AS AMERICAN AS AMPLE LIE: No Limits To ‘American Greed’

The Big 80s were a weird time.

While most of GenX was busy being carefree and young, enjoying Saturday morning cartoons, arcades and sci-fi movies, some of the adult Baby Boomers were focused on something else entirely: money and power.  Reaganomics ruled the landscape, selling trickle-down economics with a straight face and a hidden agenda.  Profits over people started to become the new norm, with unofficial mascots like Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties and Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross reflecting this new attitude. The American Dream wasn't just a white picket fence anymore, rather it had become a race to die with the most "toys" in front of a McMansion instead.

It didn’t take long for cracks in the financial system to appear. The Savings & Loan Crisis that was brewing in the 70s showed the first problem with managing money without morals.  The bottom line was pursued with reckless abandon, as banks that were technically bankrupt kept giving out bad mortgage loans until the bottom fell out.  It certainly didn’t help that President Reagan limited the regulatory oversight staff with budget cuts or that five Senators were found to have pushed for deregulation in exchange for campaign contributions.  However, surely this must have been an extremely isolated incident.  There couldn’t actually be a revolution taking hold that would have so little regard for people’s lives and livelihoods, right?

Cue Stacy Keach.

The show American Greed celebrated its 100th episode earlier this year, showing no signs of running out of tragic tales of pure greed any time soon.  In all the stories, one can see how victims were easily lead astray by people that hid behind titles, with doctors that perform unnecessary operations, dealers that hock stolen art, lawyers that use escrow accounts like piggy banks and philanthropists that raid charitable funds.  The professions involved point to a public cognitive dissonance that irrationally fears a person in a hooded sweatshirt more than a businessperson dressed to the nines. No firm appears to be unaffected by the new "greed is good" mantra, as titans like WorldCom, Tyco and HealthSouth all tried and failed to play the game, destroying their reputations in the process.

The lapses of judgment are plentiful, as opulence over common sense appears to be prevalent with these greedy con artists.  Investments are ignored outright when the money shows up, just going to pay other investors (Ponzi scheme) until they can’t keep it up anymore.  The routine is always the same:  Get investors, get their money, get the accolades, get the spoils, get caught.  Some of the subjects don’t even get a decade run before ending up with half a century of jail time to deal with.  What is it all for?  The question to 'why' never seems to be answered, not that any reply could possibly make one understand the dynamics of their greed.

Perhaps the worst part of this cycle comes from the “reformed” criminals that sell their criminality as a benefit for others.  No charlatan could be as bad as Jordan Belfort.  His gang of suited thugs were way ahead of their time, getting away with hundreds of millions of investor dollars before getting a slap on the wrist by the government.  What does a person to do when they only had 22 months to think about the error of their ways?  Belfort decided to become a motivational speaker and inspired two movies: The Wolf of Wall Street and Boiler Room.  Hardly seems fair, does it? One fine gent, Barry Minkow, tried this route by becoming a pastor and fraud expert, only to start extorting companies for favorably ratings instead.

As long as American greed persists, American Greed will never run out of episodes.

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