The Ethical Economics
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Wall Street - Money Never Sleeps (2010)

This sequel to Wall Street (1987) brings back a rehabilitated Gordon Gekko who has released a book titled "Is Greed Good?" after finishing a lengthy prison sentence. In a speech he explains how legalized greed in the form of all sorts of new financial instruments that very few people even understand, are responsible for the destruction of the economy, circa 2008. In this way, the sequel modernizes the issue of financial sector misbehavior and this time explicitly explains that greed is not so good.

However, as the movie progresses, it takes the viewer through a series of financial deals involving the spread of false information, market manipulation, and non-fulfillment of promises, initiated by virtually all of the characters. Perhaps this is a way of suggesting that nothing has changed and no lessons have ever been learned. Gekko may be able to tell a good tale about the evils of greed, but to make a success in the market still appears to require misdeeds.

Stolen money is returned at the end and many misdeeds are forgiven by the main characters, but in the end it doesn't feel as though anyone has really reached an epiphany. Also, although this movie continues the theme of the original Wall Street with criticisms of the excesses and shady dealings of the financial sector, it does little to offer an alternative vision. Part of the problem with the massive size of the world's financial sector is that much of the big money seems to derive from clever techniques to outsmart other traders rather than from the improved efficiency of the sector's central purpose, namely to effectively channel peoples' savings into productive investments.

See the movie It's a Wonderful Life for an example of what banking was like in a simpler time.


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Wall Street, Money Never Sleeps - Trailer


Wall Street, Money Never Sleeps - Scene


Reflection Questions

  1. What are the examples in this movie in which the characters make money while violating the ethical principles of business?
  2. What are the examples of money making that do not violate the ethical principles?
  3. What are the reasons Gekko gives to explain why greed is not so good? What problems does greed cause?
  4. What is toxic debt and what problems are associated with it?
  5. What causes Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) to commit suicide in the movie?