Wednesday, June 16, 2010

National Punch a Banker Day

Just now finished reading Michael Lewis' The Big Short. It was absolutely amazing. Can I be him when I grow up? Failing that, can I at least run into him at Berkeley Bowl and say hello? Seriously, this book is great. It's an entertaining tale of three groups of Wall Street outsiders (a one-eyed neurologist with Asperger's and some dudes living in a shack in Berkeley, for example) who foresaw the subprime mortgage meltdown and made a fortune by betting against the CDO's.

I'm too excited about this book to really respond clearly, so here are random thoughts: Investment banking is worthless, but betting against the system is somehow fascinating. The system is totally rigged. Also, the Black-Scholes equation and the fact that people systematically underestimate the likelihood of very bad events occurring (behavioral economics!)

Fascinating, huh?

Also, I can't wait to read the next book in this non-trilogy (with Liar's Poker as the first and Short as the second), because this one basically ends with the bailouts, and somebody (Lewis? Sy Hersh? Bethany McLean?) needs to write a brilliant expose on how ridiculous it is that the same d-bags who bankrupted the system are still running it, with even weak reform yet to pass.

I'll end with a bit from the first chapter when I knew I was in love with this book:
"The guest speaker was Herb Sandler, the CEO of a giant savings and loan called Golden West Financial Corporation. "Someone asked him if he believed in the free checking model," recalls Eisman. "And he said, 'Turn off your tape recorders.' Everyone turned off their tape recorders. And he explained that they avoided free checking because it was really a tax on poor people--in the form of fines for overdrawing their checking accounts. And that banks that used it were really just banking on being able to rip off poor people even more than they could if they charged them for their check."
Eisman asked, "Are any regulators interested in this?"
"No," said Sandler.
"That's when I decided the system was really, 'Fuck the poor.'"

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