TAS Executive Director David Kelley and financial analyst Jeff Scott had a long article in Reason many years ago, discussing the original Wall Street movie as well as the “decade of greed” myths on which it was based. (The article’s title, “Gekko Echo,” was the editors’ fault.)
The source of the current movie’s subtitle is an interesting question. In one sense, obviously, it comes from a famous line in the original Wall Street: “Money never sleeps, pal. I just made $800,000 in Hong Kong gold.” But that, in turn, may have come from the ad campaign that Citibank used in 1978 to announce the advent of ATMs: “The Citi Never Sleeps.”
In any case, when news of a sequel first appeared in May 2005, it was titled simply Money Never Sleeps. But that was relegated to a subtitle, and Wall Street 2 made the main title in 2009 when Oliver Stone agreed to come back and direct the project. Citibank may have been somewhat relieved at that development, inasmuch as it had, in May 2008, adopted “Citi Never Sleeps” as its corporate slogan.
Most commentators seem to assume that this whole line of “Never Sleeps” slogans and sayings comes ultimately from the slogan of the Pinkerton Detective Agency: “We never sleep.” But there is a much closer link to the realm of money. In 1938, J. Reuben Clark, a State Department lawyer under Calvin Coolidge and a high-ranking member of the Mormon hierarchy, warned about the dangers of debt, saying: “Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies. . . . Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you.”
Given that the recent financial crisis began with several government-pumped mortgage programs, and went into overdrive with the announcement of TARP, perhaps a more realistic movie about its origins would have focused on the wisdom of J. Reuben Clark and the folly of federally subsidized debt.