While I hope that the global financial system’s almost-total-collapse in October has taught us lessons, I think human nature is such that we will make similar mistakes in the future once this time period is in our hazy memory. I had no idea that ‘Liar’s Poker’ was 20 years old.
I thought I was writing a period piece [Michael Lewis’ “Liar’s Poker”] about the 1980s in America. Not for a moment did I suspect that the financial 1980s would last two full decades longer or that the difference in degree between Wall Street and ordinary life would swell into a difference in kind. I expected readers of the future to be outraged that back in 1986, the C.E.O. of Salomon Brothers, John Gutfreund, was paid $3.1 million; I expected them to gape in horror when I reported that one of our traders, Howie Rubin, had moved to Merrill Lynch, where he lost $250 million; I assumed they’d be shocked to learn that a Wall Street C.E.O. had only the vaguest idea of the risks his traders were running. What I didn’t expect was that any future reader would look on my experience and say, “How quaint.”