Greed Isn't Good, But It Isn't That Bad, Either
America has always valued success. But at the same time, weâve had a love affair with class warfare. Big businessmen â railroad tycoons, bankers and cattlemen â became easy targets for our discontent.
Wealth, success, power could be summed up as one of the Seven Deadly Sins â greed. Itâs ironic that we complain about one such sin and celebrate another â envy.
Over time, railroad men morphed into Wall Street men, railroading poor working people. Henry Potter from âItâs a Wonderful Lifeâ got a makeover and became Gordon Gekko of âWall Street.â And the go-go â80s became defined by Gekkoâs famous âGreed is goodâ line.
The media love that story. They love dressing up businessmen in black hats like J.R. Ewing. They especially love it when a Republican is in the White House. Those Reagan era businessmen got none of the accolades common to their compatriots in the dot-com bust.
Now weâre in a new down business cycle and the only thing down further than the Dow is the treatment of businessmen in the media.
The term âgreedâ is everywhere. Back in 2004, author Fr. Andrew Greeley said it was a national problem, claiming âAmericaâs Disease is Greed.â That disease certainly has infected the mainstream media. We have âgreedy businessmen,â âgreedy CEOsâ in almost every form. Even last yearâs ABC show âDirty Sexy Moneyâ advertised âmurder, greed, power,â as if the three go together like bacon, lettuce and tomato. âGreedyâ and âCEOâ are linked so often that Websterâs might as well create a new entry for next year â âgreedy-CEO.â Just say hyphenate.
Both presidential candidates have declared they oppose such a filthy idea. The GOPâs Sen. John McCain told ABCâs âNightlineâ on September 18 it was time for a âchange.â âWeâre going to reform the way Wall Street does business and put an end to the greed that has driven our markets into chaos,â he claimed.
Not to be outdone, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama wants to take on Wall Street as well. He told CBS âEvening Newsâ September 25 said the current economic problems are partially âa consequence of speculator greed.â The two candidates play the blame game so much, itâs hard to find them not blaming greed.
Itâs not just politicians. Itâs easy to find journalists or entertainment media blasting the five or six letter forms of our new four-letter word. That played out on CBSâs â60 Minutesâ October 5. Correspondent Steve Kroft attacked credit default swaps and said a âhuge shadow marketâ coupled with âgreed and incompetenceâ ultimately caused the financial crisis.
ABCâs Bill Weir tapped into the typical theme during a September 28 story about the bailout. âAnd what about the simmering resentment? Of course, both campaigns are tapping into the populist idea the resentment that the average workerâs taxes are bailing out greedy CEOs,â he asked during the âGood Morning Americaâ segment.
While Ariel Investments President Mellody Hobson defended the bailout, she didnât get the chance to respond to the typical anti-business assault.
Over at CBS, we get the humor and the hypocrisy of anchor Katie Couric criticizing greed. Back in 2006, and back when the Dow was doing well, Couricâs news was cast in red as she commemorated the five-year-old Enron scandal. She referred to former Enron executive Jeff Skilling, âwho became a poster boy for corporate greedâ and was sentenced to more than 24 years in prison.
She played off the identical theme in February of 2007 claiming the âWall Street mantra of âgreed is goodâ has been replaced by âgreen is good.ââ Green certainly has been good for Couric, who earns an estimated $15 million a year heading up the least popular evening news show on the Big Three networks.
Itâs not just that âgreedyâ Katie Couric earns so much. According to Forbes, average CEO pay for 2008 is $12.8 million, an 18 percent decline from the previous year and less than what they earned in 2000. Also, itâs a couple million a year less than Couric earns â again for putting out an unpopular product.
And how many employees does Couric lead? Do her decisions help make or break the careers of thousands of people who report to her? No. Does she have too much pride to take on such a responsibility or she just too lazy, making sloth her own deadly sin?
Itâs probably neither. While Couric and her fellow journalists might envy the wealth and success of a typical CEO, thatâs not their worst vice. The seven sins need to be updated to account for a modern media.
Letâs add hypocrisy to the list.