by Michael Lewis
Nov 11 2008
The era that defined Wall Street is finally, officially over. Michael Lewis, who chronicled its
returns to his old haunt to figure out what went wrong.
Photoillustration by: Ji Lee
o 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.
I’d never taken an accounting course, never run a business, never even had savings of my own to manage. I
stumbled into a job at Salomon Brothers in 1985 and stumbled out much richer three years later, and even
though I wrote a book about the experience, the whole thing still strikes me as preposterous—which is one
of the reasons the money was so easy to walk away from. I figured the situation was unsustainable. Sooner
rather than later, someone was going to identify me, along with a lot of people more or less like me, as a
fraud. Sooner rather than later, there would come a Great Reckoning when Wall Street would wake up and
hundreds if not thousands of young people like me, who had no business making huge bets with other
people’s money, would be expelled from finance.
When I sat down to write my account of the experience in 1989—
it was called—it was in the
spirit of a young man who thought he was getting out while the getting was good. I was merely scribbling
down a message on my way out and stuffing it into a bottle for those who would pass through these parts in
the far distant future.
Unless some insider got all of this down on paper, I figured, no future human would believe that it happened.
I thought I was writing a period piece about the 1980s in America. Not for a moment did I suspect that the
financial 1980s would last two full decades longer or that the difference in degree between Wall Street and
ordinary life would swell into a difference in kind. I expected readers of the future to be outraged that back in
1986, the C.E.O. of Salomon Brothers, John Gutfreund, was paid $3.1 million; I expected them to gape in
Original Article as found at: http://www.portfolio.com/news-markets/national-