Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street

Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street

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by Karen Ho
     
 

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ISBN-10: 0822345994

ISBN-13: 9780822345992

Pub. Date: 07/13/2009

Publisher: Duke University Press Books


Financial collapses—whether of the junk bond market, the Internet bubble, or the highly leveraged housing market—are often explained as the inevitable result of market cycles: What goes up must come down. In Liquidated, Karen Ho punctures the aura of the abstract, all-powerful market to show how financial markets, and particularly booms and

Overview


Financial collapses—whether of the junk bond market, the Internet bubble, or the highly leveraged housing market—are often explained as the inevitable result of market cycles: What goes up must come down. In Liquidated, Karen Ho punctures the aura of the abstract, all-powerful market to show how financial markets, and particularly booms and busts, are constructed. Through an in-depth investigation into the everyday experiences and ideologies of Wall Street investment bankers, Ho describes how a financially dominant but highly unstable market system is understood, justified, and produced through the restructuring of corporations and the larger economy.

Ho, who worked at an investment bank herself, argues that bankers’ approaches to financial markets and corporate America are inseparable from the structures and strategies of their workplaces. Her ethnographic analysis of those workplaces is filled with the voices of stressed first-year associates, overworked and alienated analysts, undergraduates eager to be hired, and seasoned managing directors. Recruited from elite universities as “the best and the brightest,” investment bankers are socialized into a world of high risk and high reward. They are paid handsomely, with the understanding that they may be let go at any time. Their workplace culture and networks of privilege create the perception that job insecurity builds character, and employee liquidity results in smart, efficient business. Based on this culture of liquidity and compensation practices tied to profligate deal-making, Wall Street investment bankers reshape corporate America in their own image. Their mission is the creation of shareholder value, but Ho demonstrates that their practices and assumptions often produce crises instead. By connecting the values and actions of investment bankers to the construction of markets and the restructuring of U.S. corporations, Liquidated reveals the particular culture of Wall Street often obscured by triumphalist readings of capitalist globalization.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780822345992
Publisher:
Duke University Press Books
Publication date:
07/13/2009
Series:
a John Hope Franklin Center Book
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
392
Sales rank:
260,596
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Anthropology Goes to Wall Street 1

1. Biographies of Hegemony: The Culture of Smartness and the Recruitment and Construction of Investment Bankers 39

2. Wall Street's Orientation: Exploitation, Empowerment, and the Politics of Hard Work 73

3. Wall Street Historiographies and the Shareholder Value Revolution 122

4. The Neoclassical Roots and Origin Narratives of Shareholder Value 169

5. Downsizers Downsized: Job Insecurity and Investment Banking Corporate Culture 213

6. Liquid Lives, Compensation Schemes, and the Making of (Unsustainable) Financial Markets 249

7. Leveraging Dominance and Crises through the Global 294

Notes 325

References 353

Index 369

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Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Karen Z. Ho is an anthropologist who did ethnography on Wall Street in the time leading up to the current financial crisis. She studied the "culture" of high finance in the largest Wall Street firms, while working in one of the largest. She documents in excruciating detail the fact that Wall Street is not just a neutral market place. It has a definite culture, and that culture led to the financial meltdown in 2008-2009. Among other points she makes is that American high finance placed an extreme priority on liquidity--that everything tangible had to be turned into liquid assets--sliced, diced and homogenized into negotiable commodities. It is thus that mortgages got turned into credit swap defaults and other esoteric commercial paper. Once that had been done, not only could the resulting products be bought and sold, they could be sold two and three times, and shorted. This book is penetrating, fascinating reading from a trained observer who understands both finance and the culture of those promulgating it. For anyone wanting to know the truth about the current financial crisis, this book is absolutely essential reading.
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