Our free enterprise system has considerable appeal to those seeking to get rich quick. Here are some stories of money makers who have been outrageous in their ingenuity, generosity, or endurance. We also include stories of people who found outrageous ways to show that our society's preoccupation with money has gone too far.
Working on Wall Street
I made my first million dollars as an options trader on the floor of the American Stock Exchange before I was legally old enough to buy, sell, or own a single share of stock.... At twenty I got my own seat on the Exchange--that is to say, my employer rented it for me--becoming the youngest person in Wall Street history up to that time to have done so.
In the beginning, whenever people asked what I did for a living, I would tell them, "Buy and sell options at risk," which of course meant nothing to people.... I often resisted the temptation of saying something glib like, "Oh, you know, it's sort of like crossing a six-lane freeway on foot at rush hour." Actually, the freeway simile is not all that outlandish...as an options trader juggling millions of dollars in nanoseconds, I would often double as ringmaster over an unruly mob of bawling, often brawling human animals....
I was expected to think and act and anticipate all at once, employing all my wiles, all my senses--especially my sixth sense. If I so much as hesitated, showed an iota of indecision, I'd risk financial obliteration....
The only cup of coffee I got while waiting for the next trade came flying through the air. I was pummeled, stepped and spat on, jostled, hassled, and grabbed. At the end of some of the wilder trading sessions, after I'd moved a couple of million dollars in a single hour, I'd drag myself home wearing clothes encrusted with dried ketchup, my panty hose shredded. Some days the damage would have been done after the first mad hour of trading...My working outfits would often have to be discarded after only one wearing....
I am sure that one hundred years from now, when the hapless American taxpayer has finally paid for the unregulated sins of the junk bond-financed yuppie years, scholars will treat this period about as kindly as today's historians view the Great Dutch Tulip Mania of 1636-1637. But for us traders down on the floor of the Exchange, it was anything but a delusion. It was all so very real. If something was amiss, if capitalism was running amok, we didn't want to hear it. We were having too much fun.
Excerpts from Play Money: My Brief But Brilliant Career on Wall Street by Laura Pedersen. (Crown Pub., 1991, chapter one.)
The Stroke of a Pen
Once, representatives of two failing banks sat in J.P. Morgan's office asking for a guarantee for their banks. "Who are the main depositors here?" he asked the drooping bank representatives. "Mostly working class people from the East Side, about 30,000 of them. If those banks went under most of those people would lose all their savings."
There was deep silence amongst the cigar smoke as Morgan's vice presidents waited, confident that he wouldn't jeopardize millions in such a foolhardy manner. "What is the most we could lose?" Morgan asked. "Six million dollars." "Is that all?!" said Morgan. "Done." Morgan whipped out his fountain pen and signed the guarantees.
From Tales of the Super Rich by Dexter Yager and Doug Wead. (Restoration Fellowship, 1980. p.116.)
A Proud Tribute to Freedom?
Within three weeks of East Germany's November 1989 opening of the Berlin Wall, a Missouri-based gift company was selling "authentic cuts" from the wall in stores across the United States. By year's end, 750,000 cuts--neatly boxed and costing up to $14.95--had been sold.
From Culture in an Age of Money by Nicolaus Mills. (Ivan Dee, Publisher, 1990. p.26.)
How American Express Makes Out (Completely Legally) Like Bandits
I think traveler's checks are one of the most outrageous making-money scams. Think about it: you give the company your money interest-free, for an indefinite amount of time. They invest your money for their own profit. And in return, they give you pieces of paper, worth nothing until you cash them in.
Banks and the government will gladly give you interest if you lend them money, whereas American Express charges you 1% for the favor. Meanwhile people come home with checks unspent, keep them in a drawer for years until the next trip or even lose them.
The beauty of this incredible money-making scam is that customers perceive traveler's checks as a valuable service offered at a reasonable price.
How to Get Busy Brokers to Take a Break
It was August 1967. I had just flown in from California on the overnight special and was staying with my friend JR. He said, "Don't go to bed yet, you have to come to this event and meet my friend Abby Hoffman." So we met him and some of his friends in front of the New York Stock Exchange. The press had been alerted that something was up; they followed us on the late morning tour, taking pictures.
We got up to the third floor gallery which looks out over the Stock Exchange. Security guards blocked the entrance. "Yes, it's usually open to the public, but we know you're here to make trouble. We're not letting you in!"
Abby replied, "The reason you're not letting us in is because we're Jewish!" They didn't know how to deal with this, especially with all the press standing there, so they finally let us in. We went out on the balcony and looked below at that big floor of stockbrokers. Everybody looked up at us, aware that something was going to happen, but they didn't know what. For that short while, the whole Stock Exchange came to a halt. It was incredibly exhilarating.
Then we let loose a bag of one dollar bills--about two hundred of them. There was a resounding cheer, and the next moment these millionaire brokers were lunging over each other to grab the dollar bills. The security guards ushered us away. When we got downstairs we held a little more Yippy festivity---a little dancing, a little burning of money--and then we broke up.
The audacity of the event immediately captured world media attention and made a big impact on people. We playfully communicated the message that mainstream society worships money to an absurd degree. Naturally, the stockbrokers had a glass wall built across the balcony so it could not happen again. .
- anonymous author
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