Many came to realize that the finance industry could be a moral black hole. For example, Derrick Havens worked in private equity. Ideally private equity firms would buy out a company, make it more efficient and profitable, and sell it to another company. But instead Derrick often saw his firm cut costs quickly or load a recently acquired company with debt in order to increase short-term profits, thus hastening its untimely death."It's a completely rigged system," Derrick says. "We buy these little companies, we put the best lawyers and consultants in the world on it, and if it goes bankrupt, we never lose." If the turn-around goes well, they make money. If not, thanks to up-front fees and legal loopholes, they still make money. It's practices like this that led Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone in 2009 to call one investment bank, "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."
The after-hours culture isn't much better. One night, Roose visited Fashion Meets Finance, an after-hours singles mixer at New York City's Bar Basque that matches several hundred young male financiers with female fashion models. The evening consisted of drinking, bragging about private jets, and, if things went to plan, procreating with complete strangers. One stock trader commented, "It's a bunch of gold diggers looking to take advantage of guys who are looking to take advantage of gold diggers." He snickered, "It's sort of perfect, huh?"
Perhaps the most disturbing scene of Young Money was Roose's undercover infiltration of a black-tie gathering of Kappa Beta Phi, Wall Street's most secretive fraternity. Nearly all of Wall Street's most powerful executives, from private equity mega-firms to major hedge funds, gathered for an evening of comedy skits in drag, off-color jokes about politicians, and mock show tunes about getting bailed out by the Fed. Only years after the global economy had collapsed—and millions had lost their jobs and retirement savings—these CEOs joked about creating economic havoc over roasted lamb and cocktails.
But more often than not, most young analysts saw finance not as moral pit, but a moral vacuum. When asked about morality and ethics, young analysts consistently responded: "I don't know, I never really think about it." They were so overworked with day-to-day tasks, worried about losing their jobs, and focused on getting their boss's lunch order right, they rarely considered the morality of their work. "What Wall Street was, I heard over and over again," said Roose, "was completely amoral. It had no regard for whether a given deal represented a net good or a net loss for humanity. All that mattered was revenue."
Or as Graham Campbell, a Goldman Sachs executive, said to an already-depressed Jeremy, "Just so you know what you're getting into: We're not here to save the world. We exist to make money."