Against All the Odds (Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine)
Michael Lewis, (2010), The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, W W Norton & Co Inc.
Michael Lewis, the author of classic Liar’s Poker (1990), “waited for the end of Wall Street” in two decades (L.l02). But, it didn’t end, but flourished. Then it spectacularly exploded in 2008. He thought to himself: “If only I’d stuck around, this is the sort of catastrophe I might have created” (L.129). Certainly, he didn’t. He left the Wall Street some twenty years ago. But, being an ex-Wall Street guy, he felt obliged to know more. He wanted to know someone “who had anticipated the subprime mortgage cataclysm, thus setting himself up in advance to make a fortune from it” (L.145). He wanted to find someone who made the big short.
Thus, he followed the life stories of Steve Eisman, Mike Burry, and Charlie Ledley. They are odd in their own ways. “Even as late as the summer of 2006, as home prices began to fall, it took a certain kind of person to see the ugly facts and react to them – to discern, in the profile of the beautiful young lady, the face of an old witch. … All of them were, almost by definition, odd. But they were not all odd in the same way.” (L.1680) I won't preview how they have been odd in their own ways, because it is the main dish of the book. You will enjoy how tough they had to be against the tide.
The readers will wonder: Why are they odd? Or precisely speaking, why do they have to be odd? It is because they have to make their own bets in a very rare (once in a century) and difficult situation. They have to gamble in a Heads-I-Win-Tale-I-Lose situation against the financial system too big to fail. The rule of the system is that “(s)uccess was individual achievement; failure was a social problem.” (L.4045) You should be odd enough to fight through and through. In this sense, a theme of this book is the integrity of odd people vs. the greed of the best and the brightest. The taste of triumph for the former is bitter sweet.
I believe this book completes a set of narratives on the crisis of 2008, which has two dimensions: macroeconomic side and financial side. Krugman (2008) focuses mainly on the macroeconomic side of the crisis. Ahamed (2009) lets us think the monetary-policy handling through the life stories of policy makers during the Great Depression. On the financial side, Fox (2009) informs us of the crucial history of finance as academic discipline. Tett (2009) precisely explains the origin of the weird derivatives. We had needed life stories of those who fought against all the odds. The void was now filled.
Liaquat Ahamed, Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, (Penguin: 2009).
Justin Fox, The Myth of the Rational Market, (Harper: 2009)
Paul Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008, (Norton: 2008).
Gillian Tett, Fool's Gold, (Little, Brown: 2009).
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