I’m about 60% through Karen Ho’s book Liquidated- An Ethnography of Wall Street and I think I’ve finally figured out what it is we can’t understand about what Wall Street has been doing to American corporations. Think baseball.
*WE*, clueless American workers think Wall Street is playing a game of rotisserie baseball where they look at the stats of the teams and their players and they trade and swap the players in order to make up a better line up. In this ordinary, everyday, American working stiff view of the world, what the players can do is important. The productivity of the team has value. Most Americans want to maximize the productivity in homeruns per game because that makes sense. Teams with more homeruns per game than the other team have winning seasons and lots more fans turn out and they sell more tickets and hot dogs and beers and souvenirs and the team makes the playoffs and everyone benefits.
No. No, no, no. That’s not they way Wall Street sees it at all.
Wall Street isn’t trying to optimize the line up. They are swapping baseball *cards*. They want the original Honus Wagner and Pie Traynors. They put an artificial value on the card and swap the cards with each other. In this scenario, the team doesn’t matter. The productivity of the team going forward doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the card still has the shine and gloss on it and that the corners aren’t frayed and the sucker hasn’t got any creases in it. Your job as a corporate manager is not to make the team more productive. Your job is to make the card look as attractive as possible to the card swapper. The reason why you cut and dismantle is not to make the company more efficient and productive. It’s to package up a product that can be sold to another buyer for the highest possible price. The value of the product doesn’t have anything to do with the actual productivity of the team.
Now, I’m getting into the nitty-gritty of *why* American corporations are valued less for their productivity and more for their gloss. It has to do with the temporal nature of the banker’s job on Wall Street. And at this point in time, it looks like Wall Street workers are the Americans most in need of a union. At the very least they need an intervention and about 6 months at a spa where they can destress and gain some perspective.
No, I am not kidding. It’s a mixed up, jumbled up shook up world.