“We Are Wall Street” E-mail Fights Back Against Main Street

We have a culture of blaming others for our problems and Main Street is now on a tear with this “Occupy Wall Street” movement that's gathering steam.  The thesis is that financial institutions and anybody who has anything to deal with financial institutions are bad.  The government and the media help fuel the fire against Wall Street and make them scapegoats for the economic decline.  That way, they'll hopefully deflect the blame away from themselves.

One man from one Wall Street firm stood up and had enough.  In 2010, he penned this letter below which started slowly circulating the web until it finally caught my eye.  The letter is just as appropriate today as it was last year.  He probably had nothing specifically to do with credit default swaps and other exotic instruments that helped cause our decline.  “Wall Street” is a catch-all phrase that leads to a lot of unwarranted stereotypes.

Just because you work at Bank of America as a teller doesn't mean that you are to blame for Ken Lewis' empire building when he bought Countrywide Financial and Merrill Lynch for prices nobody in their right mind would pay, which is now leading to massive layoffs.  Just because someone is a Latin America investment banker at Goldman Sachs doesn't mean they are responsible for you buying 3 condos with minimal money down in Florida to try and get rich.  No, the guy buying the 3 condos is responsible………… or is he?

Just because you have massive student loans and can't find a job, that doesn't mean the US economist working at JP Morgan had anything to do with your situation.  Maybe it's because you borrowed more than you could afford?  Or maybe it's because you didn't do well enough in school or go to a better school for that matter.  Why protest an irrelevant economist when you could protest right at your very own school!

If you are a raging populist, who is easily offended, and complains a lot, perhaps you shouldn't have a read.  But, if you're a normal rational person who likes to see both viewpoints, take a look and let's discuss!  Remember, this letter is a retort against the media and the protesters who've attacked him, his family and his industry for months.


“We are Wall Street. It’s our job to make money. Whether it’s a commodity, stock, bond, or some hypothetical piece of fake paper, it doesn’t matter. We would trade baseball cards if it were profitable. I didn’t hear America complaining when the market was roaring to 14,000 and everyone’s 401k doubled every 3 years. Just like gambling, its not a problem until you lose. I’ve never heard of anyone going to “Gamblers Anonymous” because they won too much in Vegas.

Well now the market crapped out, & even though it has come back somewhat, the government and the average Joe's are still looking for a scapegoat. God knows there has to be one for everything. Well, here we are.

Go ahead and continue to take us down, but you’re only going to hurt yourselves. What’s going to happen when we can’t find jobs on the Street anymore? Guess what: We’re going to take yours. We get up at 5am & work till 10pm or later. We’re used to not getting up to pee when we have a position. We don’t take an hour or more for a lunch break. We don’t demand a union. We don’t retire at 50 with a pension. We eat what we kill, and when the only thing left to eat is on your dinner plates, we’ll eat that.

For years teachers and other unionized labor have had us fooled. We were too busy working to notice. Do you really think that we are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and doing landscaping? We’re going to take your cushy jobs with tenure and 4 months off a year and whine just like you that we are so-o-o-o underpaid for building the youth of America. Say goodbye to your overtime and double time and a half. I’ll be hitting grounders to the high school baseball team for $5k extra a summer, thank you very much.

So now that we’re going to be making $85k a year without upside, Joe Main Street is going to have his revenge, right? Wrong! Guess what: we’re going to stop buying the new 80k car, we aren’t going to leave the 35 percent tip at our business dinners anymore. No more free rides on our backs. We’re going to landscape our own back yards, wash our cars with a garden hose in our driveways. Our money was your money. You spent it. When our money dries up, so does yours.

The difference is, you lived off of it, we rejoiced in it. The Obama administration and the Democratic National Committee might get their way and knock us off the top of the pyramid, but it’s really going to hurt like hell for them when our fat a**es land directly on the middle class of America and knock them to the bottom.

We aren’t dinosaurs. We are smarter and more vicious than that, and we are going to survive. The question is, now that Obama & his administration are making Joe Main Street our food supply…will he live and will Joe Main Street survive?”

Is there any truth to this letter?  Should we blame financial institutions and people who work in financial institutions for our nation's economic woes?  Or, should we blame people who borrowed more than they could afford and didn't uphold their promises to pay off their debts?

If we bring down Wall St., will the rest of society get better or worse?  The one key point I disagree with in the letter is the author's jab against teachers.  Teachers are woefully underpaid in my opinion, and have taken plenty of hits during this downturn as the government cuts back on educational funding.

Sometimes we just have to take a look in the mirror and accept responsibility for our own decisions.  But sometimes, it's so fun to list out a bunch of random people and organizations to lay blame on!

“I blame you Mr. Barber for losing me money in the stock market!”

“I blame you Dr. Phil for me still being out of shape!” 

“I blame you Lindsay Lohan for why I can't stop smoking these joints!

“I blame you Albert Einstein for not allowing me to get straight A's in school!”

“I blame you Market Zuckerberg for not being rich by age 25!”

“I blame you Tiger Woods for cheating on my wife 30 times and getting a divorce!”

“I blame you Pace University for forcing me to go into so much student debt!”

“I blame you President Obama for why I can't get a job!”

“I blame you Wall Street for everything that is wrong in my life!”

“I blame you readers for not making me a rich and famous personal finance blogger!”

Share your thoughts and more examples of blame, baby!

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74 thoughts on ““We Are Wall Street” E-mail Fights Back Against Main Street”

  1. Gamblers that lose dont expect a bailout. Gamblers that lose do not gamble with the money from the unsuspecting public. Gamblers that lose somebodyelse’s money, or do not pay their gambling debts know they may get their legs broken (or worst). Gamblers that commit fraud get jailed. Gamblers do not write the laws to protect gamblers’ behinds. It does not matter how much a gambler lost he/she will not bring down the economy of a country nor destroy entire industries. Nothing wrong with Wall Street the way it use to work, provided an efficient watch dog, regulations to prevent the abuses and punishment for the abusers and thieves.

    1. Do you think the protesters are paying any federal income taxes? If not, why are they complaining since the Wall St. didn’t take any of their money b/c they didn’t give any.

  2. Blame is not inherent in our human race…however, blame is inherent in the society we live in…there is a difference. In a society driven by scarcity–and a “dog eat dog world”…how can we not be separate…how can we not blame others?

    With that all being said I think this movement and the issue that stimulated the movement is not about “us and them” (although the positioning of 99/1 is making it so)…it’s about humanity. Millions are starving and have no sustainable ways to maintain health…while others live with such abundance for no reason beyond their own self (family) preservation. However…in the system we live in…that’s ok… because this is what the system produces…inequity.

    So forget this “us and them” bullshit for real. This is just destructive nonsense that will allow unconsciousness to perpetuate and never allow us to progress as a country/ world. What I suggest is that we put people first…and make money secondary. We need to dignify each other…and need to work for each other and remove ourselves from this separateness that the monetary system often pervades.

    1. I hear you about ridding the “us and them” bullshit, which is why we shouldn’t try and blame a sector for our problems. We need to blame ourselves. We shouldn’t practice attacking one class over another like Obama always puts in his speeches. When you do that, guess what? The class who can potentially help you won’t feel like helping any more.

  3. Money Reasons

    It’s kills me how everybody (especially the politicians) attack Wall Street. Do they really think Lehman wanted to fail, or Countrywide, or Merill? Crazy and kind of dumb on their part if you ask me. Wall Street are just people, nothing more and nothing less. They certainly didn’t want to destroy the markets that is their bread and butter.

    As for “Is there any truth to this letter?”, yes I believe so. Not so much the taking over of jobs, but the lack on spending will seize up the flow of cash and that will hurt us all a bit.

  4. I think the letter fairly represents the value of Wall St. today, namely that they are little different than a tax which provides aurguably no benefit. They skim off a vig from every transaction. They are a net drain on society.

    Now they are not the only ones to blame, I think people should take responsibility for their own decisions, but to say that you’re just doing your job isn’t much of a defense when major portions of the industry are simply using their lobbying and government connections to skim off a bit from everyone.

    “Banking” as in allocating new capital to business or providing a means of safe exchange are a TINY portion of Wall St. The LARGEST portion is just a societial leech.

    1. You don’t think providing oil to a machine has any benefit? Liquidity is tantamount for a healthy economy.

      The leeches are the ones who aren’t contributing anything and expecting the rest of us to bail them out.

      1. Volume is not liquidity. That is the most important idea that most (including you apparently) don’t grasp.

        Most of the “banking” industry are simple traders, during times of market stress most of these players don’t have a responsibility to provide market making. As seen in the various flash crashes, the HFT and other “bankers” simply pull their bids and turn their algos off.

        You seem to be very focused on paying less taxes when government is involved, but don’t seem to mind paying taxes on every transaction if private bankers are involved.

        1. There may be correlation during normal times when neither provides much marginal benefit, but during times of market stress, see the difference. There will be tons of volume desired and little liquidity because all the “volume” is not required to make a market. Correlations break down at the most inopportune times. So you’re right, your simple concept will not enable us to have a normal debate.

  5. Natalie @ Mango

    “We eat what we kill, and when the only thing left to eat is on your dinner plates, we’ll eat that.” That. is. classic. I hope nobody took this man’s letter too terribly seriously– I mean, of course it addresses some real points, but is also bitingly sarcastic and exaggerated. As you said, Sam, it really just comes down to the blame game. “Main street” blamed Wall Street; Wall Street blames Main Street; the lenders blame the people who took loans; the people who took loans blame the lenders… Wouldn’t it be fair if we all just accept blame for the financial situation we’re in? Or better yet, forget blame; let’s just work on getting out of it; it doesn’t matter who is at fault. (Though, of course, you can always blame El Nino. That seems to work ;o)

    1. Nobody forced me to invest or spend my money in anything. I really have nobody to blame but myself for my stupidity or lack of research.

      Is it OK if I blame you though Natalie??

  6. I’ve seen this letter. I don’t believe there’s much benefit to blaming the symptoms of the disease without addressing the underlying disease itself: A price-fixed currency that is manipulated to serve political masters and the special interests that pull on the machine.

    Wall Street happens to be one of those special interests that benefited from bailouts and the socialization of their losses, but they are only one amongst many. Pointing the finger solely at them isn’t going to solve our economic woes nor get us out of the mess that we’re currently in. Instead, we need to look at the base of the economic system itself: What we use to store value and keep track of the “score”, and who does this system serve: the people, or the special interests at the expense of the people?

    I think the answer to this is obvious in the answer to the statement: who controls the money used by the people?

    1. I’m just amazed ANYBODY on Wall St got more than a 1 million bonus during the Armageddon years! I couldn’t believe like 200 Merrill employees go more than a million when they would have gone bankrupt if it wasn’t for dumb ass Ken Lewis!

  7. Of course Wall Street is to blame!! Let’s not forget that the stock market fluctuates on a trader’s perception of value, and not on actual value itself. Why is the market tanking today? Cause Wall Street traders are afraid of the economic situation in Europe. Yes, Wall Street is to blame. End of story, letter or no letter.

  8. I call BS. So what if the guy is good at trading and work from 5am to 10pm. That doesn’t men he’ll be good at dish washing, teaching, driving delivery trucks, or accounting. 85k/year is not that bad in this economy, stop whining.

  9. We cannot fault the thousands of workers of companies who do their jobs and then get screwed when the major players get caught – whether Enron, Lehman, Bear Stearns, etc. But I do believe people – individuals – have to take responsibility for their actions and the nuttiness that is Wall Street. Having worked as a financial advisor for years (no longer), I saw too many clients more interested in the highest return and making the most money with little regard for the risks. But the other side of the story are hyped-up investments and A+-rated securities that are garbage. It is extremely difficult to explain to clients why certain securities are risky when the major (supposedly well-regarded) institutions rate them safe. Too many Americans are financially illiterate, or have the equivalent of an elementary school finance education; that doesn’t cut it when they come up against cut-throat Wall Streeters and mortgage brokers.

    1. So perhaps financial education is key, which means a personal finance blog like mine still has a chance of making me rich and famous?! Nah, education is too hard and nobody wants to spend the time to read.

  10. I love the Blame Game! Been watching the pros play it for the past 2 years. It’s quite spectacular and sad actually how easily some people are willing to listen to and believe anything. Then generalize the fault of a few with the blame of an entire group of people…

    I blame Honda for not letting me slow down and get a ticket!
    I blame the referee when my favorite team doesn’t play hard enough and loses!
    I blame ignorance for not letting me find the whole truth!

        1. Nobody blames Obama. Think about it. The Occupy Wall St. movement is blaming perceived rich people, and not the government! The government is immune! I feel bad for young folks nowadays. They are so brainwashed by the government.

  11. Darwin's Money

    Your article follows the Protests on Wall Street recently; good timing, even though it’s an old letter. I guess, if you were in the shoes of a guy who went to college, worked 80 hours a week for 10 years, never raised a family (or saw his kids), finds out his company screwed up and the President is blaming he and his “fatcat” brethren, wouldn’t you be fed up? I can’t blame him, and economically speaking, he’s spot on.

  12. Was this guy’s email a response to the plan to raise taxes on the rich? Or did it come out before that?

    The letter is really interesting, and I appreciate his bluntness & honesty (aka being unafraid to sound like a huge a**).

    He’s obviously talking about trickle down economics. I’ve been personally struggling with whether that really makes sense or not. I think it does (at least somewhat) in the way he describes it, but not always.

    Just to give the typical example – why give tax breaks to a corporation that’s going to use the money to build factories in China instead of the U.S.

    In reality our economy doesn’t seem to be a backwards pyramid scheme or a even circular flow. It’s not that simple.

    What if you imagine it as a complicated system of plumbing with pipes flowing all over the place in different directions with different sizes? Pumping more water into the system at any point could potentially help – and so will fixing leaky pipes.

    Cutting taxes for the rich has the POTENTIAL to help the economy. So does more government spending.

    But what’s the real difference between tax cuts and government spending – don’t both cut into the federal budget’s bottom line?

    1. If we were to reduce our goverment size then no tax increase is necessary. The real question is how big our goverment expects to grow?

      Europe size? China size? Or Worse! North Korea Size??

      Anyone has an idea?

      1. My bad. You obviously said that right at the beginning of the post. I forgot by the time I read through comments.

  13. I think everyone should take personal responsibility, howver many of those recipients of mortgages were fooled into believing they could handle the loan. The mortgage industry should take responsibility for the no verification loans too. The packaging and sale of mortgages by Wall Street contributed to this too. The rating agencies saying it was AAA when any fool knew it wasn’t. The blame is on a lot of people!

    The email is interesting because the writer is trying to convince us that he/she would switch to an ordinaary career. What attracts Wall Streeters are the large salaries and perks. They are willing to work night and day to receive that. I think it is an idol threat!
    I would like to see all the responsible people share in the pain rather than just the guy who is underwater on his house.

    1. Were they really “fooled” into believe they could handle the loan? I can’t imagine people are that stupid as to not understand what they are signing TONS of debt over to. Do you believe most people are not so intelligent?

      He’d totally switch to the 85K job if he lost his job on Wall St. That’s the point.

      1. The borrowers have responsibility in this mess too. I am saying that the mortgage industry left out an important control of income verification. Too many people feel when they are approved for a loan that they can handle the amount of debt. This a false positive!

        When you are unemployed, you are apt to take anything! When the tide changes, they would be gone faster than a jet plane.

  14. This letter was very funny! Imagine everyone in Wall Street coming to take jobs from poor average Americans. I actually feel a little sympathetic to the writer’s thoughts but I can’t completely excuse the unneccesary actions. I think the blame falls to all three parties. Wall Street, Main Street, and White House Street. (Is that a street? lol)

  15. Eric J. Nisall

    I love the overall message letter. It’s about time someone called out the bitchers and moaners who quickly turned on the brokers when things got bad. Just like a fair-weather sports fan: when things are great their team and players are the best, but when things go wrong, they turn their backs and want nothing to do with them. What happened was an all-around failure, not just the people on Wall St., but the unions, government, and the individual investors as well who didn’t care about the hows and whys as long as they were making money.

    Anyone who calls for personal accountability has me as a strong backer. I believe in it and talk about it endlessly in my own posts. But, I also disagree about the teachers. These days, many of them have to play the role of parent as well as educator, and all for the same pittance that the school districts call a salary. It takes a different kind of person to be able to teach: the ability to connect, patience, and understand are all key and to be honest most people don’t possess all of those traits. So in this regard the author should shut his hole.

      1. Great comment, Sam. Burning witches is another example of people blaming the symptoms of the underlying disease instead of addressing the disease itself, which was exacerbated at that time by unfounded superstition and fear, which was also founded in scientific ignorance and illiteracy.

        Instead of trying to determine the true cause of events, people simply latched onto a scapegoat and attacked it vilely, demanding retribution and justice. Seems like today, no? An instinct that may have served us in hunter & gatherer days, but one that needs refinement if we are to survive and prosper in a civilized society.

        1. It definitely seems like that today vs yesterday. Hoe many innocent people back then were burned at the stake because someone labeled them a witch? Too many.

          Ignorance kills.

  16. Interesting email. I guess the question is, at the end of the day, who has contributed more? Societally, I’d say its the teacher, where economically, it may be wall street. But the teacher has created real value, where the trader has created only mad money.

      1. Quite right. Apples to oranges. We need everyone. Putting a value on what they do and calling it “less” than someone else’s value doesn’t justify doing away with their position all together.

        1. Isn’t value subjective anyways? The only “true” measure of value is how much someone is willing to give up in exchange for whatever it is that the other person provides, and this varies from person to person! In other words, in a voluntary social order the value of anything is ultimately determined by the consumers.

    1. Teachers are payed what they deserve! It all comes down to supply and demand. Teachers are in high supply, because there are many people who can and want to teach. It’s a fun job. Yes, there are challenges, but the stress level is nowhere near these guys on Wall Street, believe me.

      People who say Wall Street doesn’t create value are just uneducated about it. I think people get mad because they have absolutely no idea how Wall Street drives economic wealth. While there are those who make tons of money on Wall Street for seemingly “doing nothing” there are hundreds and thousands who lose their jobs due to bad deals.

      The simplest way to describe why we need Wall Street: LIQUIDITY.

      Imagine a party without alcohol, a car without oil, a boat without water. None of these things work smoothly without liquidity.

      Great Letter.

  17. Untemplater

    That letter made me laugh. What he says about no one complaining when the markets are up big or when you’re on a winning streak in Vegas is so true. People love to play the blame game when things go down! Nobody is entitled to someone else’s wealth if they haven’t earned it. Granted there are things like healthcare that definitely need reform because illness doesn’t differentiate between how rich or poor we are. Thanks for sharing that letter Sam.

  18. I can definitely see where they’re coming from with arguing that they can do middle-class work better than middle america does it – very similar to your argument about how anyone can earn more, if they just sacrifice their free time. Wall Street is very competitive, and if you released those competitive people onto regular jobs, they would steam roll those people who just want to go to work for 8 hours a day and collect their paycheck twice a month.

    I also agree with you on the teacher jab – especially because, while elite America is not to blame for other people not doing well, giving everyone a good education is the best way to get the most productivity out of every young American later on. If Mr. Wall Street’s kids go to a competitive, top-notch private school, they are going to be better prepared to be in highly skilled jobs that earn them more money.

    If everyone at least had access to a decent education, we would be able to better utilize the smart kids who don’t come from that kind of background. If a school system lets a kid get to 8th grade without being able to read though, then I don’t blame that kid for not turning their own life around. Honestly, if our public schools really uniformly gave out a quality education, I wouldn’t see any excuse for why anyone couldn’t improve their lives.

    That’s just my little idealist view of education though.

    1. Let me preface by saying I’m not a teacher nor a parent, and I got a great public school education for K-12. However, I also grew up in a community where parents were college educated and education was stressed to children from a very young age. I get the feeling that in a lot of poorer neighborhoods, parents do not seem to encourage their kids to try hard and do well in school. I don’t care how hard a teacher works, if the kids placed in their classroom don’t have their parents teaching them the importance of education, the teacher sure isn’t likely to get through to most of them…

      1. Hi Jonathan,

        I agree with you that a hard-working teacher may never get through to kids with parents that don’t participate in their education. However, I think that there’s a much better chance that they would get through to students if they had under 20 kids to deal with, instead of 30 (just an example). While we can’t force every student to take advantage of education, I think there are many things we could change to engage and educate more students than we are reaching now. Since America is relying more and more on our innovation and human capital, rather than on industries that require unskilled labor, it seems that it will be worth our while to get the maximum number of citizens to a level where they can help promote growth and innovation.

        1. I agree with this sentiment. When one cares little to zero about themselves and their children it is difficult to care about them. I think that caring in itself speaks volumes. My father always stressed my education- made me learn, if you will. We have a created a “me” society, everyone wears blinders.
          I think the another part of the equation is consequences- we have become so accustomed to never failing, always being allowed, etc. just b/c we are there. I suggest this has contributed to our sense of entitlement. Along with the idea that “misery loves company”

        2. These remarks really make me angry. We don’t educate kids as a favor to their parents. We educate kids because they are people in their own right that we need to be productive members of society. The kids that DO NOT have parents that respect education are exactly those kids that NEED it the most. Kids are ALREADY punished for having bad parents. They most likely won’t go as far as people like you, Jonathan, Sam, and JR, and if teachers give up on them, they’ll have even less of a chance. Then, when they end up jobless or in a low-paying job, Sam will deride them for being lazy….. making a statement that we shouldn’t even care for them when they are just kids is beyond my comprehension !!

  19. Agree that it is a very interesting letter. Not sure about the oil rig thing, but there is something to the fact that hard work and hustle can get you quite far in the world. Most of the Forbes 400 is self made. They sure weren’t lazy or refusing to do what it took to build a business. It may not apply to everyone on Wall Street, but I am sure there are some hard-working individuals who would thrive in any situation. There is a reason that most lottery winners end up as broke as they started.

  20. Wonderful post and a magnificent letter!!

    In my opinion this person is right. I have been living in different countries and I still have to find one were the Upper class is not blamed by the poor for every problem they have. People , usually of low icome and low education, tend to feel that they are entitled to part of the wealth that others have created.

    The recent financial crisis does not have a face that can be blamed for causing it. The culprits are around us all, it was our fault , the borrowers who tought that there was no logical limit to use someone else money to pay for the present( we bought cars, houses, etc , that were way out of our income range). Also it was their fault, the banks and wall street, they were rejoicing in the amount of money that was in movement,but they knew it was unsustainable. And finally it was our goverment fault too, they saw it coming , they knew this was going to happen, they did nothing (wich I approve, goverment should not meddle in the free market) Instead the bailed out the failures, it would have been worse if they had done that, it would have brought a depression. But by letting these companies sink and hit bottom they would have tought a very important lesson to the banks, to the people and to themselves. There is not a superman to save us, we must take control of ourselfves, believe me, the current generations would think twice before overspending. Sadly that did not happen, we spend less, but we still feel entitled to have money.

    We must build the new USA with stronger pillars. For us and for the future generations. And for those that are scare that some other country could take our place in the world, that is not going to happen, at least not in the present. No other country will surpass us because we are the only true free nation in the world.

    PS:”Obama please dont destroy this wondeful country, do your job and stop thinkin in a re-election, focus on saving the nation and the actual results are the only ones the can bring you to the office again.”

      1. Oh come on now!! Dont be greedy :P , it is good once in a while to loose a bet. Even better if loosing the bet implies saving your country from a certain doom.. ;)

  21. Interesting letter. I see where he is coming from in some ways, but in others I think he shows us exactly why it is easy to hate Wall Street types. Sorry buddy, but I grew up with a father who cut wood for a living (with an old school chainsaw, not the crazy 1/2 million dollar machines they use these days) and my classmates were mostly farmers. Want to compare summer jobs? Sitting at a computer for 10 hrs a day is not the be-all and end-all of hard work. Go work on an oil rig, cut a few cords of wood, or much a barn for a week, and then tell me about how you are going to eat everyone up and spit them out (so much for the whole “machismo on Wall Street is way over-reported” argument). Also, ever spent a 7 hour day with grade 3 kids? It’s rewarding, but buddy, if holding your bladder is your biggest concern, you truly have no idea.

    Now all of that being said, he is absolutely right that there are many upper-middle class semi-white collar jobs that he could do much better than their occupants. I agree with the fact that some of Wall Street should not be blamed, and I actually place the majority of the blame on citizens of the Western World who live in democracies, yet put up with countries ran by lobbyists for business and special interest groups. I also think it is sad that the best and brightest in the USA end up being pulled to the financial sector, where they often do more harm than good when they build and sell exotic financial instruments. The market works best when it is transparent, and these people could really be used in fields like medicine.

    As usual, you keep the title of most controversial financial blogger out there Sam!

    1. Remember, this is a retort, not the first attack. It’s hard to remember this, but the industry endured months, if not years of assault by the government and public, when 99% of the people who work in finance had anything to do with CDOs and MBSs!

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