Trick or Treat and The Street

October 31, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Why do the Wall Street super-rich seem so dissatisfied.  As a non-rich person, I like to think that I’d feel very satisfied if I had tens of millions of dollars or more; that I wouldn’t spend long days doing whatever it is that hedge funders or derivativistas do just to supersize my wealth; that I wouldn’t be disgruntled that my bonus from Goldman was a measly $11 million when the guy down the hall got $14 million?*  (I actually heard such a story from someone who knows.)  What could I do with $14 million that I couldn’t do with $11 million?

Obviously, my thinking about this was all wrong, and Halloween two years ago showed me why. 

We took a little tour of the building to see what people on other floors were doing.  (One family on thirteen made an elaborate haunted house out in the hallway.)  We left the basket of candy on a small table outside our apartment.

As I was coming back to my apartment, I saw two boys of twelve or so standing over our table scooping the candy bars into their bags.  They saw me, turned and ran past.  When I got to the door, I saw that the basket was empty except for a couple of Almond Joys. They had probably done this at other apartments in addition to whatever they got by knocking on doors. 

Could anyone actually eat that much candy? Probably not. This was not about the inherent pleasure of Snickers. It was some sort of competitive game, and the candy was just a way of keeping score.  Satisfaction came not from eating the candy but from the thrill of skirting the rules to get a lot of it and then from just having a lot of it for the sake of having it, or at least having more of it than other kids.

Are they any different from the super-rich? Well, yes. These twelve-year olds would not claim that what they do is virtuous or that it benefits all kidkind or that hyperglycemia, for want of a better word, is good. 

Maybe Wall St. should start giving bonuses in the form of Snickers, or better yet, lower-value currency like Necco Wafers and tiny boxes of Sun-Maid raisins.  (More on candy rates of exchange here.)


* This earlier post argues that greed is not so much  personal as institutional.  Its sources lie not in the traits of the traders but in the structure of  the Street.  


Anonymous said...

"Could anyone actually eat that much candy? Probably not."

Maybe not at once, but candy lasts a long time. It may be a competition, but I think kids are also motivated to have a large amount of candy they can eat for months.

Jay Livingston said...

We used to store the excess in the freezer for later use, but even with careful packing, the stuff still gets that freezer taste after a while, and eventually we'd wind up throwing out a lot of it.