MICHAEL LEWIS: Wall Street Offers People The Ability To Succeed Without Any Original Ideas

Famed author Michael Lewisis criticising Wall Street culture again.

This time, instead of talking about a specific firm as he did in his iconic book, ‘Liar’s Poker’ he’s listed several “occupational hazards” of working on the Street in a Bloomberg View column.

In it, he accuses Wall Streeters of being charlatans who pretend to know more than they do. And then adds that they’re incapable of making deep attachments and don’t challenge or question existing arrangements.

Everyone in the finance business “at least at first” will feel the necessity to pretend to know more than he does, says Lewis. But ultimately Wall Street just basically pretends to know the unknowable. The business, he muses, requires more luck than skill.

“Much of what Wall Street sells is less like engineering than like a forecasting service for a coin-flipping contest — except that no one mistakes a coin-flipping contest for a game of skill,” he writes.

Ouch.

He goes on to say that financiers will “find it surprisingly hard” to form “deep attachments” to anyone and anything greater than himself.

“The primary relationship of most people in big finance is not to their employer but to their market.”

He writes that “people who work inside the big Wall Street firms have no serious stake in the long-term fates of their firms. If the place blows up they can always do what they are doing at some other firm — so long as they have maintained their stature in their market.”

Maintaining stature, in fact, ends up being everything.

“One of our financial sector’s most striking traits is how fiercely it resists useful, disruptive entrepreneurship that routinely upends other sectors of our economy…
The intense pressure to conform, to not make waves, has got to be the most depressing part of all, for a genuinely ambitious young person. It’s pretty clear that the government lacks the power to force serious change upon the financial sector,” he adds.

All these problems, however, don’t mean that Wall Street is going anywhere. It offers two things that Silicon Valley can’t — the ability to succeed without having original ideas and the ability to “offer the sort of people who wind up at elite universities what a lot of them obviously crave: status certainty.”

“‘I’m going to Goldman,’ is still about as close as it gets in the real world to ‘I’m going to Harvard,'” he writes.

Read the whole take down at Bloomberg>

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