With the reverberations of October’s stock market crash still ringing in their ears, analysts are saying that only the expert intervention of the government can transform the slump from gentle landscaping into a proper earthquake on the scale of Black Monday, November 1987. The worst run on the exchanges since the Thirties, it recalled the literally precarious era when brokers were falling on New York as thickly as tickertape.
However, the second great crisis of capitalism this century failed to follow the first in stimulating a bullish bourse in writing pegged to fiscal doubt. George Orwell reflected the Depression, but the definitive author of the arbitrage years has still to emerge. What F Scott Fitzgerald did for the Jazz Age has yet to be satisfactorily attempted by a novelist of the Junk Bond Age. Tom Wolfe essayed it in Bonfire of the Vanities, putting in his fieldwork in the bond markets, the epoch-making industry of the day. But he sat in on only the trading floors. It was as if Fitzgerald had gone to Hollywood, the outstanding business of his time, and worked up his books from a tour of the back-lots rather than from sweated screen writing.
Wolfe did a lot of his cribbing at Salomon Brothers, in the dealing room which looms more than forty storeys above Manhattan. Yards away from Wolfe’s vantage point was 25-year-old Michael Lewis. His account of the mayfly career of a dealer in the mid-Eighties is autobiographical. Nonetheless, it has the