In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) is a wealthy, unscrupulous corporate raider. Gekko is driven by greed, and he is not ashamed to admit this. In one scene, Gekko delivers a speech that has become famous:
Greed, for the lack of a better word, is good. 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.
This speech isn’t altogether unrealistic; some (many?) people think that Gordon Gekko was onto something. For example, during a commencement speech in 1986, stock trader Ivan Boesky said something similar: “Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” This comment was greeted with laughter and applause — at the University of California, Berkeley, no less!
Adam Smith — the 18th-century Scottish philosopher who is widely viewed as the father of capitalism — is often cited to justify the “greed is good” philosophy. For example, here is an article in The Economist characterizing Adam Smith as a proponent of greed: