Friday, October 16, 2009

Smart Guys and Wall Street

I am thankful to Paul Krugman's blog bearing that title. He was referring to Calvin Trillin's nifty description of a chance meeting with a stranger. Read here.

Krugman related Trillin's piece to his own graduate school experience whereby the top PhD's became professors while the bottom layer went to Wall Street.

Actually I had a similar experience back in those days. The top of my college class would want to get a PhD to become professors while the bottom of the class would go get an MBA. The big middle would become medical doctors, lawyers, high school teachers, social workers or become public servants. Quite a few died in Vietnam.

By the way there is a traditional saying at a place like Harvard Law School. The top 5% of their class would become professors. The next 5 become Supreme Courts Justices and the rest make all the money.

In any event, MBAs and law graduates actually have the biggest laugh than those PhDs working on Wall Street even though a PhD was then and is now infinitely more difficult to obtain.

MBA's and lawyers run Wall Street firms and take home fortunes and build chateaus in Connecticut. The PhD's are the geeks who design products for the MBA's to sell.

Adding insults to injury, PhDs typically have to report to the MBA's who don't really understand the math. Nor frankly do they care as long as selling, in essence, mathematical abstractions can generate profits for the firms and for themselves.

Wall Street in the past 20 years have been run by MBAs and JDs. Back in my days JDs were just LLB's. Lawyers' powerful lobby managed to get universities to grant law graduates JDs so that they could call themselves Doctor!

Bob Rubin ex Citi and Goldman is a Yale JD. Current Goldman chairman, Lloyd Blankfein is a Harvard JD. Hank Paulson is a Harvard MBA. Doubt any of them could take apart a Black-Scholes options model to explain stochastic volatility.

But hey they didn't have to. They hire PhDs and consulting professors, among them famously Larry Summers, to do that.

Krugman maybe brilliant, but he only "knows" how to write books and to win a prize that brought him less than $1.5 million bucks. That's peanuts compared to what Wall Street honchos with MBAs and JDs make in less than 1 month in a good year. What irony.

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