The real story of the crash began in bizarre feeder markets where the sun doesn’t shine and the SEC doesn’t dare, or bother, to tread: the bond and real estate derivative markets where geeks invent impenetrable securities to profit from the misery of lower–and middle–class Americans who can’t pay their debts. The smart people who understood what was or might be happening were paralyzed by hope and fear; in any case, they weren’t talking.
“What I noticed is that that office takes your personality and exaggerates it — you become a caricature of who you are. And he has a personality trait that costs him politically, and it’s the personality trait of a writer. He really is at bottom a writer, and the trait is — he’s in a moment and not in a moment at the same time. He can be in a room but detach himself at the same time. It’s almost as if he’s writing about it at the same time he’s participating in it. It’s a curious inside-outside thing, and the charge that he’s aloof grows right out of this trait.
“The stock market is rigged,” Michael Lewis tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “It’s rigged for the benefit for really a handful of insiders. It’s rigged to … maximize the take of Wall Street, of banks, the exchanges and the high-frequency traders at the expense of ordinary investors.”
Lewis is the author of several books about the stock market, including Liar’s Poker and The Big Short. His new book Flash Boys is about the form of computerized transactions known as High Frequency Trading, in which the fastest computers with the most high speed connections get the information first, and make the trade before anyone else can. A nanosecond can make all the difference between how much money is made or lost on any transaction.
Brad Katsuyama (above) figured out how the system is rigged and set out to change it. Lewis explains:
“There is this perception that Wall Street insiders understand how Wall Street works — and it’s false. It’s especially false right now. Here you have this young man, this kid [Katsuyama] at the Royal Bank of Canada who’s engaged in this kind of science experiment in the market. He figures out at least one angle the predators are taking and he goes and talks to not just ordinary investors … the biggest investors, the smartest investors in the world and their jaws are on the floor. … Even these people have no idea what’s going on in the market and are being educated by this Canadian who has basically just arrived on the scene and has decided to make understanding [this] his business.”