No one will deny that our economy is a mess. The unemployment rate is skyrocketing, the stock market is tanking and large businesses like Circuit City and Starbucks are closing their doors.
How did this happen? How did the United States of America, the “superpower” of the free world, the country that has hundreds of billions of dollars to spend on a war in Iraq, get to this point?
The answer is simple — greed. Gordon Gekko, the conniving investment banker played by Michael Douglas in the film “Wall Street” claimed, “Greed works.” Well Mr. Gekko — I love that I’m referring to him as if he’s a real person — the jig is up. Wall Street traders who thrived on greed as a business plan are now largely responsible for sucking this country dry.
The news has been full of stories about guilty investors who have gone to great lengths to avoid punishment for their crimes. Marcus Schrenker, president of Heritage Wealth Management, crashed a plane he was flying in an attempt to fake his own death. Billionaire Adolf Merckle committed suicide when bad investments cost his companies hundreds of millions.
Many business execs cashed out huge bonuses when they realized they had driven their companies into the ground. Even in crisis, their greed superseded their integrity.
Of all of these evil-doers, probably no one can touch Bernard Madoff, the former chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange. This guy was responsible for allegedly defrauding clients out of $50 billion in a Ponzi scheme. He’s accused of single-handedly destroying the financial futures of thousands. He supposedly even sent Kevin Bacon, the actor who has appeared in almost every movie since 1979, to the poor house.
Madoff’s hypocrisy is almost as bad as his greed. He loved to portray himself as a family man — even as he was secretly stealing millions of dollars from his family. He was chairman of the board of Yeshiva University, yet much of the money he stole was from Jewish charities.
Madoff’s victims included countless foundations. The Wunderkinder Foundation, which donated $590,000 to Cal State Long Beach in 2007, was one of 400 U.S. non-profits affected.
Did Madoff single-handedly cause this financial crisis? No, but his story serves as an example of how dangerous corporate greed can be. Like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the taste of power becomes addictive and can never be satisfied. In today’s society, whoever has the most money rules the world, and that mentality caused many investors to cheat at all costs.
One of the many struggles that President Barack Obama faces is a horrible economy. Millions have lost faith in Wall Street and are not investing, which in turn kills the stock market and destroys credit.
Obama should go after all of the corporate hogs that cashed out bonuses once they knew their companies were belly-up. He should also ensure that financial crooks are not given slaps on the wrist. Our country needs to know that the corporate greed so prevalent during the last eight years is no longer acceptable. I believe that’s the first step to helping our economy recover.
The second step is more introspective, but just as necessary. We need to end our own obsession with money. The Madoff’s of the world didn’t squander money because they were lucky; they were funded by people who wanted to turn their hundreds into thousands, their thousands into millions, their millions into billions.
We must understand that our own lust for money was what gave these crooks the opportunity to rob us blind.
Grady Dunne is a senior journalism major and an assistant opinions editor for the Daily Forty-Niner.