It's the new black.

Credit Default Swaps in Togas

I love Michael Lewis.

After hearing him called the best business writer (“like, ever”) I read The Big Short, Home Game, Liar’s Poker and am impatiently waiting for Moneyball. My financial education hasn’t expanded since my grandfather took me to the Pike Diner in Philadelphia when I was seven and explained the stock market page over pancakes, so I was not expecting the Michael Lewis Effect. That is, I the financial ignoramus became actually interested in credit default swaps and trading regulations. It’s a miracle.

Lewis’s well-recognized gift is that he finds the humanity in Wall Street. He locates the Shakespeare in the spreadsheets, tracing patterns of hope and betrayal in the behavior of men like Steve Eisner or John Gutfreund. For people who don’t understand bullish from bearish, Lewis explains that the stock market is about people. It’s about us, and how we change as a collective over time; it’s about what we want, and what happens when we want the wrong thing.

Lewis made me think of Titus Livius (59 BC – 17 AD), known to classics majors and toga lovers as Livy. Livy wrote about hundreds of years of Roman history, and explains why he writes in the preface to The Early History of Rome. It’s a preface that would have easily be swapped in for The Big Short.

“I invite the reader’s attention to the much more serious consideration of the kind of lives our ancestors lived, of who were the men, and what the means both in politics and war by which Rome’s power was first acquired and subsequently expanded; I would then have him trace the process of our moral decline, to watch, first, the sinking of the foundations of morality as the old teaching was allowed to lapse, then the rapidly increasing disintegration, then the final collapse of the whole edifice, and the dark dawning of our modern day when we can neither endure our vices nor face the remedies needed to cure them.”

I believe he’s talking about subprime mortgages.

Livy no longer reigns over the New York Times bestseller lists or makes Princeton commencement speeches. However, he and Michael Lewis both seek to tell us the story behind the chaos of world events. Both writers believe these stories that make a difference, should make a difference, in the way that world events play out in the future. We need to learn from the crash of 2008. We need to learn from the fall of Rome. We need those stories. “The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind,” Livy says, and I agree. I’m still waiting for Moneyball. – Gabrielle


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This entry was posted on June 16, 2012 by .

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