Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stories of the Decline

This is the end
Beautiful friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans
The End

You don't pull out a Doors quote for just any run of the mill bloggage. Oh no, a Doors quote demands something so absurd, so humorously evil, that nothing less will do. To what do I refer? Mortgage backed securities, of course.

And this brings us back to that article I linked up there, "The End," by Micheal Lewis. Lewis wrote Liar's Poker about his time working as a trader at Salomon Brothers in the late '80s. He writes about another Dorothea of the modern investment world, figuring out that the man behind the curtain is a fraud and figuring how best to profit from the knowledge. I'm another step removed from the whole process, having done nothing involving finance other than overdraw my meager and beleaguered bank account a few times. But I can't help but gawk at the wreckage. There is an unearned feeling of moral superiority that comes of it - I was right to major in English rather than Business! English may be equally bogus, but at least I didn't taint myself by making any money off of it! Or something like that.

The best criticisms come from within. Not because of insider knowledge, although that helps. Insiders can properly convey the emotional rush of the situation. How thrilling it must have been to realize that a significant portion of the world economy was a sham. The child thrills to discover that there is no tooth fairy, and grins within at talk of Santa Claus. The adults don't and they've been lying to you, but that's okay because now anything is possible - or nothing, but that doesn't come for a few years. It's the whole fucking point of The Wizard of Oz and something of the point of Alice in Wonderland.

Now don't accuse me of invented psychobabble, Lewis acknowledges the connection:

"But I didn’t argue with him. For just as you revert to being about nine years old when you visit your parents, you revert to total subordination when you are in the presence of your former C.E.O. John Gutfreund was still the King of Wall Street, and I was still a geek. He spoke in declarative statements; I spoke in questions.

But as he spoke, my eyes kept drifting to his hands. His alarmingly thick and meaty hands. They weren’t the hands of a soft Wall Street banker but of a boxer. I looked up. The boxer was smiling—though it was less a smile than a placeholder expression. And he was saying, very deliberately, “Your…fucking…book.”

I smiled back, though it wasn’t quite a smile.

“Your fucking book destroyed my career, and it made yours,” he said."

What's the ultimate moral status of one who profits from the evil he reveals? It's certainly better than one who says nothing. And it certainly made me want to read the book, which in this English major's opinion is never a bad thing.

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