MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Almost a year and a half ago, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED aired a collaboration between NPR and This American Life. It was called "The Giant Pool of Money." The program explored the roots of the financial crisis: how and why subprime loans were made, sold and repackaged to investors. The show aired months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the rescue of AIG, and months before a U.S. housing downturn created a devastating global recession. Adam Davidson and Alex Blumberg, with NPR's Planet Money team, recently revisited two of the people who appeared in that first story to find out how they're faring these days.
ADAM DAVIDSON: Nobody's life better embodies the fast, easy money of the bubble years, and the pain of that bubble popping, as much as Glen Pizzolorusso.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Glen was an area sales manager at a mortgage lender called WMC Mortgage. He was in his 20s, and he was bringing in $100,000 a month - a month. He owned five cars, divided his time between two luxury homes, and spent a lot of nights partying at exclusive New York clubs.
DAVIDSON: Here's Glen in a clip from the original hour we did on This American Life.
Mr. GLEN PIZZOLORUSSO (Area Sales Manager, WMC Mortgage): We would roll up to Marquee at midnight with a, you know, line 500 people deep out front. Walk right up to the door - give me my table. We're sitting next to Tara Reid and a couple of her friends. We were sitting - you know, Christina Aguilera was doing, you know, whatever - like, I'm Christina Aguilera, and I'm going to get up and sing. So, Christina Aguilera and all her people are there. Who else was there? Cuba Gooding and that kid from "Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive." What was that kid's name? Fabian Barabia?
You know, we order probably three or four bottles of Cristal at $1,000 a bottle. They bring it out with — you know, they're walking through the crowd, they hold the bottles over their head. They put - there's firecrackers in them with sparklers. You know, the little cocktail waitresses. So, you order four bottles of those, they're walking through the crowd, you know, people, everybody's like, whoa, who's the cool guys? Well, we were the cool guys. You know what I mean? They gave me a black card, you know, this little card with my name on it. There's probably like 10 of them in existence. You know? And that meant that I just spent way too much money there.
DAVIDSON: After the bubble burst, Glen lost everything. His company is now out of business. He lost the Porsche and all the other cars.
BLUMBERG: He lost his home to foreclosure. And he couldn't afford to rent a place, so now he's staying at a house his dad owns. It's actually the house where he grew up.
Mr. PIZZOLORUSSO: I have been humbled. I mean, I've been forced to be humbled. I just have a different outlook on what's important, you know?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PIZZOLORUSSO: I'm driving a car that has no payment on it. It's a piece of junk. I used to think that it mattered, you know? It doesn't. None of the monetary stuff that we are preconditioned to think is important matters.
BLUMBERG: We've met dozens of people, hundreds, who've been affected by this crisis. But Adam, I don't think we met anyone who's been so thoroughly changed as Glen has.
DAVIDSON: It's amazing. Talking to him, I feel like I'm watching one of those Hollywood movies where the rich jerk learns what makes life really valuable.
BLUMBERG: Instead of partying with B-list celebrities, he now spends most of his time with his wife and three kids. He's in school now, and he loves it. He never liked school before. He's reading lots of books about politics and history - again, something he never did before.
DAVIDSON: He says it's like the Glen from before and the Glen now are two totally different Glens.
Mr. PIZZOLORUSSO: I have a beautiful family. And that's success. I'm successful. And you can't tell me that I'm not. But that Glen didn't think that way. That Glen, success was measured by, you know, my American Express black card. You know, that's what success was. You know, going and showing off the cars. And that Glen measured success by things. And I just - I don't do that anymore.
(Soundbite of crowd)
(Soundbite of music)
BLUMBERG: We also met Jim Finkel in early 2008. I went with him to this kind of black-tie dinner and awards ceremony that, I think it's safe to say, will never happen again. It was a night of awards for the people who created the best securitized financial instrument.
DAVIDSON: You know all those things that later that year, we started calling toxic assets? Well, this was before that, when they were still giving out awards for it.
BLUMBERG: And Jim, at that dinner, told me that he still believed that those complicated financial instruments that he was creating - including the now-infamous collateralized debt obligation, or CDO - were a wonderful invention, and that the people at that dinner were heroes.
Mr. JIM FINKEL (CEO, Dynamic Credit Partners): This guy is a legend. He's the granddaddy of our industry.
DAVIDSON:: Well, it's been a rough year and a half since for Jim Finkel. His business was built entirely on the most complex subprime mortgage securities. Like Glen, he rode the bubble up to great riches, and then it burst.
Mr. FINKEL: I never thought as a start-up manager, within 36 months we could ever possibly be managing $5 billion, let alone that we could possibly within 12 - the 12 following months, lose 60 percent of it, lose 3 billion.
BLUMBERG: Now if you've got the impression that everyone on Wall Street walked away from this crisis without losing any money, bailed out by the government, Jim Finkel wants to make things very clear. That is not true. At least, it's not true for him and a lot of people like him.
DAVIDSON: Jim was what's called an asset manager, which is sort of like a subcontractor to the big investment banks on Wall Street. Someone at, say, Merrill Lynch would hire Jim's small company to put together these mortgage-backed investment deals.
BLUMBERG: Jim made his money by investing in the assets he created. When they went up, like during the bubble, he made a lot of money. When they lost value, he lost a lot of money. Now the investment banks, they made money in a totally different way.
Mr. FINKEL: Those guys took a lot of upfront fees out of those deals and they took bonuses out of those upfront fees. And even though their banks went belly up, those bonuses were never called back. A lot of people made enormous amounts of money and moved on.
DAVIDSON: Jim did not lose his houses or his cars, like Glen did. He did lose millions of dollars, but he's doing fine. But he says this year has been awful in a different way.
BLUMBERG: He remembers that when he first started working with firms on Wall Street years ago, he had a few mentors who warned him about something.
Mr. FINKEL: They all tried to convince me all the time that people on Wall Street were bad. Now, you know, no one seemed to be bad. Everyone seemed to be trying their hardest. And we had clients, and we thought we are doing well by them. This set of events did convince me that people on Wall Street generally are bad because I saw how quickly the banks turned on their customers, including how the banks have turned on us - how they withdrew the credit lines, how they traded against us. How they - they've done anything - anything they can. And that was dispiriting. And it just proved that my mentors were correct, and I was overly idealistic.
DAVIDSON: Now Jim's company, Dynamic Credit, is surprisingly still in business.
BLUMBERG: They're not creating subprime mortgage securitizations anymore. They have a new job. Now, investors who bought those now-toxic assets during the bubble, they hire Jim to figure out if there's anything of value left.
I'm Alex Blumberg.
DAVIDSON: And I'm Adam Davidson, NPR News.
SIEGEL: Chicago Public Radio's This American Life will air an updated hour of "The Giant Pool of Money" throughout the weekend on public radio stations around the country.