Michael Lewis is the author of Liar's Poker and The New, New Thing. He's a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine. His new book is Moneyball: The Art of the Unfair Game.
David: OK, let's close it out with our game "Buy, Sell, or Hold?" Michael, you've played it before with us. We're going to toss out things happening in our culture and ask you: If they were stocks, would you be buying, selling, or holding -- and a sentence or two about why. You ready?
Tom: You've written a lot about the Microsoft
Lewis: Buy, because the only real threats to Microsoft are vital capital markets that are happy to invest in startups that will challenge Microsoft. Microsoft's capital gives it a really powerful position in a weak market.
David: Michael, you are a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine. Therefore, in a sense I guess you are a New York Times employee. Buy, sell, or hold how The New York Times has handled the Jayson Blair controversy?
Lewis: I'd buy it -- how they've handled the controversy -- without buying the newspaper. They've been really good about getting it out there and maximizing their short-term humiliation so as to minimize their long-term damage.
Tom: Buy, sell, or hold President Bush's re-election prospects?
Lewis: Sell, because you could get a lot for it, right? Everybody thinks he's going to get re-elected. I actually approve of all the stuff they've done in Iraq, unlike most of my media colleagues. But I think that they're basically in the business of selling fear. And that works for a while, then people figure out that maybe there's not as much to be afraid of as they thought, and they resent people who sell them fear.
Tom: You wrote about the culture of Wall Street in your book Liar's Poker. Buy, sell, or hold the prospects for meaningful reform on Wall Street?
Lewis: Sell. [New York Attorney General] Eliot Spitzer never set out to achieve meaningful reform. He set out for political gain and he has achieved that. But the structure of the institutions... If you really wanted to eliminate what seems now to have upset everyone about the Internet boom -- which is that these firms were at once taking money from corporations that were issuing stock and advising investors who bought the stock -- you would prevent them from doing both at the same time.
The truth is that there is just a huge measure of hypocrisy in the outrage that is aimed at Wall Street right now. All of the abuses that are being paraded before us now were known to the public years ago. Eliot Spitzer could have done something about them in the middle of the Internet boom, but it wasn't politically advantageous to do it then.
Tom: And so then buy, sell, or hold the political prospects of Eliot Spitzer?
Lewis: Sadly, buy. I mean I really disapprove of him. He gives me the willies. He's one of these people who -- he is absolutely preying on people's worst side. I think he is going to be the governor of New York. The only thing to hope for in the case of Elliot Spitzer -- it's not that he doesn't get to be the governor of New York, because I think he will. It's that he'll meet some grisly end. That he gets to be governor of New York because that's what he wants to be, but that it turns out to be a curse and that he ends up being an awful governor and has a miserable time of it and retires in humiliation.
Tom: A little taste of Schadenfreude on this program. Buy, sell, or hold to close -- Memorial Day picnics? Where does Michael Lewis fall on this one?
Lewis: Michael Lewis has an intense dispute with Michael Lewis' wife about how to enjoy holidays. I enjoy holidays by pretending they don't exist -- with the exception of Christmas. And not doing the dumb thing on holidays -- it's the contrarian approach to holidays. If everyone is going on a Memorial Day picnic, that's the time to stay home.
David: How do you spend your Independence Day? What are you going to do on July 4th?
Lewis: I handcuff myself to the bed. I don't know. But I think fireworks are much more enjoyable on other days and picnics are best when nobody else is having a picnic. And so I would just generally sell Memorial Day picnics.
David: Ever the contrarian, perhaps. Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, among other fine books. Thanks for joining us again on The Motley Fool Radio Show.
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