Michael Lewis revisits “Liar’s Poker”

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I strongly thought I was trying to describe Brigadoon. He could never survive. They were willing to pay me probably millions of dollars, but certainly hundreds of thousands, to provide financial advice when I certainly didn’t know what you should do with your money. I just thought it was impossible. It was like the end of an era. Michael Milken was going to jail. It was like one thing after another. The company will put its arms around Wall Street. And this financialization enterprise will stop or be slowed down. I was wrong about that.

It may not be finished. But do you think that has changed?

The place tolerated a range of human behaviors and a range of characters that businesses don’t have today. The corporate culture was almost all that is allowed and it was fun, especially for someone writing about it. There was nothing like Salomon Brothers back then. Now everything has been kind of flattened into this gray. I think there are characters like Jamie Dimon who would have been very comfortable on the floor of Solomon. But I think the environment has changed.

The sound, smell and kind of taste of the place seems to have changed. I walked into a large hedge fund trading room, and they’re completely silent. It’s just guys and women staring at screens and doing things with their computers. It’s such a different environment, although perhaps the underlying relationship with the rest of society hasn’t changed.

It seemed to me that your book was an indictment of Wall Street but it may have had the opposite effect. Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” was also supposed to be an indictment, but everyone wanted to be Gordon Gekko.

Yeah. I know. And I didn’t see it coming. For me, it was like just gas for writing. They were a little funnier on the page than they were in real life. Guess I should have expected a youngster to mostly get the Wall Street fun out of it.

Personally, do you have a positive or negative impression of Wall Street?

I can’t say I don’t like Wall Street people. I like some of them. But I think the system is perpetually screwed up, and I don’t quite understand why, except that people end up in positions of influence and they can make money with a screwed up system. I consider it morally neutral. If properly incentivized, they tend to do things that are more or less in everyone’s interest. And if they’re misled, they don’t.

As a storyteller, what do you think of today’s characters?

I feel like technology has made the characters a little less rich. It’s more like there’s a flatness that technology has encouraged. The old characters from that era were kind of breaking down the aisles. They were disrupting Wall Street in all sorts of ways.

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