Michael Lewis’s Age of Money

Michael Lewis is the great tale-spinner in the Second Gilded Age in America. He’s part muckraker, but part Mark Twain, too, for finding classic characters as good as the King and the Duke in Huckleberry Finn on Wall Street today: the good, the bad, the geeky, the banks and traders making billions mostly in the dark.

Like a great novelist, Lewis writes the moral ecology of the story.  Five years ago in The Big Short, after the meltdown of the subprime mortgage racket, the center of the story was a thick air of anger and doom – because near-autistic social misfits saw the problem, when the go-along greedy guys didn’t.  Only the mentally strange acted,  and they weren’t called heroes for being right.

Now Lewis has taken on another disease in the money system: Trading is a war of robots, a black box that almost none of the players get to see inside – too fast, too algorithmic, too fragmented, too automated, too layered for human understanding. He says the market at the heart of capitalism is still rigged and that it’s become a means of systematizing unfairness.

Meanwhile the eccentrics and iconoclasts are still not rewarded for their clear sight:

It’s a problem that people who speak truth to power get quickly classified as oddball rather than important. Maybe it’s always been that way. It’s a big problem in culture of elites, in the structure of institutions. On Wal Stret, elites have lack of sense of responsibility — or their responsibility is not to the larger society. They have responsibility to shareholders, to the bottom-line, to short-term results, etc. But there isn’t a sense of noblesse oblige. That got drained out of us, I think. They don’t have any sense that they’re lucky to be there. They think they deserved whatever they got.

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  • Cambridge Forecast


    The discussions with Michael Lewis were scintillating as Lewis is a rare exemplum of a thoughtful “sanity machine”.

    There’s a layer or dimension that might be added to these discussions:

    If the Great Recession is more than just another periodic convulsion (see Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff’s “This Time Is Different” book, implying ironically that “this time is not different. Also: Charles Kindleberger’s classic: “Manias, Panics, and Crashes”) than the whole discussion has to be modified.
    What’s missing is the Locomotive-of-the-Global-Economy question.

    The reason that the Great Recession from 2007/8 is not just the story of a financial short-circuit involving mortgage finance and capital flows and corporate overleveraging, is that it also portends the potential beginning of the end of Western consumption as that engine which pulls the rest of the world along. This raises the question: what would a new locomotive look like and what would it need. What would the track be?
    In other words, one needs to widen the canvas on which the Michael Lewis points are “painted.”

    The locomotive for the world economy question and related dimensions is discussed in this book:

    “The Reagan Revolution and the Developing Countries”
    (Lawrence Feiner and Richard Melson)

    This will add a layer to the ROS discussions, a layer which deepens the issues and setting.

    Richard Melson