Saturday, May 1, 2010

Repost: I guess the future of a Master of the Universe

Specifically, the future of this guy. The missive is truly vile, and whether it was written by an actual trader or someone trying to embarrass traders, I think it comes close to the way a lot of Wall Streeters actually think of themselves. So I think he gets off easy in my version of events.


Nor do I expect "Wall Street" to maintain his vaunted work ethic when he's earning $10-$50/hr for his efforts, and not $200-$500.

Here's how I think it might play out.

He loses his job. The collapse of Wall Street makes it impossible to find another trading position. He never set much money away because, hey, there was more where that came from, right? His girlfriend dumps him when she realizes that, without his money, he's just a kinda short, pudgy guy with a hairline that's already starting to recede.

Broken and humiliated, he moves back to his home town. He even has to live with his parents for three months while he job hunts. Finally, he manages to find a teaching position.

He soon realizes that his herculean efforts won't be rewarded with sportscars, coke-fueled orgies, or the bragging rights that come from being among the best-compensated workers in America. He figures out that he's not God's gift to the teaching profession, that try as he might he can't actually teach kids better than the middle-aged woman one classroom over. He notices that wiping the noses of third graders doesn't give him the same surge of adrenaline that he once got placing million dollar bets with other peoples' money. It dawns on him that he can't teach the kids twice as much by pounding a Red Bull and talking twice as fast. In fact, he doesn't even like his new job; most days, he'd be happy to quit, and would happily take a pay cut to be back at Goldman Sachs.

He starts thinking about how it's time to start writing that novel or taking a vacation to Europe. He notices that he has time to date. He takes up that sketching hobby that he dropped after high school, and realizes that hey, he's still got it.

He meets a girl. She's unambitious and her specialty is French literature, not corporate mergers. She's nothing like his last girlfriend, which he finds oddly refreshing. One thing leads to another. Finally, despite her misgivings, she moves in with him, and her little dog too. He thought he'd hate the dog, but soon finds out that he enjoys long walks and that "I want to be you" look that the dog gives him from time to time, the same look the waiters at those high class restaurants used to give him.

The girl drags him off to Burning Man. Amid the dust and the fire, he breaks down. The life he has been missing all these years is gone, and the new life he's stumbled into is more beautiful and more perfect than his old, unworthy ambitions deserved. He says to hell with it: he likes who he is now, and doesn't care what his old self or his old trading buddies would think.

He asks his girlfriend to marry him.

She says yes.

He's no longer a Master of the Universe. He's barely master of an unruly mob of third graders. But he's no longer consumed by the arrogance or the ambition that once caused him to write that embarrassing e-mail, so he no longer needs to be a Master. He just needs to be.

Wall Street has a uniquely unhealthy culture where money matters more than people and you're only as good as your next trade. I suspect that most of the Wall Streeters are ruthless bastards because on Wall Street, being a ruthless bastard is a mark of honor. They see themselves as the real driving force behind America's prosperity because, hey, most everyone does; everyone wants to feel like their work is important, and Wall Street Traders are no exception. They see the poor as either parasites or rubes because it's hard to sleep at night if you believe deep down that you're bilking unwary grandmothers of their pensions.

Besides, Atlas Shrugged is probably the only fiction the author has read since he got his job, and that only because everyone around him was telling him how awesome it was.

The point is, we're naturally egotistical, rationalizing creatures, and never more so than when that ego is being fueled by million dollar bonuses. It's easy to see how someone under the influence could look at their paychecks and see evidence of their innate moral worth, rather than the good fortune of having one particularly well-remunerated skillset.

Mister "We Are Wall Street," if you ever read this, I don't judge you harshly. That rant was ugly and out-of-touch, but I've written quite a few of those myself, and I know how much fun they are. Your belief that the people below depend upon your largesse, or that we should tremble to compete with you in the job market, says more about you -- or at least the culture of Wall Street -- than it does about the real world. When you decide that you can't handle another year of eighty hour work weeks, and want to try your hand at a simpler life, we welcome you to join us.

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