Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Big Short, by Michael Lewis

The commonest love story might be: She thought he was a bad boy. In fact he was an idiot.

I confess that I started The Big Short hoping to finally read a carefully researched indictment of all the bad boys on Wall Street. But as the book proceeds, you realize that the millionaire financiers of Wall Street are not, for the most part, bad boys. They are idiots.

Or not: they're smart enough, after all, to be in a business in which idiocy doesn't matter, because you will be rescued from it, again and again, by your neighbor, the American taxpayer—in order, ironically, for him to save himself from what you've done.

So in that regard the idiots on Wall Street are craftier than the rest of us, who gamble, when we can afford to, in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and Reno. Wall Street's idiots don't gamble with their own money. They gamble with everyone else's, pay themselves extravagantly for the privilege (the more absurd their bets, the more they pay themselves), and when they lose everyone but them pays.

And we do pay—most recently with our jobs, our homes, our economic futures.

When the girl next door gives herself to a bad boy, we can admire, at least, the romance, the danger, the high-spiritedness of what she's done. There's no romance, though, when she gives herself to an idiot. So The Big Short, and the subsequent crisis it explains, is not romantic or even especially sinister. It's just really, really sad.

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