The movie “Wall Street” appeared in US theaters in 1987 and for many people this film typified their beliefs regarding the economy. This film follows the career of Bud Fox, a young stockbroker who becomes involved in various business dealings with Gordon Gekko, an unscrupulous businessman who buys companies in order to sell off what is profitable and then allow the company to fail.
Fox goes so far as to actually violate several Federal laws in order to assist Gekko and is finally caught by Federal agents and sent to prison, but not before turning against Gekko and gathering enough information to send Gekko to prison as well.
One of the most memorable statements made by Gordon Gekko was, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” It was his belief that greed inspired people to work harder and become more successful. For many people this attitude exemplified the stock market in the 1980s. Several well-known investment bankers went to prison during this period of time after destroying the financial lives of countless people simply because they were greedy.
The issue of greed is certainly not limited to the United States, nor was it only present in the 1980s. This same issue was addressed by the famous Russian poet Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837) in his poem, The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish. 1 which was written in 1833. The story is very simple. Once upon the time lived a poor fisherman. One day he caught a golden fish. The fish talked with him in a human voice and begged him to go free. She promised to fulfill any of his wishes. He was a kind man and simply let her go free.
After hearing the story, the fisherman's wife shouted at him and sent him back to see the magic fish - she needed a new washboard. The fish granted the wish, and a new trough magically appeared at their hut.
However, his wife continued to scream and yell at him. She wanted a new house, to be a noble lady, and then wanted to be the Tsarina. Every time she sent her old husband to the shore, the golden fish fulfilled the wishes of the wicked wife.
The woman now wanted to be Empress of the Land and the Sea, and that the golden fish should be her servant. The fisherman went to the shore, called to the fish, and when she came he explained the last wish of his wife. The gold fish disappeared without a word. The old man then went home and found his old mud hut, his poor wife, and a broken washboard.2
Based upon this story it would appear that greed, for lack of a better word, is not necessarily good. Instead of simply being happy with a new washboard, this woman actually went so far as to ask to become Empress of the Land and Sea and lost everything she had already been given.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to things to make your life easier, but the need to acquire things simply because you can or in order to make sure that you do not have fewer things than your neighbor is actually foolish. However, this is very common in the US. We need to keep buying things in order to compete with our neighbors. It is not enough to simply have a mobile phone and a computer; we need to have the latest and most updated model of both, otherwise, how can we possibly show our face in public?
When it comes to raising children, I cannot imagine that most people who openly promote greed as a virtue; however, this is the lesson they are being taught by virtue of our actions instead of what we say. Pushkin’s poem may be written in the form of a fairy tale, but the message it true for adults and children alike.
1) “The Fisherman and the Little Fish” (translated from Russian) http://www.barynya.com/tales/fish.htm [accessed 4/28/12].
2) “Fisherman and the Fish” http://www.tradestonegallery.com/index.php?content=fairytaleview&fairytaleid=6&fairytale=fifi&length=S (accessed 4/28/12)