August 6, 2015
Michael Lewis is a former Wall Street-bond-salesman-turned-writer. His book “Liar’s Poker” chronicled the 1980s rise of Solomon Brothers, the investment bank where he worked. More recently, he has written about Silicon Valley and high-speed trading.
Tonight, he shares a perspective on his journey from working on Wall Street to becoming one of its biggest critics.
MICHAEL LEWIS, Author, Liar’s Poker: I find it outrageous that people who run big companies think it’s OK to pay themselves tens of millions of dollars. They should be thinking instead, I have an obligation to set an example for the company.
It was an accident that I got a job on Wall Street. Once I got it, and they started paying me huge sums of money to give financial advice, when I really shouldn’t have been doing it, it was briefly intoxicating to think that I had value. Once I sort of figured out how it worked, I lost interest in it, and built on the side a career as a writer.
If you insist on truly understanding something before you write about it, you can explain it. I do have an advantage, in that I worked in the place long enough and had to grapple with fairly complicated financial concepts, and I know how much B.S. there is and how often people even in the financial world think they kind of understand something when they don’t.
So I’m not shy about pushing people until I feel like I have got a proper explanation. In the arenas of American ambition, in Hollywood, or Silicon Valley, or Washington, or Wall Street, there is a knowingness about people. They don’t want to seem like they don’t know. And they think that, if they don’t know, they are going to seem stupid.
And that leads to a greater stupidity. The moral problem, such as it is, on Wall Street isn’t that people are kind of looking to do bad things. That’s not at all what people are doing. I think they would rather do good things if they could make as much money doing the good things as doing the bad things. But they’re looking to make money.
We live in a society in which the elites have maybe more power than they have ever had, a greater share of the wealth than they had in a very long time. But it’s not clear they feel much in the way of obligation to society.
There’s a natural tendency for people to tell the story of their lives, of their success, forgetting all the accident that was involved, all the help they got, all the gratitude they should feel.
My name is Michael Lewis, and this is my Brief but Spectacular take on the things that interest me. ♦