I’m currently reading a book written in 1973 by Charles Ellis called The Second Crash which is a semi-fictional account of the aftermath of a 1970 stock market crash. What’s amazing about the book is that for everything you might think would have changed since 1973, much of the language resonates just as strongly today. Below is a great passage about the culture on Wall Street. The speaker is a fictional fortune 500 executive:
“What a bunch of jerks those guys are. The only thing that counts in Wall Street is money. Money, money, money, money. There’s no reality in that business–everything is for sale. And for sale all day long. Maybe you can’t really blame them for losing touch. I mean if you think you can buy and sell General Motors any time of any day–and that’s exactly what they think they’re doing when they trade a few blocks of GM stock–maybe you learn to have a case of Megalomania. Maybe you just can’t help it. Or maybe you have to con yourself so you can live with the fact that you’re getting rich doing damned near nothing. Does anybody really believe that trading stocks back and forth really matters all that much?
Every time I go to Vegas I think of Wall Street. They’re almost exactly the same. Think about it. Big money is on the line all the time. The action is continuous. The little guy comes in for thrills which the fat cats provide him because they need to finance their overhead. But the real action happens out in the back rooms where it’s quiet and everybody plays table stakes. Out front in the casino they’ve got croupiers and dealers who are just like brokers in a classy boardroom. The noise is even the same–the slots sound just like the automated quote boards and there’s that constant hum of people parting with their money. The words are so much alike you have to look carefully to be sure you know where you are–“double up,” “let winners run,” “you’re covered,” “I’m short,” “I’m hot,” and all that. But in both places the only way to really understand what’s going on and why is by getting to know the principals. Both groups are interesting. Both groups are good at the same thing. They’re good killers.”