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Hey Gordon Gekko: Was Greed EVER Good? Daily Quote

Greed is good. This is a cultural axiom which you are neither allowed to dispute or directly flaunt, but it is nonetheless taken as a given. The assumption is embedded (totally unscientifically) in most Economics 101 classes you might encounter at American universities. Paul Krugman has something to say about the matter as well.

The claim, the deeply underlying view, that greed is good, hasn't really changed at all since the 1980's, even with the Fall of 2008 and the last two years proving it utterly inaccurate. So I'm sort of not that interested - although the premise of revisiting an 80's classic is quite intriguing - in seeing the new Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps movie this week. The outcome of personal greed, both psychologically and societally, is about as predictable as most Hollywood scripts. My skeptical guess is that in the end, on the big screen, nothing much will have changed.

 

 

Greed can only really lead us to one of two places. If we looked and the traditional Buddhist metaphors for states of mind, the successful outcome of greed leads to a state of instant defensiveness and paranoia that someone will come and steal what we have achieved or acquired. The successfully greedy mind is tormented by the possibility that the next time won't be so successful. Your success actually makes you ever increasingly nervous rather than comfortable. This is known as the Jealous God realm, the dwelling place of the Gordon Gekkos of past, present, and future.

The other option is that consumptive greed doesn't lead to the objects or status we were obsessing over. In this case, greed intensifies into a sense of inadequacy, lack, and low self-esteem. The world is seen as a place where there is never enough, where you can never find what you need to be ok. This is known as the Hungry Ghost realm, the Buddhist version of the desert of the real. Scarcity and poverty mentality abound.

Here's one thing the Buddha had to say about greed. This quote makes me wonder how we ever fooled ourself into thinking that there was any time or place when Greed was good.

Daily Quote:

On life's journey
Trust is nourishment,
Wholesome deeds are a shelter,
Wisdom is the light by day and
Right mindfulness is the protection by night.
If a man lives a pure life nothing can destroy him;
If he has conquered greed nothing can limit his freedom.

-Siddhartha Gautama

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Comments

Wall Street is about Greed Being Bad

The film Wall Street is a morality play about how greed for the quick buck leads to personal ruin. The "greed is good" speech is just a scene in a film about how bad greed really is, and is delivered by a character who is basically morally bankrupt - he's the sympathetic villain, not the hero, and the more sensible characters in the film speak more "Buddhastically" about compassion, attention, and care.

 More of the film is devoted to eviscerating the greedy characters than celebrating them.  

Just wanted to clear that up - it's a really powerful film about how the greedy excesses of the 1980's chewed up companies, families, businesses, bank accounts, and ethics. 

Well, Anonymous, I understand

Well, Anonymous, I understand your general point that laypeople do need to provide for themselves and have the financial means to buy pleasurable things, but I think it's a question of semantics.

I'm not sure that the Buddha would automatically call earning a living greedy.I don't have the quotes with me, but I was listening to a talk the other day on 5 characteristics of lay life, and the Buddha included sense pleasures. It's expected for lay people to make a living and even to enjoy that, as long as that is held within wise view, wise intention, and sila.

So it seems to me that the Buddha distinguishes between the necessities (and even some of the perks) of lay living, and what he calls "greed." And after all, we know how Gordon Gekko means the word greed. He means it in the Citizen Kane sense, a reckless abuse of power that comes along with megalomania (Ethan's first example). And the Buddha did not endorse that at all.

--Gaby K

A little greed, not so bad...

I think you're being a little too extreme here, Ethan. A little greed is not such a bad thing, in my opinion. I am a little greedy myself, I like to earn a good living and enjoy the abundance of "creature comforts" available to me for now.

I think a moderate amount of greed keeps us thinking a little about the future and helps us to avoid some sticky situations, like being broke, unable to pay for your own life's sustenance, let alone anyone else's. Outside of the context of our modern world, the idea of all greed being bad would seem absurd... when your life is on the line, it is indeed reassuring to know you've gathered enough food, water and necessities to be ahead of the game for awhile.

Some degree of greed is required by life is what I'm saying. And, yes, some people have a lot more greed than others but not all of what they do is "bad", though they themselves might suffer most from their own out of control desires.

You quote the Buddha to support your view that greed (ANY greed, I am assuming) is "bad" (if it ain't good...). The quote says, "conquering greed", not eliminating it. There's a big difference.

We can conquer our sexual desires but we wouldn't want to extinguish them. We can conquer our addiction to food, but we can't stop eating. We can conquer hatred, but we don't thereby find all human behavior acceptable and just allow it.

I think it's definitely a good idea to talk about curbing or conquering our greed, though. No doubt.

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