by Michael Lewis
When Wall Street premiered in 1987, Oliver Stone’s movie was pitched as a morality tale. Its lesson was that when greed gets the upper hand, bad things happen. In reality, the movie served as a “how-to” guide for aspiring Gordon Gekkos. Michael Lewis, in his book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, laments the fact that his previous expose of Wall Street, Liar’s Poker, had the same unintended consequences: It inspired materialistic-minded future Gekkos.
The Big Short’s topic, global financial failure, is not only depressing but ongoing. Most books need some semblance of a hero, but Lewis had to scrape to find protagonists for this story. He discovered a handful of small-timers who, through sheer gumption, hard work, and contrariness, managed to make killings out of Wall Street’s meltdown. These men appeal to the underdog-loving Lewis, but it’s hard to disguise the fact that even these guys acted more out of self-interest than any sense of social responsibility.
But my biggest obstacle to fully appreciating The Big Short is related to something that contributed to the financial crisis in the first place: the onslaught of insider jargon, economic voodoo theories, and meaningless acronyms geared to befuddle anyone lacking an economics degree. As a reader, I became exasperated by the financial hocus-pocus and simply wanted to just walk away from it. In other words, it engendered in me the same attitude that allowed Wall Street hooligans to swindle so many others.
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