Quicklet on The Liars Poker

by The Quicklet Team

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Published in 1989, best-selling Liar’s Poker details author Michael Lewis’s time in the London office of Salomon Brothers in the mid-1980’s. Written after he left the firm in 1988, the book tells the story of 1980’s Wall Street in a wickedly funny manner, featuring some of the most interesting characters to walk across the pages of non-fiction.

Along with Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, it is generally considered to be one of the defining books of the era. The name is taken from liar’s poker, a gambling game popular with Wall Street traders.

Though Liar’s Poker has not yet been made into a film, Lewis is currently in discussions with Warner Bros. about a film adaptation.


But all that began to change in late 1979. Michael compares making money on Wall Street to eating the stuffing out of a turkey; first somebody must stuff the turkey. In 1979, the bond turkey started getting stuffed. Two parties were responsible.

The first was Fed chairman Paul Volcker, who on October 6, 1979, announced that interest rates would no longer be fixed. Money supply would be fixed, and interest rates would float.

In practice, this meant that interest rates would swing wildly. And since bond prices moved inversely to interest rates, bond prices would swing wildly as well. In one move, the bond market was changed from a sleepy backwater for a safe investments into a casino.

The second was the governments, corporations, and consumers of the United States. Specifically, their desire to borrow money. The rate of borrowing increased during the 1980’s faster than it ever had before; the indebtedness of all three groups totaled $323 billion in 1977. By 1985 it was $7 trillion.

Increasingly, this money was in the form of bonds. And since Solomon Brothers knew bonds better than anyone else, a lot more money began to move across their desks.

More trades meant more fees, and before long Solomon Brothers was, man for man, the most profitable firm in the world. They chose to spend some of their winnings on people like Michael.

Which brings us back to the the training class. At 127 people, Michael’s training class was the largest in the history of the firm. Michael notes the irony of this. Any trader will tell you that the most successful trades went against conventional wisdom.

But this class of trainees were all on Wall Street for what at the time passed for conventional wisdom; that there were no other jobs in the world worth doing. Essentially, something would have to give.

...to be continued!

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