Lehman Bankers One Year Later: Same People, Same Psychological ShortcomingsS

The NYT Business section did a nice little Where Are They Now on some fallen banker komrades from Lehman Brothers. Are they destitute? Are they happier? Are they better than they were before? And: should we feel bad for them?

A year later, we're looking at some of the characters of the fallen bank. And by we, it's, you know, the BBC, the New York Times, the Daily News (who has a surprisingly uplifting take), the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Telegraph, etc. But because the New York Times profile is exactly what you think it's going to be, we can go with that:

  • There's Tom Ollquist, whose dreams of retiring and becoming a high school basketball coach have gone up in smoke, with the bank. "He now spends his days making cold calls and peddling bonds for a firm that few have ever heard of," the Times reports. Ollquist himself doesn't see it as so bad, as he does some serious Lady MacBeth-like handwringing:

    "I have blood on my hands," Mr. Ollquist acknowledges, fiddling with several bracelets he wears, each with its own sentimental story, before he quickly ticks off a list of other parties he thinks are even more culpable than salesmen like him for the meltdown: regulators, senior executives, rival firms and traders who believed that their elaborate computer algorithms insulated them from risk.

  • Then there are the assholes who survived because they were smart enough to stash their cash in a mattress and leave it there: "The luckiest, like Ken Linton, a former Lehman trader, made enough money during the boom years to avoid having to think about their next paychecks. He spends his time flying jets."

  • Women, of course, are screwed, or the Times lets the one post-Lehman interviewee they have project the idea as such: "...There are those like Leslee Gelber, who is out of work, professionally adrift, and fearful that Wall Street will bounce back without her."

  • And then there's the fall-from-grace-into-blue-collar-America story we know all too well: "Jeff Schaefer, a former managing director, for instance, now owns a car wash and gas station in Florida." Oh, and this, the ultimate buck-passing of culpability: we did it due to the demand of our services. Which is akin to smoking crack because it needs to be smoked.

    "How do you blame us? A lot of what we did from an origination standpoint was based on investors' appetite," he says. "Do you think we would just go out and say, ‘I think we're going to do $100 million in no-doc loans?'"

So, people who've fallen from opulence into the struggles of your average American. They're sad in only one regard: the loss effect of someone who goes from having potentially tens of millions of dollars to millions of dollars carries a heavier psychological weight than the person who has nothing but money problems their entire life. Then again, not to throw populism in the mix, but (A) they're not in Darfur and (B) why isn't the Times profiling the janitors at Lehman who smiled at the assholes that would walk in every day, who proceeded to destroy a pension they worked double-digit years earning?

We know these stories, we've heard them too many times before, and they've been told in far more interesting ways already. There's one part of the Times piece that's particularly poignant, however, where the future of America's banking fuckups are found.

There's this:

He says he will steer his oldest son, who just left for college, away from a Wall Street career. The Street, he says, no longer offers the opportunities it once did.

and this:

He also still encourages his college-age son's goal of becoming a trader, a dream hatched in visits with his father to Lehman's mortgage desk in New York.

Guess which quote belongs to who: the guy who passes the buck doing the moral hand-wringing, or the guy just passing the buck, writing off his experiences as a result of the demand. No, really: just guess.