RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Writer Kevin Roose covers finance for New York magazine, and he's out with a new book, "Young Money," about what life is like for the young recruits in Wall Street in the aftermath of the financial crisis. We assigned the reading to Planet Money's Zoe Chace.
ZOE CHACE, BYLINE: While he was researching the book, Kevin Roose snuck into the St. Regis Hotel in New York City to attend a once-a-year dinner for Kappa Beta Phi, which is a literal secret society made up of Wall Street executives. Members include Michael Bloomberg, former heads of Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers.
KEVIN ROOSE: Their motto is what happens in the St. Regis stays in the St. Regis.
CHACE: No reporter had ever been inside before. Roose rented a tuxedo. He says he thinks people thought he was a waiter. One of the main things that happens at this dinner is new members are inducted into the society - hedge fund managers, bank CEOs. They're called neophytes.
ROOSE: So, I'm sitting there and, you know, I see them come out. And the way this dinner works is that it's like a hazing ritual and these neophytes have to dress up in drag and do comedy skits, perform songs.
CHACE: Songs like "Bailout King" to the tune of "Dancing Queen." Or this parody of the song "I Believe" from the musical the "Book of Mormon." It's from Roose's phone in his pocket so the quality's not great.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) I believe that God has a plan for all...
ROOSE: I believe that God has a plan for all of us, and that my plan is a seven-figure bonus. I work on Wall Street and Wall Street just believes.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) (unintelligible).
ROOSE: And meanwhile people in the audience are throwing things at them - pieces of bread, you know, rolled-up napkins dipped in wine. I mean, it's like the sort of "Wolf of Wall Street" meets, like the Elk Club or something like that.
CHACE: Keep in mind this is early 2012. It's the middle of the Occupy Wall Street movement, bank bailouts were still fresh and Roose wanted to investigate. How much of an anachronism is a party like this? This seems like old Wall Street, a holdover from pre-financial crisis times. What about the new recruits, the very youngest, the ones who are maybe decades away from being hazed at the St. Regis? Would this seem as strange to them as it did to Kevin Roose?
ROOSE: I was really curious about what it was like now, what it was like to be in this hated, vilified sector as a 22-year-old. I knew that a lot of them were sort of scared and ashamed, almost, of what they had chosen to do.
CHACE: So, Roose followed eight 20-somethings through their first two years on Wall Street, and all of them had an experience along the lines of this guy, whom he calls Jeremy, at the commodities desk of Goldman Sachs.
ROOSE: You know, at one point one of his bosses asks him, you know, so, why did you come to Goldman? And he gives his sort of idealistic spiel about how allowing big companies to hedge their fuel costs is like a legitimate function of the capital markets and eventually those savings gets passed down to customers. And the guy sort of cut him off and said, dude, if you're not here to make money, like, this isn't the place for you. We're not here to save the world. What you're here to do is make a ton of money for yourself and the firm.
CHACE: Whereas an earlier generation of Wall Street recruits might have been energized by that comment, Jeremy, Roose says, was a little shook by this. And Roose says that's in line with studies about what millennials want from a job these days. Even if the job is really not for a higher purpose, to these young people, want to feel like it is. And Jeremy started fantasizing about a way out of Goldman.
ROOSE: He had this Google doc that he'd titled "Escape Routes" that had all these various things that he was thinking about doing.
CHACE: And like another kid in Roose's book, Jeremy headed west.
ROOSE: The sex appeal is in Silicon Valley now and that's where you go if you want to strike it rich. And it has this sort of cultural cache that Wall Street used to have.
CHACE: Three out of Roose's eight founded start-ups. One study Roose cites is that Google, Apple and Facebook are in the top ten of companies where young people want to work.
ROOSE: The highest ranking bank was JPMorgan, and it came in 41st.
CHACE: The Wall Street Journal once put it like this: the movie "The Social Network" is this generation's "Wall Street."
ROOSE: I think a lot of the people who came to Wall Street after the crash were grumps. And being at a Google or a Facebook, or even a small start-up, this sort of idea that the tech industry is making things, they are bringing new things into existence.
CHACE: Out of the eight first years Roose profiled, five no longer work on Wall Street. Of the three that remain, only one seems actually truly happy at the job. No one seems destined for the Wall Street frat that Roose snuck into. They'd never even heard of it.
ROOSE: The old Wall Street is dead. Wall Street circa Gordon Gekko is never coming back.
CHACE: To be clear, there are still limos, there are still parties, but recruitment from the Ivy League is way down and poaching from the tech sector is way up. Zoe Chace, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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