Friday, October 19, 2007

Black Monday (and Gordon Gekko) Revisited

Wall Street marked the 20th anniversary of the largest-ever one-day percentage plunge in the Dow Jones Industrial Average with a 367-point (2.6%) drop. On October 19, 1987 - "Black Monday" - the Dow fell 508 points, which was a 22% decline from its previous close of 2247. The New York Times revisited its coverage (check out the screaming headline). The Wall Street Journal marked the anniversary on Monday with a comparison to today's market (and some nifty charts and a video interview with floor broker) and an interview with NYU financial historian Richard Sylla.

It was scary stuff indeed - certain middle-schoolers anticipated an economic depression - but the economy ultimately shrugged it off. Financial markets sometimes seem oddly disconnected from the real economy. The recovery that had begun in November 1982 continued until July 1990.

Though it was an economic non-event, perhaps it marked a cultural turning point - an end to the greedy, selfish materialism of the 1980's. In a recent Slate essay on the movie "Wall Street," which starred Michael Douglas as greedy corporate raider Gordon Gekko, Jessica Winter wrote:
Released in December 1987, two months after the Black Monday stock market crash and just one week before Ivan Boesky was sentenced to three years in prison for securities fraud, Wall Street appeared like the indignant coda to an era that had suddenly self-destructed. (Parts of Gekko's famous "Greed is good" speech are freely paraphrased from comments Boesky made in 1985.) "The eighties are over," Newsweek announced in its first issue of 1988, adding, "Maybe the best pop-culture indicator of the post-'80s spirit is the respectful reception given to Oliver Stone's dreadfully ham-handed Wall Street."
George Bush was elected in 1988 promising a "kindler, gentler America" - an implicit rebuke to the harshness of the Reagan era. Two decades later, as Winter notes, it seems like the 1980's didn't so much end in 1987, they just paused. "Corporate raiding" is now called "private equity," the second gilded age rolls on apace, and that Don Henley CD I'm listening to now seems oddly un-dated. Just as we did with "Born in the USA," we seemed to miss the point of Wall Street:
Douglas says he's still stunned by the number of people who tell him that his Oscar-winning role was the reason they went to work on Wall Street. "It's so depressing and sad," Douglas says.
A sequel, "Money Never Sleeps" is in the works.

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