Greed Doesn’t Drive Wall Street
Day 3 of 21 days with Chuck’s new book.
Greed did not drive the giant Industrialists of the 1800s, nor does it drive companies we love to hate on Wall Street today. It’s something quite different.
As with all empire builders who passed before them, it is about power; money is just a new measure of power. In the Industrial Age, for the first time in history, you could build a fiefdom alongside a government that would not send armies to destroy you, but actually protect your right to do so.
Power To The Few
There is little doubt that most of the big Industrialists, when they were still small, likely ignored some moral or ethical boundaries to begin to accumulate wealth. Greed drives them at first, but once they have experienced wealth, the desire to be powerful is the unique and much rarer driving force behind those few people who want to dominate and crush the competition.
Bernie Madoff may have been greedy when he was a bit player on Wall Street, but very shortly it became about being powerful, well known, and highly influential in elite circles. Giant banks may start out focused on accumulating wealth, but that is quickly replaced with a focus on power and domination. After someone has significantly more than they need, it becomes about power. And power requires winning, beating the other guy.
Kings and Kingpins
The basic motivations of feudal lords, politicians and 21st century Industrialists are identical. For all of them the most intoxicating motivation is to be able to control the lives of other people, which gives them power, control, and prestige. The feudal lord accumulates armies, the politician accumulates votes and the Industrialist accumulates money, all with the same motive – domination of their respective worlds and elimination of potential threats.
Cornelius Vanderbilt was a feudal lord ruling over a fiefdom. He was so powerful he was able to destroy the entire railroad industry by shutting down the Albany bridge, the only rail bridge into New York City, which he owned. Winning at all costs, and the power that came from being on top, was the intoxicating way of life for the Industrialist. And it still is for many business people and politicians who make up the 21st century version of the Industrialist.
Sumner Redstone, the American media magnate, summed up the motivation of the 21st century Industrialists we love to hate, “They don’t think in terms of money, they think in terms of winning. Not some times. Every time.”
You see the same transition from greed to power in criminals. Small criminals may be greedy, but big criminals are motivated by power. When the Colombian super-cartel was broken up in 2012, the top three leaders, who were worth hundreds of millions each, were all found living in modest city apartments, working out of cafes, driving regular cars, and essentially living regular middle class lives. Living modestly was what made it hard to find them. When asked why they had continued selling drugs for so many years when they couldn’t spend the money, one of them replied simply, “It was for the power.”
Power Through Philanthropy
Virtually all of the big Industrialists of the 1800s gave away staggering sums of money in their later years. But even in their philanthropy they sought to crush the other guy and build a bigger library, concert hall or museum. If they were driven by greed they would have kept their money. But a building with their name on it would continue to give them prestige and a form of power even after death, and help prove to future generations that they won. That was worth more than money in the bank. Power always trumps greed.
Which Big Do You Love?
Big loves big. They have to. Big government and big business may not be fully in synch, but they are co-dependent and DO love key things about each other that will help them both remain in power. Most people find themselves rooting for one Big or the other, without realizing that decades ago both Bigs lost touch with everything small and local.
In the final analysis, both Bigs have a cozy, symbiotic relationship where donations, cronyism, favors, free trips, power, and money are flying in both directions regardless of party affiliation. They understand clearly how much they need each other in order to stay in power.
Small Is Becoming Powerful
But Big is in trouble. The Participation Age, and the ability to share information easily via the internet, is exposing the power-grabbing practices of the Bigs, at a time where returning to small and local community is becoming one of our highest values. In the coming decade, Big will be less and less necessary in our lives, and the advantage will go to the small and local businesses that are in touch with the “small” guy on the street.
Stop Rooting for the Bigs
But we will accelerate the process when we stop whining about the greed of the Bigs, and focus instead on requiring a level playing field that does not concentrate power in the hands of a few and does not favor the Bigs over the Smalls.
Do you love one Big (business or government) more than the other, because you think it will be better for you? Think again. The Bigs aren’t working to help the Smalls, but to continue to increase their own power.
This is a summary of a chapter from Chuck’s new book, “Why Employees Are ALWAYS a Bad Idea (And Other Business Diseases of the Industrial Age)”. Click here to pre-order this new ground breaking book at a discount on IndieGoGo.com until July 28.