(First posted October 2010)
Oliver Stone’s movie Wall Street: money never sleeps is a fictionalized version of the collapse of Lehman brothers and the subsequent Wall Street bailout of 2008 and 2009. It tells a chilling and realistic tale of a tribal culture isolated from the rest of humanity. It paints a picture of selfishness, greed and parochialism among investment bankers and fund managers which is consistent with my own experiences as a CEO.
The story― into which real events, pundits and journalists are woven and put on display, mentally destitute and trivial― is built around the character of Gordon Gekko, played with Oscar potential skills by Michael Douglas. It portrays his initial state of disgrace and ostracism from the Wall Street Tribe; not because if what he did in 1987―his actions were commonplace then and the actions of a piker by current standards― but because he lost his money. There is a clear parallel in the movie between Gordon’s fate in 1987 and the fate of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Both were sacrificial lambs successfully culled out by tribal enemies.
Unlike Lehman brothers, Gordon makes a comeback as Wall Street goes through the bail-out crisis. His time as a tribal outsider, always focused on returning to the fold, enables him to take full advantage of the disaster by ruthlessly manipulating his family, his young admirers, and his enemies.
As the real tribe of Wall Street bozos pays itself another $144 billion in Christmas bonuses, forecloses on homes, sucks up to government for more bailouts and for more freedom to plunder, while simultaneously screaming―through its lackeys at FOX, CNBC and the Wall Street Journal― that Obama is anti-business, I am inclined to think that Oliver Stone pulled his punches and portrayed them too sympathetically.
The movie amply demonstrates the term moral hazard. It comes about when a few people control huge amounts of money and easily dip into those money pools for personal gain while they hedge away any personal risks. The leaders of the financial community continually operate in moral hazard because they control their organizations with the unregulated power of petty tyrants, because they’ve developed complex derivatives which farm-out huge risks to unsuspecting individuals and pension funds, and because they’ve successfully manipulated the government to bail them out with public funds when all else fails.
The movie ends on an upbeat note for the principal characters, but left me deeply saddened. A principle theme of this movie is that the clowns who administer Wall Street, their bureaucratic personal friends who administer our Federal government, like Tim Geithner, and the public as a whole haven’t learned anything from the Wall Street collapse of 2008. Therefore, we are doomed to an even greater economic collapse in the very near future. Sadly enough, I knew that before I saw the movie.