Thursday, September 15, 2005

Life, Art, and Michael Douglas?

Everyday, it seems, I hear one Wall Street pundit after another gripe about the deficit.

Our friends over at feel the same way -- except they think these talking heads are the belated progeny of Gordon Gekko, the rapacious investment banker at the center of Wall Street, Oliver Stone's 1987 masterpiece.

Consider the following speech, culled straight from the movie.

Well ladies and gentlemen, we're not here to indulge in fantasies, but in political and economic reality. America has become a second rate power. Our trade deficit and fiscal deficit are at nightmare proportions. In the days of the 'free market' when our country was a top industrial power, there was accountability to the shareholders. The Carnegies, the Mellons, the man who built this industrial empire, made sure of it because it was their money at stake. Today management has no stake in the company. Altogether these guys sitting up there own a total of less than 3% and where does Mr. Cromwell put his million-dollar salary? Certainly not in Teldar stock, he owns less than 1%. You own Teldar Paper, the stockholders, and you are being royally screwed over by these bureaucrats with their steak lunches, golf and hunting trips, corporate jets, and golden parachutes! Teldar Paper has 33 different vice presidents each earning over $200,000 a year. I spent two months analyzing what these guys did and I still can't figure it out.

Clearly, Wall Street is more than "just a movie," as some have claimed.

I'd argue that Wall Street is more like a time capsule that captures the zeitgeist of a period characterized by overnight wealth, corporate chicanery, and merger mania.

Oliver Stone spent months on Wall Street prepping for the film.

Douglas did the same in order to really "nail the Gekko" role, socializing with real bankers, traders, and wealth managers before anything was shot.

Not the least significant is the fact that the role of Gekko is actually based on three disparate but similar icons of finance -- Boesky, Milken, & Ichann.

Gekko's role remains a visceral masterpiece, so much that neophyte bankers today know his lines better than they know their DCF valuation formulas.

Life imitates art.

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