James Cramer

The Gold Standard: How the movies -- past and present -- changed our lives

In films about Wall Street, noble young idealists are always destroyed by the predaceous corruption of the business world. So perhaps Cramer’s success — first as a Wall Street kingpin, currently as an author and host of “Mad Money” — can be traced to his business model, “The Godfather Part II.”

“I saw that in college,” Cramer says, “and it got me thinking. Is business really just about power and corruption? Is the Mafia actually a model for American business in general? And that turned out to be the case. I was already way too cynical, and that movie just made me so much more so.”

Armed with this attitude, Cramer made a fortune as a Goldman Sachs trader and later a hedge-fund manager in the 1980s. He also befriended future incarcerate Ivan Boesky, who inspired the Gordon Gecko character in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” which Cramer calls “totally accurate in its depiction of the raiders. And of the hedge-fund world, too, which creates no value whatsoever. This kind of vicious capitalism must be stopped. How many people does it put to work? To put it in Marxist terms, it’s a friction in the system. That’s why ‘Wall Street’ was such an honest movie.”

Cramer eventually quit the hedge-fund business due to, as he describes it, “this overall sense that I truly belonged in hell.” His work since in books and TV has emphasized a subversive view of investment, one nonetheless anathema to the pipe-dream populism of many films.

“It would be fabulous if ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ were true,” he says. “You know what else would be great? If the Bailey Building & Loan in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ were to survive. But in real life we’d all be going to the Potter Library and thinking of him as a great benefactor. Potter would have bought off the bank examiner just to shut down the Building & Loan.”

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