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Ethical Dilemmas In The Movie Wall Street Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 3414 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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“WALL STREET” is an American movie directed by Oliver Stone. It Street takes us to the front lines of an industry that has recently undergone a decline in values and ethics that once were the cornerstone of American business. The movie deals with many ethical issues. The movie portrays two characters in particular; one is Gordon Gekko, a wealthy unscrupulous corporate player, played by Michael Douglas and Bud Fox, a young and dynamic stock broker, played by Charlie Sheen. The main focus of the economic aspects of the movie is how greed contributes to our society.

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The movie begins with Bud Fox, who spends his work time calling people to sell them shares and to provide them investment plans. He is quite desperate to get to top. He aims to sell shares to Gekko, make him his client. Bud is a young stockbroker who comes from a working-class family and Gekko is a millionaire who Bud admires and wants to be associated with. Bud’s father is a blue-collared airline maintenance foreman. He works for “Blue-star” Airline,” which has a prominent role in the movie. Bud is so desperate to make Gekko his client and so reaches his office one early morning to wish him on his Birthday and pitches him some stocks which he had been analyzing over some time. However Gekko seems unimpressed. Realizing that Gekko might not do business with him, he passes on “insider information” regarding the Blue-star Airlines where his father works. The information is that the Airline was involved in some crash case and that the airline will be exonerated in that crash case and thus will come over the suspension and will look at expanding services. Thus, after this information revelation Gekko becomes Bud’s client. One of the issues covered in this movie is of Insider Information. This will be discussed in detail later in the text.

An appreciative Gekko takes Bud under his wing, but compels him to unearth new information by any means necessary, including becoming a partner in a cleaning company to gain access to confidential files in the offices of the clients of the cleaning company. Thus in an effort to become wealthy Bud resorts to wrong means. Bud becomes wealthy, enjoying Gekko’s promised perks, including a corner office with a view, a penthouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Gekko asks Bud to buy large quantities of stock in a paper company, Teldar, a failing company which Gekko wants to takeover and turn around. Bud does this by enlisting his friends as straw buyers of the stock and giving them a cut of the proceeds (Here as well he uses his friends as a means to support his wrong doings by offering them a share of his salary. In a way it accounts for bribery, another ethical issue). It is at the Teldar annual stockholder’s meeting where Gekko gives his infamous “Greed is good” speech. There is a famous quote which Douglas says as follows:

“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.”

In the road to perdition, Bud does several acts which are against his principles but still to achieve confidence of his boss, he does them. These tasks include following Lawrence Wildman, business rival of Gekko to trace his movement and analyze his possible actions. In this way again Gekko ends up making millions of Dollars.

Bud in the mean time gains complete confidence of his boss. He suggest and idea to Gekko. The plan was to buy Blue-star airlines and expand it using the savings achieved by union concession. Bud approaches his father to get union support for this turnaround of the company. The situation takes a dramatic turn when Bud learns that Gekko plans to sell off Bluestar’s assets and in the process, thus leave Carl and the entire Bluestar staff unemployed, however making Bud extremely rich as the president of Bluestar. Angered by Gekko’s decision, and burdened with the guilt of being a scapegoat to Bluestar’s destruction, Bud chooses his father as his mentor and resolves to foil Gekko’s plans. He creates a plan to keep Bluestar airlines out of the reach of Gekko. He decides to keep the stock prices move down so that Gekko decide to sell of his stock, and at that lower price he convinces Gekko’s rival Mr. Wilderman to buyback the stocks, who then becomes the airline’s majority stock owner. Gekko, when realizes that his stock has plummeted, finally decides to dump his continued interest in the company. Thus, Bud again used wrong means of manipulating stock prices, but this time for the good of his people.

 Gekko, eventually comes to know that Bud had engineered the entire scheme. So, the following day, when Bud jubilantly goes back to work, everyone was curiously in a grave mood. He is confronted by the police and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), who had became doubtful of Bud when they detected that he placed an unusually large buy order of Teldar stock, which was monitored and thus picked up by StockWatch. Bud is placed under arrest, handcuffed, and taken out of the office in tears. In the end Bud meets Gekko in central park where Bud is viciously attacked by Gekko. Gekko in innocence while assaulting him mentions of his involvement in the illegal business transactions. Bud actually records all his acceptances in a recorder, which he later hands over to the police.


Bud Fox:

Bud Fox as a person is very ambitious stock broker who makes $50,000 a year in salary. His father is Carl, who is a worker at BlueStar Airlines. Bud was offered a job at Bluestar Airlines, however he declined the offer because he wanted to pursue his dream. He believes he must make himself a major player in the market at any cost and later in the film he proves this to us. His goal is to “bag the elephant” which means doing business with one of the bigger investors in the financial markets of Wall Street. He is an ambitious person and the way he purchased expensive gifts like cigars in order to get opportunities shows his go-getter attitude in life.

Gordon Gekko:

Gecko is an arbitrager in the business world. An arbitrager is one who searches for information about firms that are wreck able. Once a potential firm is found and taken over the arbitrager can then make lucrative profits through liquidation of the taken over companies assets. One might say that Gecko is driven by greed because he doesn’t care about those people in the company or their future only his bank account. He has all the wealth in the world, but still he lusts for more and more of it. He value information the most, information obtained by any means. In the pursuit of his goals he looks for poor but smart people who could go that extra mile to get him information. He understood that his greed cannot stand all by itself, thus he strategized to spread his greed over to his workers. By making Bud greedy for more money, a better life-style, status etc. he made Bud do all the tasks which he otherwise would not be ready to do. He convinced the young stock broker that “GREED IS GOOD.” The eastern philosophy that greed is the starting point of self-destruction becomes true in Gordon’s case.

Carl (Bud’s Father):

The character is played by Martin Sheen. He plays an important character in the movie. He is the person who changes Bud at the right moment. He makes him realise that the best thing in the world is to create value, not to buy and sell dreams for others. It is because of Carl that Bud undergoes a change of mind and decides to act in a way that is for the larger good of the society rather than his personal good. Also Carl has very high moral values as was justified by his actions of not letting himself be involved in selling off the company to Gekko and his support or the unions.

Effect of movies on Society:

Movies in particular and Mass media in general has a strong impact on the society. The roles that are portrayed in movies leave a long term mark on its audience. Movies form an ideal mode of communicating one’s ideas to a large group of people. Thus, one should be very sensible while trying to address an issue to the audience. The way the hero portrays himself in the film will be emulated by the fans and this might end up having serious consequences. In the attitude of the hero throughout the film, he will not show any respect to any individual. As these film stars have got a huge number of fan followers, the attitude portrayed by the hero in the film will be seriously followed by the fan followers also in their real-life situations. It is not only the uneducated youth who follow stars blind folded but also the educated people who know in the mind that all this does not make any sense, but accept it by heart.

Ethics in movies:

Thus, as we have seen that movies have a major impact on the society, this source should be used to spread ethical behavior, virtues in the society. There have been many tries in this direction, which include movies like “No Country for Old men,” “Blood Diamond,” “Wall Street.” These kinds of movies move the audience and make them think as what is right and what is wrong. Thus, we should try preaching these concepts of ethics through motion pictures.


The issues that we thought could be discussed with ethical angle were

Insider information


Manipulation of stocks

Each of the above issues will be discussed in detail. These issues are so relevant in the current market conditions. But still in order to tackle these issues, stringent laws have been made by the government. But still such cases do happen, examples could be taken of Billionaire galleon group founder Raj Rajarathnam, Anil Kumar, Board member on ISB.


Insider trading is the trading of a corporation’s stock or other securities (e.g. bonds or stock options) by individuals with potential access to non-public information about the company. In some of the countries the law says that members inside the organization can trade, if this trading is done in a way that does not take into account the non-public information. n the United States and several other jurisdictions, trading conducted by corporate officers, key employees, directors, or significant shareholders (in the U.S., defined as beneficial owners of ten percent or more of the firm’s equity securities) must be reported to the regulator or publicly disclosed, usually within a few business days of the trade. But still insider trading is supposed to be increasing the cost of capital for issuers, thus hampering the economic growth.

There are two types of insider trading based on the laws in the country, Legal insider trading and illegal insider trading.

Legal Insider trading:

Legal trades by insiders are common, as employees of publicly-traded corporations often have stock or stock options. These trades are made public in the US through SEC filings, mainly Form 4. Prior to 2001, US law restricted trading such that insiders mainly traded during windows when their inside information was public, such as soon after earnings releases. Section in law clarified that the U.S. prohibition against insider trading does not require proof that an insider actually used material nonpublic information when conducting a trade; possession of such information alone is sufficient to violate the provision.  For example, if a corporate insider plans on retiring after a period of time and, as part of his or her retirement planning, adopts a written, binding plan to sell a specific amount of the company’s stock every month for the next two years, and during this period the insider comes into possession of material nonpublic information about the company, any subsequent trades based on the original plan might not constitute prohibited insider trading.

Illegal insider trading:

Rules against insider trading on material non-public information exist in most jurisdictions around the world, though the details and the efforts to enforce them vary considerably. The United States is generally viewed as having the strictest laws against illegal insider trading, and makes the most serious efforts to enforce them.

A trading done by a 3rd party on the information given by the person related to the company would account for Insider trading.

A new implication for the Insider trading law has been formed, it is misappropriation theory. It says that anyone who misappropriates (steals) information from their employer and trades on that information in any stock (not just the employer’s stock) is guilty of insider trading.


United States has compiled many laws to curb insider trading. US has been on the fore-front to make laws directed at curbing insider trading.

These are:-

Common law

SEC regulations

Although there have been many counter arguments for legalizing Insider trading in US. There are many Economists and legal scholars who argue that laws making insider trading illegal should be revoked. They say that by having non-public insider information the investors are benefitted, by more quickly introducing information in the market. Others argue that Insider trading is a legal pact between the seller and buyer, wherein seller owns the property (legally).

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It is an act wherein an individual in order to be benefitted by any other individual or to get any favor done gifts something to that individual. Bribery, a form of pecuniary corruption, is an act implying money or gift given that alters the behavior of the recipient. Bribery accounts for crime, no matter in what circumstance it is given. Corruption and bribery goes hand in hand, corruption has social and economic consequences on people and business around the globe. Corruption has been considered evil by people everywhere in the world. Most are given to public officials to make them change the rules or break the laws that were made for the common good. We can take examples from our daily lives, when we are caught without license, the first thing we do is pay bribe to the police officer so that he may let us go. Bribe may be given in two cases, one is given when we want the authority to change the rules all together and the other is when we want to expedite the process. In the movie as well we see the Bud Fox in order to park money of Gekko into the accounts of his friends offers them incentives. In the book, “the economist” a mention of a very important point is made, that people act as per incentives. Thus, in order to meet his ends Fox induces his friends to be accomplice in the process.


Market manipulation describes a deliberate attempt to interfere with the free and fair operation of the market and create artificial, false or misleading appearances with respect to the price of, or market for, a security. Market manipulation is prohibited in the United States and other countries by acts in the respective companies. The Act defines market manipulation as transactions which create an artificial price or maintain an artificial price for a tradable security.

This manipulation can occur in several ways:-

Pools: This includes an agreement wherein a group of traders delegate authority to a single manager to trade for a specific period of time and then share the profits or loss.

Churning: When a trader places both buy and sell orders at about the same price. The increase in activity is intended to attract additional investors, and increase the price.

Runs: When a group of traders create activity or rumors in order to drive the price of a security up. An example is the Guinness share-trading fraud of the 1980s. In the US, this activity is usually referred to as painting the tape.

Ramping: Actions designed to artificially raise the market price of listed securities and to give the impression of voluminous trading, in order to make a quick profit.

Bear Raid: Attempting to push the price of a stock down by heavy selling or short selling.

In the movie we see that, Fox in order to take revenge on Gekko, asks his fellow traders to start selling the stock so that the stock prices plummets the stocks of Blue star Airlines, so that Gekko gets rid of the stock without getting much hurt. In the same way we have seen that in order to increase the stock price earlier in the movie, he asks his friends to advise their respective clients to purchase stock of interest.

Ethical Theories:

In the movie the ethical dilemmas that we see primarily is the difference in the ethical valuation that Bud, Gekko and Carl do. Some of the theories highlighted are:

Gekko is a person having psychological egoism. He believes that all actions are prompted by selfish desires. It maintains that self-oriented interests ultimately motivate all human actions.

Another theory that comes across is the deontological theory, which states that we all have certain clear obligations we have as human beings such as to care for our children, and to not commit murder. In the movie Carl shows moral values where he chooses his union and co-workers at Bluestar airlines over sharing profit made by his son.

Consequentialist theory is also one of the principles that we see in the movie being highlighted. This theory states that “An action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable.” When Gordon Gekko thinks his thinking can be termed as unethical based on this theory. This is because the bad consequences of his action like the Bluestar employees losing their jobs and the Shareholders losing their money far outweighs the good consequences of Gekko getting huge returns on his investment.

Social Contract Theory – In the movie “Wall Street”, Gekko can justify his actions according to the above theory. This theory propounds the view that persons’ moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement between them to form society. In the place Wall Street, there exists a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world. Therefore in order to survive one has to adhere to Wall Street norms. Bud as a newcomer has to adjust in order to stay and flourish there and not try to change it.


The movie Wall Street portrays a very strong social context emerging on the Wall Street, where competition and the urge to make more money have left no room for ethical decision making. This movie sensitizes us with a dilemma which a young dreamer faces when he faces the practicality of the real world. In order to make big bucks he has to make a decision against his moral principles. He does take it, however sooner realizes that this chase for money is a never ending chase and will make a monster out of him. He therefore retraces his steps back. Although it came at a cost of him getting arrested, he had no qualms regarding his decision. Concluding about the actions taken by the characters in the movie can be controversial, as suggested because both sides can give their points based on different theories and explanation; however as a group we strongly feel that Bud did make a very ethical decision.

Everyone does mistakes. As a newcomer, it was natural of him to get impressed by the bigwigs of the industry. However what distinguished him was the force and strength of his character, by which he listened to his own true inner voice. In the last scene when Bud fox encounters Gekko he very truly and aptly says to Gekko that “I guess I realized, I’m just Bud Fox. As much I wanted to be Gordon Gekko, I’ll always be Bud Fox.”


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