19
Nov
08

“It’s laisseiz-faire until you get into deep shit.” – John Gutfreund

bull

Are you like me? God help you, then. Because if you are, you are allergic to a great many things. I don’t mean molds or foods, even though I suffer from plenty of those maladies. I’m talking about cultural allergies.

For example, I have always been allergic to Wall Street culture. And my condition has constantly hampered my understanding of said culture.

As an informed layman, well-enough versed in some of the plumbing and jargon of professional capital allocation, I have nonetheless never arrived at any real understanding of the psychology or choreography of the market in stocks or bonds or derivatives. I know (with varying degrees of roughness) the wheres and the hows of many common financial instruments and markets – but the whys and the whens and the whos have not been nearly as clear.

Much of the opacity is due in the end to the constant repulsive stink the trading class gives off. It’s a greasy, tacky aroma of people in full estrus, chasing down a class entitlement with the kind of abandon that absolutely precludes being introspective, interrogative or interesting. Deprived of such traits to gravitate toward, I have been at a perpetual disadvantage in my ad hoc anthropology.

When regarding such a rut culture, suspicion is king. Decades of observing profitmaking by legions of certifiably dim and/or crazy persons leads one to infer that there is in fact far less than meets the eye in the culture, not more.

My first taste of this came in the late 1980s when I read the book Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis. Lewis, a Princeton grad who stumbled into investment banking out of school and stayed there for three years before leaving with his dignity, wrote a terrific book on his way out the door that lifted the lid on a very ridiculous, empty place. But a place that was busy changing the rules for itself in ways that directly resulted in the 2008 meltdown.

I don’t mean to review that volume, but I do want to spread around a link to a new Conde Nast Portfolio article by Lewis that revisits the Street today. The corpses of the giant investment banking houses strewn around him, he tells the tale of one guy and his crew who saw it all coming. Many many many whos whys and whens in this one. Enjoy, if you have the stomach. As far as I’m concerned, it’s must-read, Pulitzer material.

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1984-89: Defoliants
1991-94: Buzzmuscle
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