[Author's note: This is review/recommendation of a book you should buy only after first purchasing mine.]
Unless you’ve been in a cave on Mars for the past two weeks you’ve been reading a lot about Wall Street. Watching Hank Paulson shit his pants in Congressional hearings, hearing about Dick Fuld getting knocked out by an irate trader at his gym… Waiting and wondering when the biggest financial clusterfuck since the Great Depression is going to ease.
Don’t hold your breath.
I’ve got three bits of advice. One, shut off your computer and reroute your mail so you won’t be tempted to open an investment statement for the next year or so. Two, buy up a good stock of liquor – a shopping cart’s worth, as Nick Cage does in Leaving Las Vegas (you won’t want to do much driving… everybody else on the road will be liquored). Three, buy a copy of Leveraged Sellout’s Damn it Feels Good to Be a Banker and read about how all this shit came to pass. Well, at least the half of it Wall Street caused. Might as well laugh at the mess. There isn’t much else to do.
DIFGTBAB is a satire and it is ridiculous – vicious cartoonish descriptions of now extinct uber-banker types Tom Wolfe dubbed “Masters of the Universe.” But damn if it isn’t accurate and laugh out loud hysterical. Some old fuck, I think Faulkner, said “the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism.” If that holds, then LSO’s proving here, maybe accidentally, maybe intentionally, that satire paints the clearest picture of the animals a writer skewers. If you’re going to make fun of the ridiculous, why not be ridiculous?
And he is. From the descriptions of the various types of gold-digging trophy wives to the obsessions over clothing, having an Amex Black card and working for the most “prestigious” firms on the Street, LSO nails – hilariously – every closeted insecurity of the breed. But it’s not just biting sarcasm. The guy’s a great writer, with an amazing wit, and the book is packed with brutal insights. The bit on bankers liking simple, dumb music speaks a hundred volumes to the narrowness he’s mocking at every turn. The hierarchy of business schools he describes, with the attendant paranoia it fosters in the “lower tier” graduates, is a perfect example of the premium the industry places on superficial intelligence… The type of vacant “surface meritocracy” that creates limited minds who’ll blind rely on the sorts of financial models that created this mess. Hiring purely by academic credential will get a firm, well, academic analysis. Hard to imagine anybody but a pure egghead would think the risk accruing from obvious malfeasance and lax oversight in the mortgage lending industry could be nullified with a mathematical formula.
You want a brutally funny, scathing look at the incompetents who insured defaults on the mortgages on all those empty McMansions you might have driven by lately? Want a look at the ex-Masters of the Universe who got taken for a ride by a pack of street-level mortgage brokers, speculators in non-recourse venues, loan sharks like Angelo Mozillo and the twice-as-clever-as-they-were securitizers in their firms who grabbed buckets of bonus money as they knew the house of cards was teetering? I’m sure a lot of people think this book is terribly timed, and not very funny at the moment. Those people are crazy. Damn it Feels Good to be a Banker only got funnier in the past two weeks.
Why get mad at Wall Street when you can laugh at it? We all need some humor and this book delivers it in spades. Go out and buy a copy. What else are you going to do with the money, invest it?