Monday, January 12, 2009

Liar's Poker

To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old, with no experience of, or particular interest in, guessing which stocks and bonds would rise and which would fall. The essential function of Wall Street is to allocate capital—to decide who should get it and who should not. Believe me when I tell you that I hadn’t the first clue....

If mere scandal could have destroyed the big Wall Street investment banks, they’d have vanished long ago. This woman wasn’t saying that Wall Street bankers were corrupt. She was saying they were stupid. These people whose job it was to allocate capital apparently didn’t even know how to manage their own.

It seems to me that Wall Street is morally bankrupt and that its finances are finally justifying its workers' behavior. In addition to lack of values, many investors lacked competence as well. The two paragraphs above are from an insider's look at Wall Street and the reason for its collapse, written by Michael Lewis, one of my favorite writers. Before becoming a full-time journalist, Lewis was a bond salesman at Salomon Brothers in the mid-80's. To read a very interesting piece on what has happened inside Wall Street, click here.

Unfortunatly, after reading Lewis's article, and a recent New York Times piece, I believe America is headed for a second Great Depression. What bothers me most is not the frauds on Wall Street or even the inevitable economic decline of my country. Both of those I can understand intellectually and deal with physcologically. After all, I'm good at living without minimal resources. I also don't have much money to lose, so I don't have to live with that either, nor do I have to support children or think about retiring soon. The thing that bothers me most is that my parents and older family members may not be able to have a retirement that they worked so hard for.

I am not a negative person, but I am realistic. I do expect another depression, but I think it'll help instill the values that made my grandparents generation so great. Without good values, especially in business, there is no hope for lasting success.