Greed and Egoism Cause Unsustainable Living

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‘’This maxim is totally inconceivable. If everyone is greedy it means people will keep acquiring resources to themselves and never letting them go but they will keep looking for more and more and if other people also want the same resources they will have to fight for them and a lot of rotting will take place like corruption as people will be looking for ways to acquire resources they want and it will completely destroy the fabric of society as people will constantly fight and some will use unethical and unlawful means to achieve their desired results and the world will become ungovernable and lawlessness will strive.

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Although in my assignment two I mentioned that Kant would not have a problem with Basson’s earnings now I realise that he would not only have a problem with those earnings but he will also have a problem with Gekko’s speech because Kant stated that we must “act only on that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” ((Kant 1785 cited in - accessed February 2012). Now looking at Gekko’s speech we find that he is complaining about the overpaid Vice Presidents that they are benefiting from the company while the company is making losses, and he quickly compares the losses made by the company to his own thriving success of making $12billion for some 2.5 million stockholders1.( This simply shows that Gekko is making an exception of his greed which means he does not want it to be universalised. In my newly enlightened view, Kant will consider Gekko’s greed as morally impermissible because according to Kant if your maxim passes all four steps, only then is acting on it morally permissible and we have already seen from the above maxim that it in a world ruled by universal law the maxim fails at step three and becomes completely inconceivable which means Gekko has a perfect duty to refrain from such an act(greed) (Eccles, 2016 P.51).

Also, Gekko’s speech falls short of the Categorical Imperative which emphasises that one must do the right thing unconditionally. Kant developed the Categorial Imperative as tool we must follow in making moral decisions despite any of our natural desires or inclinations we may have to the contrary ( In this line of thought, one would question if Gekko’s critique of the Vice Presidents and his desire to have the company close down so that he can sell it and make a lot of money is doing the right thing as this will see a lot of people going jobless. This act by Gekko goes against Kant who holds that “Act so that you use humanity, as much in your own person as in the person of every other, always at the same time as end and never merely as a means.” This means is that it is immoral to treat other humans as mere instruments for your own end and we see Gekko cunningly critiquing the Vice President’s efforts while manipulating the Shareholders as if he wants to make money for them yet we all know that he is not really worried about them but his own insatiable greed. To this Kant will say that moral thought recognizes moral duties toward ourselves as well as toward others (Kant 1785 cited in - accessed February 2012) and Kant will consider Gekko’s greed as immoral and according to the Categorical Imperative, this will form an perfect duty towards others and an imperfect duty towards himself for Gekko to refrain from such an act. (N Eccles, 2016 P.51)

Gekko could come out against Kant with guns blazing arguing that he has done nothing wrong and the rules of capitalism supported by Adam Smith allow him to pursue his own interests but I believe that Kant would calmly counter this by stating that one must not follow rules blindly but the rules must be formulated the right way for them to be considered moral according to the principles of deontology (Eccles, 2016, p46). Also Gekko might argue that the most important thing is the end result of the greed as he pointed out in various times that greed is “essence of the evolutionary spirit””, greed has “marked the upward surge of mankind”” and ultimately greed would “not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA” ( However, Kant would still counter this by stating that the means does not justify the ends because according to deontology, doing the right thing is not determined by the end result whether its good bad or there is absolutely no consequence one must still do the right thing unconditionally (Eccles 2016, P48). Having looked at the situation both sides of the coin objectively, one can come up to the conclusion that Gekko’s speech completely fails on moral grounds because it inconceivable in a universalised world. Using the Kant’s universal law and the categorical imperative one can simply conclude that Gekko’s speech is immoral and refraining from such entail’s perfect duty towards others and imperfect duty towards himself. Kant will declare that Gekko’s speech falls short of morality in every sense.

“ME, ME, ME! - Egoism” – here we want you to think about how Gekko’s speech might resonate with an egoist world view (please go and re-read the Learning Unit on greed and self-interest carefully here);

When Gekko says that “the new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest” this clearly shows that there is an old law of evolution that Gekko does not only believe in but he actually subscribes to and this is clearly revealed when he turns and says, “Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated” ( In this statement Gekko reveals that he resonates with psychological egoism which alleges that “we are pre-programmed to be selfish” and it is human nature to pursue self-interest and self-advancement. (Eccles 2016 P.62). Not only that psychological egoism goes as far as saying that human beings always act in their own interests, and, will not act otherwise, even though they may disguise their motivation with references to helping others. Whether they do it consciously or unconsciously their behaviour is still motivated by their own self-interest. Gekko’s speech seems to tie so closely with psychological egoism because we see Gekko himself doing the same thing as he appeals to the shareholders to embrace his greed so that their interested will be served but it is clear to us that he is not doing this for them but he intends to make a killing on the Teldar deal, while the shareholders make a little bit. So, we see Gekko appealing to Charles Darwin’s theory of elimination by natural selection to show that he truly understands and resonates with egoism from the grassroots as his plan is to eliminate the “unfittest” while pursuing his own interests.

Without a shadow of doubt, Smith will give Gekko a huge pat on the back for carrying out the legacy of ethical egoism. Being the beacon of capitalism and ethical egoism, Smith believed that a man “By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it” (Wealth of Nations, 1776). We see a very interesting similarity between Smith and Gekko who states that “Greed … captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed… has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, …. will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.” Both Gekko and Smith agree that Smith that individual capitalist interest is the key for the development of the society and it goes without saying that Gekko identifies very strongly with ethical egoism which states that whatever action maximises one’s self-interest is also the morally right action that one should act on. According to ethical egoism, you should only act in your self -interest and you should not pursue the interests of others and by “”an invisible hand” other people and society will eventually benefit. Both the Smith and Gekko, believe that their “self-interest” in a free market is what will result in wealth for the whole nation and this ties Gekko to ethical egoism.

Gekko’s speech captures the essence rational egoism which claims that the promotion of one’s own interest is always accordance with reason and that the action is rational if it maximizes one’s self-interest. Gekko’s speech makes me think of Any Rand who contended that a rational man holds his own life as his highest value, rationality as his highest virtue and his happiness as the final purpose of his life “The virtue of selfishness”. Looking at Gekko’s speech, it will not come as a surprise for Ayn Rand to commend Gekko for pursuing his own interest because to Rand it is the most reasonable, sensible and rational thing to do. Ayn Rand argued that “the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own rational self-interest.” (The Virtue of Selfishness 1964, p7). So, for those who may be wondering why Gekko would want to strip Tedlar Paper and destroy the future of many people who work there, Gekko probably took a few notes from Ayn Rand who holds that “not taking full advantage of one’s own freedom is immoral because it opposes the natural fulfilment of human potential which is the best thing for everyone in a society” (The Virtue of Selfishness, 1964). It goes without saying that Rand will have offer a badge of honour for Gekko’s speech as it definitely resonates with the rational egoist world view.

Frederich Nietzsche went out of his way as he contended against altruism (putting the interest of other before you without gaining anything in return) in his quest to see human kind move to higher states of being which he called the overman or superman. Following in the footsteps of Frederich Nietzsche we see Gekko also going out of his way to destroy all barriers that he felt were on his way from reaching this superman state that was propagated by Nietzsche and to do so we see that the greater part of his speech is a critique for the complacent, lazy and greedy Vice presidents who he felt were running the company down. In his burning desire to see progress, Nietzsche wanted all barriers to progress removed just like we see with Gekko tearing down the company management. In his striking statement where he finishes his critique, we find that Gekko finally declares his intention of becoming a superman by declaring that that “I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them!”. What is quite striking in his speech is how he purely cleanses his own greed to be good, right and productive while he bashes the greed of the VPS as is wrong, bad and unproductive. This simply shows how he resonates with Nietzsche who called himself an immoralist while bashing altruism (Eccles, 2016 p98). Nietzsche would have nodded to Gekko’s speech as a freeway to becoming a superman.

Greed and Egoism

Having pointed out that Gekko’s speech resonates with all forms of egoism it is essential for me at this point to clarify that greed is not egoism. Egoism is not a theory of greed but self-interest. The movers and shakers of egoism like Ayn Rand and Adam Smith clearly pointed out that they advocated for self-interest and not greed and they also warned against slipping from self-interest to greed because greed has no virtue.

In looking at the issue of distribution of resources we find that this is Gekko’s first port of call where he is expressing his disgruntlement with the fact that the company has 33 Vice Presidents who earn 200k per year but are not yielding much as the company lost $110million in profits which is a loss for that doesn’t only affect the shareholders but also affects other employees of Tedlar paper. Bethamy in Utilitarianism would agree with Gekko about this unfair distribution of resources because this kind of distribution does not actually benefit the greatest number within the company and probably Rawls would agree that this kind of distribution would not be beneficial to society because by Tedlar Paper loosing revenue it indirectly means loss of revenue for the state revenue through potential tax that could have been collected and used for service delivery. the This goes against John Rawles’ (1921-2002) first principle- Greatest equal liberty which says “each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic right compatible with a similar liberty for others (Rawls, 1971, p60).

Having seen this inequality Gekko proposes his own view of distributive fairness in which he cleverly appeals to the Common Intituitions of his target audience by asserting that justice must be based on what people deserve and he makes it seem like the cure for inefficiency and complacency of overpaid Vice Presidents is greed. Gekko’s argument here is that the shareholders have invested their money and the VPs are taking them for a ride while the VPs benefit. Now since he used greed to succeed in other ventures, the deserving shareholders of Tedlar Paper must buy into his greed so that they may be able to reap the much deserved benefits that he has also delivered to other companies where “2.5 million stockholders who have made a pre-tax profit of 12 billion dollars”. Bethamy would be on board with Gekko’s provided solution as he has received an assurance that Gekko’s greed will provide the greatest good for the greatest number because it “will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA”. Now to counter this argument Rawls will question if the shareholders buy into Gekko’s common intuitions distributive solution of stripping the company for shareholder benefits then what will happen to the other employees of the company which one can assume to be big since it has 33 Vice presidents. Because of this shortcoming Rawls would dismiss Common Intuitions as hardly a basis for any kind of universally satisfactory model of distributive justice (Eccles 81) and Utilitarianism will be dismissed because it advocates for an end that benefits the greatest number regardless the means.

To counter these shortcomings Rawls introduced the Veil of Ignorance which he maintained, would deliver a just and fair society. To this end, Rawls will suggest to slip Gekko, Tedlar Pager Shareholder and employees and any other stakeholders under the veil of ignorance, since people behind veil of ignorance do not know who they will be in new society, any choice they make in structuring that society could either harm them or benefit them. Since Gekko would not know where in the company he will end up when the veil is lifted up, he would be the first one to propose for a fairer distribution. Gekko would be an advocate against the stripping of the company assets because there is a possibility that when the veil is lifted he would join the unemployed should the he propose a situation as he was advocating for in his speech. Gekko himself would choose a system that is fair and just for everyone under the veil as Rawls argues that the choice would be for a social structure that would best benefit the unknowing chooser if she or he happened to end up in the least desirable position. So, according to Rawls, approaching decisions through a veil of ignorance can help people to decide more fairly how the rules of society should be structured. So, knowing that Gekko is self-interested and rational being, I believe he would choose that even if he ended up being a Tea Maker at Tedlar Paper, he would need an equitable distribution from the company profits and that the position would provide growth prospects and all that greed will disappear under the veil and Gekko would join me is saying greed is bad.

Greed is bad because it works against sustainability. Where greed thrives it always strives at the detriment of someone else. For instance, if we look back at what we have studied in this module, Basson and Oppenheimer were thriving while the employees are being exploited and suffering until some even living below the food poverty line. If we look around at the world, companies thrive in profitability fuelled by greed at the expense of sustainability of the future generations and even the earth itself is complaining as evidenced by the ecological footprint. Kant’s Categorical Imperative gives us an unequivocal reasoning to why greed is not good as Kant maintains “Act so that you use humanity, as much in your own person as in the person of every other, always at the same time as end and never merely as a means”, and Rawls thrives with his theory to ensure resources are shared equitably to curb the vice of greed. Greed is not sustainable and greed fights against sustainability. Greed is the root of all corruption and it casues divisions among people. I do not agree with Gekko when he argues that greed is good. Because greed is bad.  

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