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Money, from "Wall Street," a movie starring Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen

Subthemes: Intangible Money, Gambling, Counterfeiting

Wall Street, a movie starring Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen, glorifies (and horrifies) the obsession with making money that dominates some people, like Gordon Gekko (played by Douglas, who won an Oscar). Here is a trailer. Those for whom “greed is good” strive to amass ever more money; financial specialists such as venture capitalists, buy-out specialists, money managers, and hedge fund managers track their success by the digits of their earnings and investments. Wall Street vividly portrays these and other subthemes of Money.

Intangible Money: In the developed world, cash transactions are disappearing as the convenience of credit cards, debit cards, electronic transfers, and checks prevails. The younger generation uses Venmo, Zelle, Apple Pay and Google Pay as cashless payment systems and many merchants have created apps so that you can pay with your smart phone. To cover recurrent transactions such as mortgages and rent, people authorize direct payments from their checking accounts. All these methods obviate the need for bills and coins. Credit cards in the United States accounted for 23 percent of payments in 2018, a 2 percentage point increase from 2017. Cash was used mostly for small purchases, representing 49 percent of payments under $10, so it remains the preferred payment method of poor people and in small shops or markets. One can foresee a time when slappy old-fashioned dimes and dollars on a counter has gone extinct, and customers pay only with their electronic device.

Gambling: Gordon Gekko was not gambling; he traded on sure thing, often illegal insider information. For many others, the thrill of betting comes from the hope for winning money. You put up an amount, and hope you choose wisely on a game, point spread, over-under, or other outcome so that more money comes back. Lottery tickets, a regressive tax on the poor, prove the unquenchable allure of paying and hoping, as every day millions around the world buy a ticket and dream of hitting it big. Gambling can be legal, as in the 462 commercial casinos in the United States in 2020 or illegal, such as “the numbers” that accounts for billions of dollars every year. As to those who indulge in online betting, it is nearly a $100 billion a year industry. Money enhances the frisson of thrill. Forbes reports that “2021 is on track to surpass $44 billion in gambling revenue and become the highest-grossing year in the history of legal gambling.” Of course, people can bet on their own games, such as a golf score, or on anything.

Counterfeiting: Ever since the first forms of money became widespread, grifters have figured out ways to produce cheap, faux versions. Where it is carried out successfully, the profit margin can be enormous. Nowadays, sophisticated typesetting and copying technologies make it easier for criminals to mimic a currency, although as cash transactions decline in frequency and amount, the game may not be worth the candle. In fiscal year 2001, the U.S. Treasury estimated that less than .01 percent of approximately $600 billion in U.S. currency in circulation was counterfeit, according to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Governments have responded by creating paper money that has features that are difficult to imitate, such as holograms, security ribbons, color shifting ink, and watermarks. Merchants deal with the problem by refusing to take large denomination bills or examining them under ultra-violet light.


The single-minded pursuit of money can be devastating where financiers exercise their manipulative plans with little regard to actual workers and consequences. “For the love of money is the root of all evil,” 1 Timothy 6:10, some believe, but not finance wizards. High-speed algorithmic trading multiplies the leverage and advantages of sharp traders and investors. Rapacious types who succeed can brag about their hundreds of millions of dollars, but they have to take outsized risks at times, nearly gambling. Gekkos can make real money, but they counterfeit productivity.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept of Money, consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, About.

We invite you to read about other movies discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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