The modern world in its social, political, and economic manifestations has gone through a series of ideological changes throughout centuries of its existence. Overall, the search for an ideal type of government has always been a never-ending process due to the evolution of thought and constant willingness to change the existing regime (Gray, 2011). Neoliberalism as a theory emerged at the beginning of the 1930s and spread as a dominant ideology to the world in the 1970-1980s.
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According to this approach, market trading is a key element in the establishment of relationships in society that is capable of regulating the ethical, social, and economic spheres. The shift in economic views led to the novelty in political perspectives as well. Neoliberalism supporters reviewed the role of government in the life of a country where there is freedom of market relations and the financial sphere depends on them. However, as it is shown in Stone’s film, Wall Street when providing freedoms for economic growth using the private sector, society suffers from ultimate inequality that leads to the failure of the system.
The Emergence of Neoliberalism and its Relation to Classical Liberal Ideas
Neoliberalism is regarded as an attempt to rethink the ideas of classical liberalism that later lost their positions to totalitarian socialist theories. Dominating in many countries, these theories promoted the ideas of collectivism and planned achievements which failed to be economically effective (Hayek, 2014). Authoritarian and communist regimes did not prove themselves capable of maintaining both economic stability and social order, not being able to stimulate “steady economic growth” (Fukuyama, 2006, p. 39).
Thus, a change of political perspective became inevitable to sustain economic advancement by providing people with more freedoms. To achieve such goals, classic liberalism would not be enough due to its limitation of the rights of people to be involved in the political life of a country (Fukuyama, 2006). To establish freedom and equality for all, it was essential to provide a possibility of free-market exchange and a right to personal property. Such an approach allows for the economic system to evolve and support itself from within without the active inclusion of the government. However, every system has its drawbacks and the director of the film Wall Street succeeded in depicting the inner world of the neoliberal society.
Neoliberalism as Portrayed in the film Wall Street
From the point of view of neoliberalism, the protection of the property is a priority. As a consequence, those who “amassed the greatest amount of property often believed that they had made the largest contribution to developing the nation” (MacLean, 2017, p. 76). The race after financial fortune and leading positions in business became dominant and proclaimed a new ruthless type of personality a norm. Such ideas and practices of neoliberalism are vividly demonstrated in Stone’s (1987) film.
The market is the main force in the neoliberal economic world; it may provide a variety of freedoms and opportunities, but when it is uncontrolled it may cause chaos (Steger & Roy, 2010). The main stock market players break the law without any consequences to make profitable deals and remain successful while the less fortunate are deprived of opportunities.
The type of corporate relationship that emerged upon neoliberal theory dictates the immoral dominance of a limited number of profit-makers. The public is presented with “idealized images of a consumerist, free-market world” that enable them to influence the country’s life, but, in reality, the chances to succeed fairly are limited (Steger & Roy, 2010, p. 11). Money rules the world and those who have earned more, like the main character Gordon Gekko, have the right to influence the most important decisions (Stone, 1987).
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The laws of a seemingly flawless system where the market cannot fail because it governs itself and evolves according to its inner principles cannot satisfy the ethical requirements of society (Steger & Roy, 2010). The character of Charlie Sheen (Bud Fox) as a young broker on Wall Street views financial success as the ultimate goal of his life regardless of the cost it might require (Stone, 1987). Similar to the thoughts expressed by Steger and Roy (2010), the film director shows the need for the system to be regulated because the idea of the market’s ability to govern itself fails.
Neoliberalism as a theory provides multiple opportunities for freedom of trade and property, for political safety, and elimination of government’s intrusion into economic procedures on the market. However, despite the idea that the market can regulate itself without authoritative control, it is impossible to ensure legal equality for all. Constant unfair competition, greed, conspiracy, and breaking the law are the driving forces in achieving success in the eyes of Gekko and his peers. Therefore, neoliberal theory, like any ideology, is not ideal and cannot exist flawlessly without control. After centuries of evolution, the political and ideological paradigm needs to be changed and new perspectives on freedom, economic growth, and a type of government are to be found.
Fukuyama, F. (2006). The worldwide liberal revolution. In The end of history and the last man (pp. 39-51). New York, NY: Free Press.
Gray, J. (2011). The triumphalist. The New Republic. Web.
Hayek, F. A. (2014). The road to Serfdom: Text and documents: The definitive edition (Vol. 2). New York, NY: Routledge.
MacLean, N. (2017). Democracy in chains: The deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America. New York, NY: Viking.
Steger, M. B., & Roy, R. K. (2010). What’s ‘neo’ about liberalism? In Neoliberalism. A very short Introduction (pp.1-20). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Stone, O. (Director). (1987). Wall Street. United States: Twentieth Century Fox.