Saturday, February 19, 2005

“The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

The Movie: Wall Street, 1987 (Stanley Weiser & Oliver Stone, screenwriters; Oliver Stone, dir.)
Who says it: Michael Douglas as investment banker/corporate pirate Gordon Gekko
The context: Gekko addresses the investors of a paper company he plans to take over.
How to use it: Ironically – please – to comment on financial activities.

Most people remember this line as just "Greed... is good." It's supposedly based on a real speech Ivan Boesky gave. I could make a compelling economic argument for the truth of this statement, but that wouldn't change the fact that the idea fills me with horror.

I'm going over to Tarren and Anna's this morning for a seminar on setting up a personal corporation. It probably makes sense for me to do this, but even listening to the explanations is going to cause me serious anxiety. 2005 needs to be the year I get over my money phobia.

I considered using another of Gekko's lines from this movie: "I create nothing. I own," because I was part of an exchange yesterday with a woman who collects books for their potential financial value. The Mystery Bookstore survives, at least in part, on its trade in rare and collectible volumes -- but I've never been comfortable with the idea of collecting for financial gain.

This is a little hypocritical, I admit, because I have a decent collection of first editions -- but these are books I bought because I liked reading them, not because I think they'll be valuable. When they're signed, they're generally signed to me, as a memento of a place and time -- and inscriptions make them worthless to the serious collector, unless I ever get famous in my own right.

What bothers me most about the secondary market in signed books -- or signed anything -- is that it's pure speculation, just like the Beanie Baby craze of ten years ago. The sellers add no value, but trade on the popularity of writers who may not derive any benefit (I'm thinking specifically of the spike in "value" after an author or a celebrity dies).

The great Cal Ripken has his own solution to this issue: he signs everything. There is no secondary market in Cal Ripken's signatures, because they're not scarce; he's signed thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of baseballs, bats, gloves, photographs, programs, anything a fan asks him to sign (okay, not personal checks). It's an extraordinary level of generosity to his fans, but it also short-circuits any parasite economy that might exploit his fans or him.

Man, I miss Cal Ripken... but that's another post for another day.


Anonymous said...

Anyone who collects for future gain is not a collector. I have a closet full of gold and silver coins which drives your mother crazy. But I won't starve to keep them. As an aside, Scrooge McDuck always was my favorite cartoon character.

Anonymous said...

As if I needed another reason to love Cal Ripken.