Money, money, money, or, “Greed is good”

Making it, spending it, needing it. It’s on the news and in commercials, game shows, and reality shows. Some days it seems money is all anybody talks about. Well, that and the weather.

The world is still struggling with the financial crisis triggered in 2008, so it is quite fitting that the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre is exploring themes of money, greed, and corruption with a remounting of Other People’s Money, a satire on the excess of the 1980s by Jerry Sterner.

In the business world, corporate takeovers are the ultimate seduction. Larry the Liquidator preys on companies that are worth more dead than alive and he’s set his sights on the aging New England Wire and Cable Company. As he prepares to play monopoly with people’s lives, Larry realizes this family business has more game – and heart – than he anticipated.

If the financial ridiculousness of the ‘80s (and today) is of interest to you, or if you would just enjoy similar stories, we have compiled a list of good reads (and movies) that explore the themes in the play:

On the Financial Mischief of the 1980s

Barbarians at the GateBarbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar is the definitive account of 1980s-style deal making, corporate mergers, and what was at the time the largest takeover in Wall Street history.

Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart tells the story of four top Wall Street players and the massive insider-trading scheme that made them billions – before they were caught and brought to justice.

Liar's PokerLiar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage On Wall Street by Michael M. Lewis is an often humourous take on his own experiences as a bond trader in the 1980s and the greedy high-stakes game known as liar’s poker.

Going for Broke: How Robert Campeau Bankrupted the Retail Industry, Jolted the Junk Bond Market, and Brought the Booming 80s to a Crashing Halt by John Rothchild outlines the legacy of a Canadian real estate developer, financier, and leveraged buyout enthusiast who bankrupted Bloomingdale’s, Abraham & Straus, Jordan Marsh and others.

Roger & Me

Roger & Me. When his hometown was devastated by an automobile plant closure, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore tried to track down General Motors Chairman Roger B. Smith (the elusive Roger of the title) for an interview. A devastating look at the victims of downsizing in the midst of the 1980s economic boom.

On the More Recent State of Things

I.O.U.I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay by John Lanchester. How could so many smart people be so dumb? This entertaining overview of the recent financial crisis explains how the booming global economy collapsed seemingly overnight.

Inside Job is a documentary examining the sources of the global financial crisis of 2008 through exhaustive research and extensive interviews with key financial insiders, politicians, and journalists.

Some Fictional Explorations

Capital, by John Lanchester. It’s 2008 and the world’s financial markets are falling apart. The residents of Pepys Road in London receive anonymous postcards reading “We Want What You Have.” Who’s behind it, and what do they want? A novel of a city at a moment of extraordinary tension.

FinancialIn The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter, Matt is losing his job, his house, and his wife – until he discovers a way to possibly save his family from economic disaster. Of course, it happens to be illegal…

The Privileges, by Jonathan Dee. Wealthy New Yorkers Adam and Cynthia Morey seem to have it all, but they believe they deserve even more. As their marriage begins to collapse, Adam is confronted with an ethical choice that may destroy his family.

A Week in DecemberA Week in December, by Sebastian Faulks. A shady hedge fund manager touches several intersecting lives over seven days in London. The writing on the wall appears in letters ten feet high, but the characters refuse to see it in this vicious satire on modern life.

Wall Street. “Greed is good.” This 1987 classic features corporate raider Gordon Gekko, a composite of the most notorious private equity figures of the 1980s, and his scheme to take over a failing airline, lay off its employees, and strip its assets.

Local HeroLocal Hero. This charming film by Bill Forsyth portrays another clash of big business and small-town values, as a Texan oil executive is sent to acquire an entire Scottish village to make way for a refinery.

I hope there’s something in this list that you enjoy. If you get to see the play, drop me a line and let me know what you thought of that Larry the Liquidator guy. Quite a character, no?


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