The Big Short

by

Michael Lewis

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Themes and Colors
Outsiders vs. Conformists  Theme Icon
Wall Street’s Culture of Overconfidence Theme Icon
The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon
Pessimism vs. Optimism Theme Icon
Needless Complexity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Big Short, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Problems with Capitalism  Theme Icon

Though the subjects of The Big Short all work on Wall Street—the heart of American capitalism—many of them are somewhat skeptical of capitalism by the book’s end. This is in part due to their moral disgust about getting rich via the misfortune of millions of everyday Americans, and it’s in part because they’ve seen firsthand that the rules of the American economy often favor the rich while hurting everyone else. The book explores several ways in which the system of American capitalism doesn’t live up to its promises. For instance, many of the book’s subjects decry the system of perverse incentives that pervades American capitalism. Traders frequently make tons of money for making terrible, risky investments; these investments pay off in the short term, and the long-term consequences are left to others to clean up. Furthermore, the government bailout of the rich banks that made bad investment decisions—and the government’s refusal to bail out the everyday Americans who went bankrupt because they were given mortgages they couldn’t afford—raises questions about whether the “free market” is really free. Bailing out banks but not troubled homeowners is tantamount to propping up the wealthy at the direct expense of the working and middle classes, painting a picture of an economy that is rigged in favor of those with privilege. By depicting the grotesque story of American financiers bringing down the global economy and then getting bailed out, Lewis implicitly argues for better regulation of American markets and a fairer system for everyday people.

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The Problems with Capitalism Quotes in The Big Short

Below you will find the important quotes in The Big Short related to the theme of The Problems with Capitalism .
Prologue Quotes

The willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grown-ups remains a mystery to me to this day.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), John Gutfreund , Steve Eisman, Ben Hockett
Page Number: xiii
Explanation and Analysis:

When I sat down to write my first book, I had no great agenda, apart from telling what I took to be a remarkable tale. If you’d gotten a few drinks in me and then asked what effect the book would have on the world, I might have said something like, “I hope that college students trying to decide what to do with their lives might read it and decide that it’s silly to phony it up, and abandon their passions or even their faint interests, to become financiers.” I hoped that some bright kid at Ohio State University who really wanted to be an oceanographer would read my book, spurn the offer from Goldman Sachs, and set out to sea.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: xv
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 1 Quotes

By the time Household’s CEO, Bill Aldinger, collected his $100 million, Eisman was on his way to becoming the financial market’s first socialist. “When you’re a conservative Republican, you never think people are making money by ripping other people off,” he said. His mind was now fully open to the possibility. “I now realized there was an entire industry, called consumer finance, that basically existed to rip people off.”

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Steve Eisman (speaker), Michael Lewis, Valerie Feigen
Related Symbols: Bonds
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Most people didn’t understand how what amounted to a two-decade boom in the bond market had overwhelmed everything else. Eisman certainly hadn’t. Now he did. He needed to learn everything he could about the fixed income world. He had plans for the bond market. What he didn’t know was that the bond market also had plans for him. It was about to create an Eisman-shaped hole.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Steve Eisman
Related Symbols: Bonds
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

A lot of hedge fund managers spend time chitchatting with their investors and treated their quarterly letters to them as a formality. Burry disliked talking to people face-to-face and thought of these letters as the single most important thing he did to let his investors know what he was up to. In his quarterly letters he coined a phrase to describe what he thought was happening: “the extension of credit by instrument.” That is, a lot of people couldn’t actually afford to pay their mortgages the old-fashioned way, and so the lenders were dreaming up new instruments to justify handing them new money.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Michael Burry
Related Symbols: Bonds
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

The least controversial thing to be said about Lippmann was that he was controversial. He wasn’t just a good bond trader, he was a great bond trader. He wasn’t cruel. He wasn’t even rude, at least not intentionally He simply evoked extreme feelings in others. A trader who worked near him for years referred to him as “the asshole known as Greg Lippmann.” When asked why, he said, “He took everything too far.”

Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

The argument stopper was Lippmann’s one-man quantitative support team. His name was Eugene Xu, but to those who’d heard Lippmann’s pitch, he was generally spoken of as “Lippmann’s Chinese quant.” Xu was an analyst employed by Deutsche Bank, but Lippmann gave everyone the idea he kept him tied up to his Bloomberg terminal like a pet. A real Chinese guy—not even Chinese American—who apparently spoke no English, just numbers’ China had this national math competition, Lippmann told people, in which Eugene had finished second. In all of China. Eugene Xu was responsible for every piece of hard data in Lippmann’s presentation. Once Eugene was introduced into the equation, no one bothered Lippmann about his math or his data. As Lippmann put it, “How can a guy who can’t speak English lie?”

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Greg Lippmann (speaker), Steve Eisman, Vincent Daniel, Daniel Moses , Eugene Xu
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

Oddly, Cassano was as likely to direct his anger at profitable traders as at unprofitable ones, for the anger was triggered not by financial loss but by the faintest whiff of insurrection. Even more oddly, his anger had no obvious effect on the recipient’s paycheck; a trader might find himself routinely abused by his boss and yet delighted by his year-end bonus, determined by that same boss.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Joe Cassano , Gene Park
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

In his search for stock market investors he might terrify with his Doomsday scenario, Lippmann had made a lucky strike: He had stumbled onto a stock market investor who held an even darker view of the subprime mortgage market than he did. Eisman knew more about that market, its characters, and its depravities than anyone Lippmann had ever spoken with. If anyone would make a dramatic bet against subprime, he thought, it was Eisman—and so he was puzzled when Eisman didn’t do it. He was even more puzzled when, several months later, Eisman’s new head trader, Danny Moses, and his research guy, Vinny Daniels, asked him to come back in to explain it all over again.

Related Symbols: Bonds
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

Even as late as the summer of 2006, as home prices began to fall, it took a certain kind of person to see the ugly facts and react to them—to discern, in the profile of the beautiful young lady, the face of an old witch.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Steve Eisman, Greg Lippmann
Related Symbols: Bonds
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

He’d graduated from the University of Rhode Island, earned a business degree at Babson College, and spent most of his career working sleepy jobs at sleepy life insurance companies—but all that was in the past. He was newly, obviously rich. “He had this smirk, like, I know better,” said Danny. Danny didn’t know Wing Chau, but when he heard that he was the end buyer of subprime CDOs, he knew exactly who he was: the sucker. “The truth is that I didn’t really want to talk to him,” said Danny, “because I didn’t want to scare him.”

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Daniel Moses (speaker), Steve Eisman, Vincent Daniel, Greg Lippmann, Wing Chau
Related Symbols: Bonds
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

It made no sense: The subprime CDO market was ticking along as it had before, and yet the big Wall Street firms suddenly had no use for the investors who had been supplying the machine with raw material—the investors who wanted to buy credit default swaps. “Ostensibly other people were going long, but we were not allowed to go short,” said Charlie.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Charlie Ledley and Jamie Mai (speaker), Ben Hockett
Related Symbols: Bonds
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

Now, in February 2007, subprime loans were defaulting in record numbers, financial institutions were less steady every day, and no one but him seemed to recall what he’d said and done. He had told his investors that they might need to be patient—that the bet might not pay off until the mortgages issued in 2005 reached the end of their teaser rate period. They had not been patient. Many of his investors mistrusted him, and he in turn felt betrayed by them.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Michael Burry
Related Symbols: Bonds
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Howie Hubler had grown up in New Jersey and played football at Montclair State College. Everyone who met him noticed his thick football neck and his great huge head and his overbearing manner, which was interpreted as both admirably direct and a mask. He was loud and headstrong and bullying.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Howie Hubler , Michael Burry
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

In the murky and curious period from early February to June 2007, the subprime mortgage market resembled a giant helium balloon, bound to earth by a dozen or so big Wall Street firms. Each firm held its rope; one by one, they realized that no matter how strongly they pulled, the balloon would eventually lift them off their feet.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Howie Hubler
Related Symbols: Bonds
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Now the metaphor was two men in a boat, tied together by a rope, fighting to the death. One man kills the other, hurls his inert body over the side-only to discover himself being yanked over the side. “Being short in 2007 and making money from it was fun, because we were short bad guys,” said Steve Eisman. “In 2008 it was the entire financial system that was at risk. We were still short. But you don’t want the system to crash. It’s sort of like the flood’s about to happen and you’re Noah. You’re on the ark. Yeah, you’re okay. But you are not happy looking out at the flood. That’s not a happy moment for Noah.”

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), Steve Eisman (speaker)
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:

It wasn’t Eisman who upset the tone in the room, but some kid in the back. He looked to be in his early twenties, and he was, like everyone else, punching on his BlackBerry the whole time Miller and Eisman spoke. “Mr. Miller,” he said. “From the time you started talking, Bear Stearns stock has fallen more than twenty points. Would you buy more now?”

Miller looked stunned. “He clearly had no idea what had happened,” said Vinny. “He just said, ‘Yeah, sure, I’d buy more here.’”

After that, the men in the room rushed for the exits, apparently to sell their shares in Bear Stearns. By the time Alan Greenspan arrived to speak, there was hardly anyone who cared to hear what he had to say. The audience was gone. By Monday, Bear Stearns was of course gone, too, sold to J.P. Morgan for $2 a share.”

Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

But the biggest lag of all was right here, on the streets. How long would it take before the people walking back and forth in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral figured out what had just happened to them?

Related Symbols: Bonds
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

The changes were camouflage. They helped to distract outsiders from the truly profane event: the growing misalignment of interests between the people who trafficked in financial risk and the wider culture. The surface rippled, but down below, in the depths, the bonus pool remained undisturbed.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), John Gutfreund
Page Number: 254
Explanation and Analysis:

Until that moment I hadn’t paid much attention to what he’d been eating. Now I saw he’d ordered the best thing in the house, this gorgeous, frothy confection of an earlier age. Who ever dreamed up the deviled egg? Who knew that a simple egg could be made so complicated, and yet so appealing? I reached over and took one. Something for nothing. It never loses its charm.

Related Characters: Michael Lewis (speaker), John Gutfreund
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis: