The New Crowd

Wall Street in the twentieth century has never been without important Jewish firms and financial experts. Until recently, however, non-Jewish firms set the tone of things. Dominant companies such as the House of Morgan had been entrenched in power for decades and conducted their affairs in conservative fashion. Jewish financiers, though tolerated, rarely mixed socially with the dominant Gentile elite and were expected to follow the lead of those in control.

Occasionally, an exception such as Sidney J. Weinberg won treatment as an equal from the Gentile upper crust through remarkable intelligence and daring. For the most part, Jewish firms such as Kuhn, Loeb and Co. were content with their modest but profitable place in the sun. These Jewish firms were controlled by German Jews; immigrants from Eastern Europe were usually not welcomed.

In the 1970’s all this changed. A number of Jewish businessmen, most in their twenties and thirties, broke with the established patterns of Wall Street. By radically new methods, they won a place for themselves. Much of the book details the way in which the members of this new generation earned vast sums of money through their willingness to break with the hidebound methods of the past.

Felix Rohatyn is probably the most familiar of these figures. He won wide acclaim through his role in saving New York City from financial ruin. His fame on Wall Street, however, does not stem from financial statesmanship. Rohatyn earned millions through his skill in mergers, and the authors describe his major activities in vivid detail.

Sometimes the freewheeling tactics of the younger generation have aroused resentment. Michael Millken developed junk bonds into a major source of business finance. Drexel Burnham paid him a yearly salary of about $500,000,000. Milliken now faces criminal charges; and another Jewish financier, Ivan Boesky, has been sentenced to prison for using inside information in stock market deals.

The authors do not take a position on the ethics of these transactions. The book emphasizes human interest, not social analysis (for example, the marital mishaps of Saul Steinberg are chronicled at length). This is light reading, not sociology.