It’s the monologue that launched thousands of Wall Street careers.
“The point is, ladies and gentleman,” intones Gordon Gekko to the shareholders of a fictional takeover target, “that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit…
“And greed – you mark my words – will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”
Gekko propagated beyond Oliver Stone’s 1987 film into video games, multiple TV shows here and in the U.K., and even an FBI campaign against insider trading.
Michael Douglas’s portrayal of a character who made a virtue of avariciousness is so vivid that one reporter, during a September 2008 Q& A session with the actor related to his work as a United Nations ambassador for peace, asked: “Are you saying, Gordon, that greed is not good?”
“I’m not saying that,” Douglas answered. “And my name is not Gordon. It’s a character I played 20 years ago.”
And yet politicians and religious leaders all over the world cited Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” mantra in their condemnations of the behavior that led to the Global Financial Crisis and the Great Recession.
These oversimplifications were certainly well-intentioned exhortations of basically honest men. Neither Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd nor Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was lying when they blamed a movie character for a catastrophic, 100-year market and economic meltdown.
They were trying to elicit a reaction, an emotional response that would help them consolidate power and/or influence.
Their statements probably fall outside what Harry Frankfurt described as “one of the most salient features of our culture” in his 2005 essay “On Bullshit.”
As Frankfurt explains:
What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.
What is he up to?
That, indeed, is the question.
It’s particularly relevant in our field, which is now driven by pernicious click-baiting and fear mongering.
Take The Unfortunate Rise Of The Misleading “Scary Chart” Comparisons Again, a May 29, 2017 post at Disciplined Investing that revisits The “scary chart” fallacy documented on February 16, 2014, by The Mathematical Investor.
Comparisons of current levels of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index to their 1928-29 and 1987 levels are designed to elicit emotional – and perhaps irrational and costly – responses.
What constitutes “bullshit” are the ways purveyors have conditioned us to react to things like monthly jobs reports. Their ratings increase or decrease in rough proportion to our rising or falling fear and greed.
And there are other parties out there whose mission is to obfuscate, for reasons all of their own, though there’s no rational reason to doubt the veracity of data reported by government agencies.
Indeed, note that Candidate Trump consistently derided the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ unemployment rate.
Now, President Trump regularly touts that same metric as a sign he’s on the straight-and-narrow MAGA path.
The point is this: Most of the information we consume is noise.
We do independent financial research, framed by what we call the Dent Method.
Harry’s expertise is megatrends – the cycles that describe history across multiple disciplines, with an emphasis on demographics.
Our team of analysts help us understand smaller movements playing out on day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year, and decade-to-decade bases within the larger cycles Harry describes.
We know how to help you generate and preserve wealth within these mega-, macro-, and micro-trends.
Our mission is not specifically to entertain, although it helps if we can do that in furtherance of informing – or, in other words, providing a useful signal that cuts through the noise.
That’s ultimately what Rodney’s new service, the Dent Cornerstone Portfolio, is all about.
Rodney set out to solve our readers’ No. 1 problem: How do I start my portfolio, and how do I maintain it?
For most of us, the investing game need not be so dramatic. Rodney has devised a service that’s eminently prosaic and useful.
If we are to blur fiction and fact, our guiding light ought to be Crash Davis, a true hero brought to life by Kevin Costner in Bull Durham, another seminal late-1980s film about a different American pastime.
“You don’t need a quadraphonic Blaupunkt,” the veteran catcher admonishes his rookie pitcher Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, a “bonus baby” focused on the accoutrements of his new Porsche. “What you need is a curveball.”
It’s part of Davis’s mission to “mature” the kid, a thankless task that includes, in addition to expanding the flame-throwing right-hander’s repertoire beyond a fastball, lessons on shower shoes and fungus, the difference between groundballs (“it’s more democratic”) versus strikeouts (“they’re fascist”), and the value of clichés at the big-league level.
You’ve got to cover the basics.
The point is, ladies and gentleman, that boring, for lack of a better word, is good. Boring is right, boring works.
And, the way Crash Davis goes about explaining it, boring is beautiful.
David Dittman, Editorial Director of Dent Research
P.S. In the next few days, we’ll be sharing more information with you about the Dent Cornerstone Portfolio. Watch out for it.