Friday, January 3, 2014

Before Michael Lewis, there was George Goodman and "The Money Game"

George "Jerry" Goodman (a.k.a. the other Adam Smith) just passed away. Goodman is best remembered today for the long running show Adam Smith’s Money World, which is a shame because as good and as influential as that show was, Goodman's biggest impact was on the business and economics beat of the New Journalism of the Sixties and Seventies.

Paul Krugman, a friend of Goodman, has this to say:
First, about how innovative Jerry was: when he began writing urbane, witty accounts of Wall Street’s doings, he was blazing new trails. The Money Game was published in 1967 — the same year as the release of the movie The Graduate, which famously portrayed the world of business — plastics! — as a nightmare from which anyone free-spirited had to flee. Yet the Age of Acquarius was also the age of the first great postwar bull market. Jerry rescued business journalism — part of it, anyway — from boring men talking earnings reports; this stuff, he realized, was every bit as interesting as the counterculture, and he conveyed that interest to his readers.
Today's long-form business journalism pretty much all comes out of Goodman's overcoat. Goodman was a successful novelist and screenwriter before trying his hand at Wall Street. Very much in keeping with the New Journalism school, he brought these literary skills to previously dry and stuffy topics, combining powerful insights with Dickensian character sketches and resonant imagery. Here's a passage from the Money Game that has stuck with me over the years describing investor mentality in the final days of a bubble:
“We are at a wonderful ball where the champagne sparkles in every glass and soft laughter falls upon the summer air. We know at some moment the black horsemen will come shattering through the terrace doors wreaking vengeance and scattering the survivors. Those who leave early are saved, but the ball is so splendid no one wants to leave while there is still time. So everybody keeps asking – what time is it? But, none of the clocks have hands.”
With the exception of Michael Lewis, I can't think of another writer in the field with comparable literary gifts, and it's very much an open question if Lewis could have been Lewis if Goodman hadn't become Smith more than two decades earlier.

No comments:

Post a Comment