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Michael Lewis Reflects On His Book Flash Boys, A Year After It Shook Wall Street To Its Core

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http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2015/03/michael-lewis-flash-boys-one-year-later

When I sat down to write Flash Boys, in 2013, I didn’t intend to see just how angry I could make the richest people on Wall Street. I was far more interested in the characters and the situation in which they found themselves. Led by an obscure 35-year-old trader at the Royal Bank of Canada named Brad Katsuyama, they were all well-regarded professionals in the U.S. stock market. The situation was that they no longer understood that market. And their ignorance was forgivable. It would have been difficult to find anyone, circa 2009, able to give you an honest account of the inner workings of the American stock market—by then fully automated, spectacularly fragmented, and complicated beyond belief by possibly well-intentioned regulators and less well-intentioned insiders. That the American stock market had become a mystery struck me as interesting. How does that happen? And who benefits?

By the time I met my characters they’d already spent several years trying to answer those questions. In the end they figured out that the complexity, though it may have arisen innocently enough, served the interest of financial intermediaries rather than the investors and corporations the market is meant to serve. It had enabled a massive amount of predatory trading and had institutionalized a systemic and totally unnecessary unfairness in the market and, in the bargain, rendered it less stable and more prone to flash crashes and outages and other unhappy events. Having understood the problems, Katsuyama and his colleagues had set out not to exploit them but to repair them. That, too, I thought was interesting: some people on Wall Street wanted to fix something, even if it meant less money for Wall Street, and for them personally.

Of course, by trying to fix the stock market they also threatened the profits of the people who were busy exploiting its willful inefficiencies. Here is where it became inevitable that Flash Boys would seriously piss off a few important people: anyone in an established industry who stands up and says “The way things are being done here is totally insane; here is why it is insane; and here is a better way to do them” is bound to incur the wrath of established insiders, who now stand accused of creating the insanity. The closest thing in my writing life to the response of Wall Street to Brad Katsuyama was the response of Major League Baseball to Billy Beane after Moneyball was published, in 2003, and it became clear that Beane had made his industry look foolish. But the Moneyball story put in jeopardy only the jobs and prestige of the baseball establishment. The Flash Boys story put in jeopardy billions of dollars of Wall Street profits and a way of financial life.

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