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.

Despite the fact that many people are greedy because they want to have more than they need, and to keep it for themselves, some people are greedy on behalf of someone else. People who have a lot of money, but donate large percentages to charity, make a big difference in the world. Others who are greedy in the sense that they want to hoard something or have more of something, but they want to do it in order to help others, also display effective greed.

If we didn’t have people who yearned for knowledge, we would not have the many medical advances, and important inventions, that make daily life easier. The line between a thirst for knowledge or acclaim, and the greed for it, is very thin. It hardly matters how much acclaim one person gets, if they invent a cure for a disease that is plaguing the world. If we didn’t have greed, we would not have incredible athletes that we enjoy watching in person and on television: Much of America’s (and the world’s) entertainment is based on people doing their very best. What one person would consider greedy (a person who wants to get an Olympic medal, for example), another person might consider simply ambitious.

Greed doesn’t have to equal selfishness, and it would be difficult to live in a capitalist society if we didn’t have some greed. If channeled properly, greed has the power to not only move us forward as an effective and motivated society, but it also has the power to help other people, if we help people who need it instead of hoarding our money.

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