speech was prefaced by the words: "Greed - for lack of a better word - is good." Everything he said about greed was said in the context of that initial statement. And that statement itself had a context: his speech railing against the managers of the corporation, who had feathered their nests with high salaries and benefits and perks at the expense of the corporation and the stockholders; or in other words, their greed. Gecko wasn't talking about greed - the vice, he was talking about "Greed - for lack of a better word..."
 
Greed is a vice that leads to things like theft. An envious man will insist that his win is another's loss; and that his benefit comes at the expense of another. But a greedy man doesn't care how he profits, as long as he does. He's not necessarily set against his fellow men, he's simply indifferent to them and theirs. He might even be indifferent to himself. He places gain above all other considerations.
 
Greed is a vice; and like any vice, it is the corruption of a positive good. So, what's the word for that positive good? If Gecko was talking about "Greed - for lack of a better word", what is that better word? Is there no English word that expresses the desire for rational and just gain? Is there no concept in our civilization that provides a positive context for profit?
 
And take note: I'm not talking about some philosophy. I don't want an "-ism" like "egoism." I'm looking for a word to describe the proper desire for gain. If a man desires to profit to the satisfaction of his customers, and seeks to do so without sinning, what's the word for that?
 
Is there no word to describe the desire for any kind of gain other than "greed"? If not, can it be a wonder that Socialism and its siblings are so popular?
 
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z1235 replied on Fri, May 27 2011 11:59 AM

David Rogers:

 I'm looking for a word to describe the proper desire for gain.

Human action.

If a man desires to profit to the satisfaction of his customers, and seeks to do so without sinning, what's the word for that?

Non-aggressive human action (as a sub-set of all human action).

 

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See what I mean. It's odd that there's no word for non-aggresive human action.

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z1235 replied on Fri, May 27 2011 12:49 PM

David Rogers:

See what I mean. It's odd that there's no word for non-aggresive human action.

Capitalism.

Market.

Exchange.

Trade.

 

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z1235:
By what (hopefully consistent) standard?

You aren't going to get a consistent standard with which to measure greed without bordering on the absurd.  I think both of your example illustrate that; where things that most people would consider greed is shown not to be, and vice versa.

Also, so long as we aren't trying to pass scientific laws or rule regarding the concept, it doesn't really matter if greed has ill-defined boundaries.  Its more important to show that by any normal conception of "greed," it is just another aspect of humanity which cannot be stamped out and is A) generally kept in check by social conventions and B) is made most productive (or least destructive) in a market economy. 

they said we would have an unfair fun advantage

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z1235 replied on Fri, May 27 2011 3:27 PM

mikachusetts:

Its more important to show that by any normal conception of "greed," it is just another aspect of humanity which cannot be stamped out and is A) generally kept in check by social conventions and B) is made most productive (or least destructive) in a market economy. 

Why would you want to stamp out any class of non-aggressive human action? What is your definition of "greed" and how does it intersect with the sub-set of aggressive human action, if at all? In other words, how is my decision to own a differently colored Ferrari for each day of the week aggressing on anyone, and to the extent that it does get perceived as "greedy" by some (say, Bangladeshi) conventions, why do you prefer that it gets stamped out? 

I say that humanity would be much better off if the view (that any non-aggressive action may be "greedy") was stamped out through education and enlightment, and not the "greedy" action itself. This, ultimately, is the meaning of Gekko's "Greed is good", despite the misguided intentions of his character's socialist creators. This was also the meaning I tried to convey in my first post in this thread.

 

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z1235:
Why would you want to stamp out any class of non-aggressive human action? What is your definition of "greed" and how does it intersect with the sub-set of aggressive human action, if at all? In other words, how is my decision to own a differently colored Ferrari for each day of the week aggressing on anyone, and to the extent that it does get perceived as "greedy" by some (say, Bangladeshi) conventions, why do you prefer that it gets stamped out?

I have no idea what you think I was saying, but I wasn't advocating that greed be stamped out.  I said it can't be, and that was in reference to the general notion that greed is the root cause of everyone economic woe.

I define greed as an excessive desire for wealth, status, or power.  Wikipedia defines it that way actually, and I think its disingenuous to make up new libertarian definitions for every word.  I'm not attacking you here specifically as its pretty common in the community to make everything about the NAP when it really doesn't need to be.  Anyway greed is bad because enough people deem it to be so, just like certain smells are bad because people deem them to be so.  If someone likes the smell of garbage, they might say it smells good, but obviously they would run into problems describing garbage to people as "that really good rotten smell."  Furthermore, a bad smell, even if it has other positive qualities is still a bad smell.  If it were to repel mosquitoes, or heal wounds, the smell would still be bad.

  I say that humanity would be much better off if the view (that any non-aggressive action may be "greedy") was stamped out through education and enlightment, and not the "greedy" action itself. This, ultimately, is the meaning of Gekko's "Greed is good", despite the misguided intentions of his character's socialist creators. This was also the meaning I tried to convey in my first post in this thread.

I roughly agree, and I didn't mean to pick a fight with you.  I just think that rather than make all greed mean always good, it makes more sense to show why any particular greedy act has largely positive results. 

they said we would have an unfair fun advantage

"enough about human rights. what about whale rights?" -moondog
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z1235 replied on Fri, May 27 2011 7:59 PM

mikachusetts:
I define greed as an excessive desire for wealth, status, or power.

Meaningless. How much desire for wealth, status, or power is just enough but not excessive? And why stop with wealth, status, or power? 

Is a beautiful woman greedy for putting on make-up? (Isn't she beautiful enough already?, asks the ugly person)

Is a smart woman greedy for going to graduate school? (Isn't she smart enough already?, asks the stupid  person)

Is a seeing man greedy for using binoculars? (Can't he see well enough already?, asks the blind person)

Is a couple with three children greedy for trying to have a fourth one? (Aren't three children enough already?, asks the infertile person)

I roughly agree, and I didn't mean to pick a fight with you.  I just think that rather than make all greed mean always good, it makes more sense to show why any particular greedy act has largely positive results. 

I didn't think we were fighting. I think it makes more sense to show that every non-aggressive voluntary act (whether or not considered "greedy" by anyone uninvolved) is good, by definition, as it wouldn't have occurred otherwise. 

 

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gotlucky replied on Fri, May 27 2011 8:41 PM

@z1235

I happen to agree with you that greed as a word is basically useless, but it does have meaning.  Mika's definition is correct, and Milton Friedman also makes the point that "greed" is essentially meaningless, as it's always someone else who is greedy, never ourselves.  I think that really is the meaning of the word, that it's always the other person.

The problem with trying to make the word "greed" fit the NAP is that it did not arise with that concept in mind.  Greed isn't an accurate word, and I think it was never meant to be.  It's just a way for people to bitch about others without feeling bad about themselves.

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z1235 replied on Fri, May 27 2011 8:58 PM

gotlucky:

Greed isn't an accurate word, and I think it was never meant to be.  It's just a way for people to bitch about others without feeling bad about themselves.

The problem is not the mob's bitching but their misguided usage of "greed" as justification for initiating aggression against the "greedy", as if "excessive" desire to improve one's situation was the humanity's plague.

 

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