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When Did Greed Become Bad?



“… greed — for lack of a better word — is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

I loved this speech in Wall Street, and think Gordon Gekko did a nice job framing greed.

But, is greed still good?

I’m still with Gekko.  I am greedy … for life, love, knowledge and – yep, I’ll say it … money.

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Lately, it seems to be chic to be satisfied with less, and to vilify highly paid executives.  Take for example the outrage over AIG executive bonuses.  Even lacking an accurate understanding of their roles within the organization, tenure, tasks, risks, etc. people were outraged by these “exorbitant” bonuses.  And the outcry they didn’t “deserve” to be paid that much money because “they caused the problem”.  Did they?  Why was that assumed? (NOTE: I’m NOT attempting to start a discussion on AIG or the bailout here, just serving an example.  But, read this for some perspective.)

Fueled by social media?

I do like the “village” mentality our economic woes seem to be creating.  I believe that mentality, coupled with the giving premise behind social media, has raised our altruistic consciousness.  As a result greed and undeserved excess seem to now be positioned as bad things.

Will work for money

Like real estate professionals, I’m a service provider.  As service providers, we must provide great service with fantastic results to remain in business.  To do that and for career longevity, we must keep the client’s highest and best interests at heart during the engagement/transaction.  Therefore, our intent is, at the core, good.  Like you, I work hard and am accomplished at what I do.  For this, I want to earn money – as much as I can.

Tell me, quickly!

Does that make me a pariah? If one is transparent that they are working to make a living/better life/achieve financial goals, is that considered unacceptable, particularly if one is active in social media?  Does one cancel out the other – like drinking a diet Coke and eating a candy bar (ok, not a good analogy).

I consider my philanthropic activities somewhat personal, based on my desire to leave a particular footprint.

Does social media require we describe ourselves leading with our philanthropy?

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Written By

Brandie is an unapologetically candid marketing professional who was recently mentioned on BusinessWeek as a Top Young Female Entrepreneur. She recently co-founded consulting firm MarketingTBD. She's held senior level positions with GE and Fidelity, as well as with entrepreneurial start-ups. Raised by a real estate Broker, Brandie is passionate about real estate and is an avid investor. Follow her on Twitter.



  1. Steve Trang

    June 12, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Greed is good! I believe some time between the dot com bust, real estate bust, and now, we lost our footing. We no longer want to be the best. As a country, we only want to apologize. That’s too bad, because we will soon be mediocre.

  2. Ruthmarie Hicks

    June 12, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Self interest is healthy – Out and out greed??? Not so much…
    The question is where exactly that line is drawn.

    This comes from the perspective of a former academic who is of the mind that all things are good in proper moderation. So I’ll give an example of where greed went bad – my former profession..

    I was a biomedical scientist – emphasis immunology/genetics. I have my sheepskin and in that field it takes 7-9 years of full time (80+ hours/wk) of indentured servitude to have the “honor” of calling yourself “doctor.” This investment pushes back the day in which you can start saving for your child’s education, your retirement, the point where you can buy a home – you name it. So the “deal” always was that those who were truly qualified would work hard – but be able to enjoy their work. There wouldn’t be much money – but a decent middle class life with a rewarding career was standard. I would have taken that – but greed got in the way.

    Many established academics as well as those in the private sector saw a gold mine in exploiting thousands of foreign nationals who came over in droves to be “educated” (read exploited) in the US. Academia bloomed with far more students than there would ever be jobs. Academic institutions exploited government grants as did individual investigators. What was once a small collaborative lab became a factory like setting with about 30 grad students and post-docs protecting their turf and doing redundant (not to mention expensive) experiments because cooperation had been thrown out the window in favor of “survival.” The glut of scientists has created a royal and exploitive mess. There are brilliant people with doctorates doing important cancer research 80 hours a week for less than $40k a year – and this goes on for 10+ years AFTER the doctorate. Then our country looks around and whines..”Why won’t anyone become a scientist? Why do we have to import all our engineers?” Blah, blah, blah – because the greed of a few academics and industry CEOs destroyed the careers of many. They also decimated our creative brain trust – which is no benign thing.

    Real estate analogy….Stuffing your brokerage with anyone who has a pulse and a license. That is greed writ large. Big splits for the brokerage – but what does it offer the public that said brokerage serves? Not much. It may be a business model, but its a bad one. It’s allowed the standards to slip into the toilet while it has made a few brokerages rich. It has contributed to Realtor-bashing because unfortunately, a lot of the bashing has its basis in truth. I’ve seen complete blithering imbeciles join brokerages hoping to make “big money” with no effort at all. They are let loose on the unsuspecting public – and that public is pretty darn pi$$ed off about it! It has undermined the value of a good professional in the eyes of the public and it has also made it far more difficult for professionals in our area to actually earn a LIVING. Its driven up marketing costs as dabblers each take in 0-2 deals per year.

    So – self interest – GOOD. Had I not had some kind of self interest, I’d be LIVING in a lab because I couldn’t afford rent. Greed – not so much, because to me – greed implies exploiting others to get more for yourself…but that’s my definition of greed.

  3. Ruthmarie Hicks

    June 12, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    PS – totally LOVE the picture of Michael Douglas with the SUPER-SIZED cell phone! These days I think my iPhone is a “big phone.” Hilarious…

  4. Bob

    June 13, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    One dictionary definition:
    “excessive or rapacious desire, esp. for wealth or possessions.”

    To answer your question in context requires your definition of the word.

    Aside from challenging the notion that we don’t understand the workings of AIG and therefore are not qualified to judge, I believe the general public view of corporate greed brings to mind Enron completely screwing both their employees and tons of people who were hard hit financially as a result of their business practices, CW’s Mozilo manipulating Wall Street (conning the con), Exxon making $40b in a quarter while we pay $4 a gallon for gas, or Bernie Madoff.

    In my industry I have seen greed manifested recently with loan mod and foreclosure scams. In the not so distant past, the mortgage broker in Texas who tried to charge my elderly mother 5 points for for a Heloc when the market for her should have been 1 point. After Katrine we saw greed power price gouging and fake charities.

    I’m not sure why you are trying to draw a connection between social media and one’s moral compass. though. Greed as defined in my first sentence has always been considered to be a bad thing by many- a vice.

    Greed as defined by Gordon Gecko required him to accomplish his goals by gutting companies. In real life we have seen companies raped by evangelists of greed like Gecko – pillaging pension funds and leaving broken and bankrupt people in their wake.

    “I do like the “village” mentality our economic woes seem to be creating. I believe that mentality, coupled with the giving premise behind social media, has raised our altruistic consciousness. As a result greed and undeserved excess seem to now be positioned as bad things.”

    Again I dont see the connection between SM and our altruistic consciousness. Our altruistic consciousness was the basis for the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”, which was basically a battle of greed vs happiness brought about by goodness.

    I also found curious the sentence, “As a result greed and undeserved excess seem to now be positioned as bad things.” Maybe it’s just me, but ‘undeserved’, ‘excess’, and ‘greed’ all have negative connotations to them. Lumped together, why wouldn’t they be positioned as bad?

    @Ruthmarie – I loved your comments.

  5. Brandie Young

    June 13, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    Steve – good to hear from you. Interesting you should say that about the country apologizing. I had quite a long conversation about that very topic the other night with @RobHahn.

    Ruthmarie – l appreciate your thoughts, and your perspective is interesting given your background. My intent in this post was not directed at the acts by corporations. It was actually around what you describe as “self interest”. I guess it all depends on how we define greed. My definition was as I stated – greed for life, love, knowledge and money.

    Hi Bob – thanks for weighing in. Sorry my post didn’t resonate/wasn’t clear. I will try to explain a couple points, the others may need to remain a mystery.

    My definition was as I wrote: greed for life, love, knowledge and money. To me, that means wanting as much of each as possible. Just as I replied to Ruthmarie – I wasn’t talking about corporate greed (or corruption/dishonesty). Enron, Angelo and your other examples are incidents of criminal activities. While they were likely fueled by greed, it was the act that was wrong. I don’t think a desire for more is wrong, but rather how you go about getting it.

    The connection I was making between greed and social media: with the “giving” premise at the core of social media, it seems many position themselves as philanthropic, yet they broadcast without giving. So, their actions are not inline with their positioning.

    As far as “undeserved” excess. That’s subjective. I don’t feel it’s my call to decide how much execs or anyone else earns.

  6. Bob

    June 14, 2009 at 8:21 am

    “greed for life, love, knowledge and money”

    That doesn’t define greed – it just states the objectives of your greed.

    At the end of the day, it’s all subjective. Unlike the directional compass that is supposed to point to true north, there is no globally accepted true north for the moral compass.

  7. Karen Rice

    June 14, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Greed has always been a negative thing. There are other words to use that are not so negative – ambitious, passionate, driven…

    I would never describe myself as “greedy” even though I am striving to earn more than I currently have. I am unwilling to take what I do not deserve, I am unwilling to break ethical boundaries to get what I am working toward, I am unwilling to take what is not mine.

    A greedy person thinks only of himself and his goals, without having any thought for the people he hurts or takes away from while on his way to the top.

  8. Bill Lublin

    June 14, 2009 at 2:08 pm


    I am trapped by a desire to agree and disagree with you at the same time. And I think its more about the choice of words than it is about the conceptual position you take.

    I come from a ‘fiscally challenged” background – and worked hard and without apology to provide a good living for me family. I always wanted as much as I could earn – and I don’t think that has anything to do with greed. As an unashamed entrepreneur , I take risk, and should receive the reward. Abd even though I consider myself generous and participate in charitable endeavors, and help my friends and families as they need, I don’t think that has to do with greed either. (I agree with your diet coke analogy , though in my case it would be a piece of cake and a diet coke – and yes they do cancel out – don’t they?)

    Where I have a problem with greed, is that to me greed is when you want what you don’t need – and when I say you don’t need it, I’m even talking about the psychological need. You can’t live in more than one house at a time, but if you can afford 2 or 3 houses, so what – go for it- But when you need to have something that you can’t possibly use or enjoy or any level – and the acquisition (with n o other purpose) becomes the end in and of itself -that greed, the denial of a resource to another with no true gain is not a good thing – and has nothing to do with what someone may or may not “deserve” in our opinion.

  9. Ken Brand

    June 15, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    From what I can tell your desire for money is not greed.

    If you create your wealth from serving others then it’s a generally a good thing.

    Greed is sorta like porn…it’s defined differently by different people…it’s hard to define the tipping point, but generally speaking there is a threshold where most all would agree, you know it when you see it.

    I don’t think you’re greedy. Plus it sounds like you don’t really have a desire for money, you have a desire for the things money can do for you and your loved ones.

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