Moral Hazard: A Wall Street Review

There’s a lot of talk in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps about moral hazard. Economist Paul Krugman defines moral hazard as “any situation in which one person makes the decision about how much risk to take while someone else bears the cost if things go badly.” The sub-prime mortgage crisis was a moral hazard. The BP Gulf disaster was a moral hazard.

The problem, as the movie’s fictional character Gordon Gekko, out of prison and pushing a book, points out is that “greed is good and now it’s legal.” Despite engaging performances by beloved actor Michael Douglas as Gekko and the film’s newest members, Shia LaBeaouf and Carey Mulligan, Wall Street II comes across tired. A Saturday afternoon visit to the old folks’ home offers more inspiration and insights.

Put the blame on Director Oliver Stone. It’s long been rumored in the Vietnam Veteran community that Stone is full of himself. That explains the number of cheesy cameo appearances Stone makes. Save that cameo stuff for the comedies.

It’s not really surprising that a movie about greed would be self-indulgent, but who needs the redundancy these days?

Credit to the writers for giving Gordon Gekko some thought-provoking lines: The best memory I know is hurt. The mother of all evils is speculation. Shame on Stone, however, for tossing them out the window like cigarette butts.

The real moral hazard for a democracy controlled by capitalism is greed. The question Stone needs to be addressing, the one we all need to be addressing is can we have a free market society that isn’t predatory and gluttonous?

Gekko isn’t the only one who comes across as a cynic – Stone does as well, perhaps because of his own privileged upbringing or the insulation provided to Hollywood insiders. The admonition “Money is not the prime asset in life, time is” comes across as jarring. One suspects that Stone, like his fictional Gekko, doesn’t really believe that. But for Douglas, who is now suffering from cancer, that statement is all too true.

What’s most tragic is that Stone possess the talent to make a move that would contribute to the dialogue that this nation needs to have about greed. Remember when it was considered a sin, a vice not a virtue? Instead, what Stone has given us is a sequence of pithy sayings, most of which lack credibility. The overarching message remains get what you can while you can, no matter who you have to abuse to do it.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps could be considered a tribute to Bernie Madoff. Frankly, is there anyone who isn’t tired of seeing Stone lick the boots of a man like that? But be forewarned, Stone’s boot-licking days aren’t over. He is now preparing to make a documentary about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president.

Talk about your moral hazard.

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  • jaz

    Worship of wealth is the modern American equivalent of spirituality.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      See Eddie Long.