Feature

The dastardly caricatures of Wall Street

Don’t believe the version of Wall Street you see in the movies.

William D. CohanThe New York Times

Don’t believe the version of Wall Street you see in the movies, said William D. Cohan. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Wolf of Wall Street, like Gordon Gekko before him, offers us “skewed answers about how Wall Street miscreants caused so much mayhem.” No doubt, it’s all highly entertaining: “the prostitutes and the Hamptons mansions, the substance-fueled orgies and the fast cars, the deceit and criminality, and yes, the greed and—did I mention the quaaludes?” But despite what Hollywood and, for that matter, much of the media would have you believe, “the allocation of capital is not, in general, sexy.” There’s certainly no dearth of “hubris and excess” on the Street, but the truth is that “life in the salt mines of high finance” is mostly endless drudgery. These rascally caricatures, as amusingly repellent as they may be, “obscure the very real need to change the behavior of Wall Street’s bankers, traders, and executives.” By that I don’t mean “drinking and drugging; people who overindulge quickly burn themselves out on Wall Street.” No, the moral lapse that really needs airing is that Wall Street traders are “still being rewarded to take imprudent risks with other people’s money.” Their real sin is speculating with no accountability.

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