Young at the Wrong Time

Discussion in 'Politics' started by trader99, Jun 12, 2002.

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  1. trader99


    This is an interesting article from the NYTIMES written by one of my favorite columnist Michael Lewis(who wrote the hilarious Liar's Poker).

    Young at the Wrong Time


    Until very recently, one of the most striking things about our economy was how common it was for young people to make a lot of money quickly. For nearly 20 years, except for a year or two in the early 90's, a college student has been able to gaze out of his dorm-room window and see a well-traveled path to millions. His ability to imagine himself getting very rich very quickly was an ingredient in the modern money culture.

    The idea that it was normal for a 27-year-old to be paid a million dollars a year began on Wall Street in the early 1980's and gathered steam right through the decade. It had always been possible for exceptional young people to strike out and make quick fortunes. Now a lot of fairly ordinary young people were able to do it, too. By the late 1990's, it wasn't even newsworthy for an otherwise unexceptional 27-year-old to own stock options worth $50 million. That's what 27-year-olds did, strike it rich.

    This youthward shift in moneymaking has had all sorts of strange social effects. For instance, it has practically eliminated the tendency for young people to think of themselves as a politically cohesive unit that might challenge the system. Why challenge the system when you can own the system? It was absurd to imagine that young people might resent older people for their status and wealth. If money contributed to the ancient tension between the generations, it was because old people didn't have as much of a chance to make it big. In the Internet brokerage ads, it was the clueless old guy who needed help in the stock market from the clued-up young person. These ads reflected a deeper reality: every day, it seemed, the money game was growing younger. Why MTV never grabbed hold of this trend and ran with it, I'll never know. It could have put CNBC out of business.

    Now that is a lot less likely. In two short years, the ordinary young person's path to millions has been obliterated. The dot-com bust killed off the promise of stock options for anyone who showed up. The job market on Wall Street, worse than it has been since the Nixon administration, has killed off the promise of fortunes for every smart kid willing to give his life to a financial cause. More troubling, from the point of view of the 20-year-old who intends to be rich by the time he's 30, is that Wall Street companies increasingly resemble ordinary businesses. They've grown bigger, more risk-averse, more sensitive to their shareholders' opinions and more poorly designed for the pursuit of quick riches. Every day the difference dwindles between working in one of them and working for some corporate monolith. The most reliable siphon for young financial ambition has been shut off.

    So what becomes of all those young people who think it is only right and proper that they be worth millions before they turn 30? They represent a tiny sliver of the population, but they are a volatile sliver. They are the strivers, the agitators, the people who if they don't get what they want are actually likely to do something about it. For 20 years, they have been induced to behave themselves with tickets to a Lotto with good odds and a huge payout. They won't be happy to see that their Lotto has been cleaned out and that their bribes are worthless. It won't take them long to figure out that the opportunity cost of irresponsible behavior has fallen precipitously. A few years ago, any 21-year-old who, instead of leaping straight into the pursuit of money, wanted to pursue his own peculiar idea of what a 21-year-old should do with himself had to forswear his probable share of the Lotto. Now all he gives up, at best, is an ordinary job with a big corporation.

    One possibility is that young people will be more inclined to do the things they love to do rather than the things they feel they should do for the money. After all, this is what young people are supposed to do, pursue their passions. It's almost a rule of young American life that whatever you are doing, you must claim that it is for the love of it. The dot-com boom was driven by 24-year-olds who recalculated the value of their stock options every 30 minutes while at the same time insisting that they weren't doing what they were doing for the money. Now there's a much greater chance when a young person says he's doing something mainly for the love of it that he might actually be telling the truth.

    A more disturbing possibility is a revolt against the culture that gave rise to 27-year-old millionaires. Put another way, it would hardly be surprising if the pursuit of passion led ambitious young people to rethink the whole idea of success. To young people right now, what has happened to young people who came before them must look like a giant crap shoot, without moral underpinning. It's one thing to return to your 40th college reunion and find that the wrong person has somehow become worth $50 million. It's another when the same thing happens at your fifth. There must be many ambitious people who have had this experience in the past few years and resent it.

    A final possibility is that young people will hold their breaths and hope that the economy will come back around to the notion that they should be allowed to get rich. Wait a few years and perhaps the Lotto will be restored to its former glory. In the meantime, ferociously ambitious young people will become what ferociously ambitious young people have not been in a long time: dull.

    Michael Lewis, a contributing writer for the magazine, is the author, most recently, of ''Next: The Future Just Happened.''
  2. Baron

    Baron ET Founder

    Good article. I was at the bookstore last night and saw his "Next" book. Thought about getting it, but didn't. Have you read it by chance?
  3. trader99


    Here are the books that I've read of Michael Lewis:

    1) Liars Poker(everyone should read that)
    2) Money Culture
    3) tons of interesting articles

    His newer books:
    1) The New New Thing(only parts of it. didn't bother to buy it)
    2) Next: The Future Just Happened

    I heard both of them are pretty good.

    have fun

  4. Babak


    Wanted to second that: Liar's Poker is a jem.
  5. A great writer with a sarcastic bend on everything...I have been reading his articles on the bloomberg web site for years...Hopefully, they have an extensive archive...Well worth reading every one that he has written...
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