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April 29, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

The Zeroes: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Insane, by Randall Lane


The Zeroes is a 345-page manifesto on what not to do when rich people start trying to curry your favour. Randall Lane, one-time Editor-In-Chief of several ‘luxury’ magazines including the now-infamous (in American trading circles, anyway) Trader Monthly, lets the reader into the often-salacious and creepily cannibalistic world of Wall Street trading. What makes The Zeroes even more compelling is that the birth and death of Doubledown Media follows the highs and eventual low of the global economic meltdown of 2008, the very heart of which seemed to reside in Wall Street. It’s a time line of the rise and fall of corporate greed, lack of empathy and a complete unwillingness to adapt to changing times, so it’s easy for anyone outside of this odd social circle to happily shake their fist at the jerks who so irresponsibly squandered billions of dollars of other people’s money for the sake of a personal payday.

Lane makes no secret of the fact that Doubledown Media, the company he and former trader mogul Magnus Greaves to publish their magazine, produced magazines that were essentially an exercise in ego-boosting for their audience. Trader Monthly had plenty to do with accentuating the perception of traders as the new rock stars or celebrities, whose cavernous wealth was only useful when they could use it to out-do each other with ridiculous purchases. These included various types of Gulfstream jets, which are basically limousines on wheels; the gaudy, jewel-encrusted watches worn by traders as status markers; and houses so enormous they come with their own ice rinks.

Lane is the outsider with the inside access, explaining the insane methods of payment by which Wall Street execs could still get paid to trade without any real personal financial loss, emphasising precisely why it’s always a good idea to go with a financial adviser who has his own money invested, not everyone else’s. The first half of The Zeroes is absorbing, shocking and appealing; while Lane doesn’t really seem to grasp much of the humour potential in the stories he relates, he does write them with an apparent self-consciousness that aids rather than hinders the reader’s perspective on the situation. Lane (in his own mind at least) appears hopelessly naive to the dangers of other people’s narcissism within the Wall Street business; time and again he is sucked into their personal quest for glory at the expense of either himself or his own company.

But while reading The Zeroes, I had to wonder why a man who used to be a former Washington bureau chief for Forbes would do business with so many seedy, dodgy types. Was it just bad luck or desperation? As a journalist, you’d think he’d know that thorough research is necessary on all counts; as much as he knows about writing and publishing, Lane seems quite inept on matters of business.

What grates towards the end of The Zeroes is that Lane seems to emerge from implosion of Doubledown Media bitter, angry and bankrupt, content to paint everyone else in a bad light while simultaneously trying to meekly atone for his sins. This is a guy, remember, who convinced his own mother to sink money into a business he knew was already desperate for cash flow and never really made a profit. Lane even ignores clear-cut cases of sexual harassment and verbal abuse, within his own office, for the sake of a good deal. And while business is no fairytale and sometimes, what’s done is done, Lane doesn’t go to much of an effort to make amends for the injuries he inflicts on various co-workers and friends, financially or otherwise. Don’t hold out for a heartfelt apology here, because you just won’t get one.

The Zeroes, while beginning with the heady days of early success, sinks into a despondent and angry rant at the people who drove Lane out of business. It seems Lane didn’t take the hint from the biggest financial fallout since the Great Depression; sometimes, it’s not just an accident, it’s that you’re rubbish at thinking outside the box.

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