Greed Gets a Bad Name
What can Bernard Madoff tell us about ourselves?
Circa 1987, Hollywood fictionalized greedy Wall Street bad guys like Gordon Gekko. They did this because, while we all suspected they existed, we didn't know their names or see their faces. Filmmakers had to embellish to encompass the prevailing greed and selfishness that drives the fortunes of Wall Street.
No more. Thanks to the likes of Bernard Madoff, everyone from Hollywood moguls to billionaires to philanthropists to treasurers of national economies are throwing up their hands and saying, "You can't make this stuff up."
But, mirror, mirror on the wall, Madoff isn't the baddest of them all.
We are. The face in the mirror. It's me. It's you. It's our sainted little old mothers. It's charities dedicated to world peace and the eradication of hunger in our time. Madoff couldn't have done squat without the money we so anxiously handed over.
Did he actually steal the money with which we entrusted him? A jury of his peers will decide that. Did he do a bad thing? Probably. Did he bring the current cauldron of seething economic turmoil to a boil? Did he cause an even more acrid stench to waft from the cesspool of greed?
Ask Thierry de la Villehuchet, a hedge fund adviser and investor who lost $1.5 billion investing with Madoff. His body was found in his New York office as last-minute holiday shoppers scurried on the sidewalks outside. Madoff took Villehuchet's clients' money down the rat hole to a place it won't soon be recovered.
None of this diminishes the fact that we gave Madoff the money -- freely, eagerly, practically -- and begged him to invest it as only his mystical genius could do. Why? Ask Gordon Gekko.
"Greed is good." That was Gekko's mantra. Indeed, it can be. Greed can fuel the engine of economic growth and prosperity - which will cause all the boats in the harbor to float higher on the tide. Greed can spur investment that produces new technology, chemistry and innovation that improves the quality of our lives.
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