Honor in the Dollar, Kid

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Recently I was talking to a friend of mine who is an unabashed salesman. I mean this guy could sell steaks to a vegan. He's snappy and always talks like he's got 15 gigs going on at the same time, and he usually does. He told me that any upwardly mobile business type must worship three movies: "Wall Street," "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "Boiler Room." "Watch them," he says sagely. "Memorize them."

I've run this by a few other MBAs, and it seems he's right about the Holy Trinity of business movies. So I did. I watched them and I think now I understand how the economy collapsed. All of these movies start with overzealous capitalists and end with someone getting arrested. But here's the thing, I don't think my friend noticed the ends because he only quotes the ironic greedy bits.

"Greed is good," says Michael Douglas. "Anybody who tells you money is the root of all evil doesn't have any," says Ben Affleck. "Always be closing," says Alec Baldwin. My friend loves this stuff and can recite it verbatim. And he's not the only one.

I'm told a popular game for Wall Street traders is to swap lines and see who's got them down the best. But always from the same half a dozen scenes. I swear, I don't think my friend has watched them to the end. Either that or he just doesn't remember.

It's kind of like a real estate bubble, isn't it? Just watching a few select parts over and over, you can convince yourselves that the high goes on forever and we can all be Gordon Gecko. But here's the thing. We do fall. And in all three movies, the main characters fall. All three movies end with the police hauling someone off to jail. This is not incidental. After all, most of the foot soldiers of the institutions that got us into this mess worship these movies. They told us that our money was safe. We believed them when they said they knew what they were doing.


We would have been smarter to watch Giovanni Ribisi in "Boiler Room." He says: "I didn't want to be an innovator. I just wanted to make a quick and easy buck. I just wanted in. Honor's in the dollar, kid." So next time your broker gives you a Netflix tip along with a stock tip, do yourself a favor. Watch the movie first.

With a Perspective, I'm Erik Vance.