Friday, March 4, 2016

Karen Ho's "Liquidated": Amongst the Wild of Wall Street




Ho writes the book that I think I would have written, had I been born in different circumstances. She was a graduate student in the Ivy League and she saw her peers go into the Street, so she did what any good anthropologist would do – she went native to study the flora and fauna of Wall Street.

In it, she looks at the prevailing orthodoxies of the natives and tries to debunk them, amongst these are shareholder value and the benefit of so many hours at your desk (free food and a car service help these brave souls). Ho was able to take the job because of her pedigree, and she used it to build connections –she was an excellent networker, I bet she has all the hot LinkedIn connections. In the book, she goes through the process from recruitment to disillusionment, She was able to do this since her own job was made redundant at a point before she wanted it to be, but then she did fieldwork to learn more about the natives.

What this book reminds me of most of all is the book by Kevin Roose from a couple of years that got a lot of notice, “Young Money”.  That book lacked in its breadth since it only really examined the situations of five or six people, where Ho tries to generalize her experience, and in my reading, she is much more effective than Roose was. The problem is that Roose had experience writing for a popular audience every day. Though this book has been through edits, it is still very much an academic book in the soft sciences / arts. I had seen the word “problematize” several times and it was only about half way through I thought I should keep track of that word as a proxy for how “Academic” the book was. A skilled editor could have cut half the book and made it a much more effective popular book. Ho could have done the press and maybe even had a TED talk. Talk about a missed opportunity! But for what it is, the book is very successful and very compelling for catching a brief period in time that will probably only differ in degree of the levels of tech for the next generation, no matter the humiliations that come about from recessions not foreseen or even caused by the financial sector.