Eunuchs of the Universe

Newsweek, January 4, 2013 | Go to article overview

Eunuchs of the Universe

As America teeters on a cliff, Tom Wolfe draws up a searing indictment of our unscrupulous financial culture.

Come join us as we go back seven months to the apex of the history of American capitalism in the 21st century. We find ourselves in a swarm of fellow starstruck souls outside the Sheraton Hotel on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, churning, squirming

to slip past a battalion of cops and a platoon of security operatives in gray suits with small white techno-polyps in their ears attached to coils of white intercom cord trying to keep us under control ... as we all but trample the raggedy, homeless-looking ranks of the television crews and every other laggard in our way.

We are ablaze!--ablaze with excitement, burning, yearning for a glimpse of the John Jacob Astor, the Andrew Carnegie, the E.H. Harriman, the John D. Rockefeller, the Henry Ford, the Bill Gates of our century ... and that's him! Look at him! He's not wearing Astor's wing collar debouching a silk four-in-hand or John D.'s stiff silk topper and morning coat with a red carnation in the buttonhole of the left lapel and a pair of striped pants, nor even Bill Gates's off-the-Joseph A. Bank-rack sack suit. No, our man is only 27 years old and attired as a tycoon of our time ... His shirt is a gray T-shirt, one of the 30-some gray T-shirts he has on hand in order to make sure he is clad in the same rebelliously fashion-defying teenager garb every day ... and over it, a dark-gray sweatshirt with a hood, a garment known familiarly as a hoodie. From this day, May 7, 2012, forward, the hoodie becomes his symbol, his trademark, his battle standard.

In 15 minutes he will be inside the ballroom with an invitation-only crowd of neckties who make up America's, in fact the world's, wealthiest potential investors in the initial public offering of an estimated $104 billion worth of stock in his company, a new addition to our most modern industry, known as IT, for "information technology."

As anyone who has read this far knows before we can say it, his company is called Facebook, and he is our century's first tycoon of IT, Mark Zuckerberg. As of May 14, Facebook had 901 million customers, one of every eight people on earth (and would soon have one billion, one of every seven). No one had ever dreamed of such a thing, a "social network" that would enable people all over the globe to reach each other instantly, for free, and share pictures of themselves and God only knows what else.

The stock was to go on sale three days later, Thursday, May 17, at 11 a.m. By then 82 million bids were primed and straining against the starting blocks. Zuckerberg had hired five old investment banks to take care of the mechanics of the IPO for him: JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Barclays Capital, and the lead bank, overseeing the entire operation, Morgan Stanley, in the persons of James Gorman, the CEO, and Michael Grimes. Grimes had been named the No. 1 Wall Street "dealmaker" on the Forbes Midas List four years in a row, 2004-07. At 11 a.m. sharp--bango!--the 82 million bids hit the market. Our old-line investment bankers are agog. They have never seen anything like the hordes of buyers stampeding straight toward them bearing billions of dollars--billions!--desperate to get their hands on shares of Facebook at the IPOffering price of $38 a share before it rockets up to $76 and who knows how much higher. Unbelievable hordes of them! Our old boys panic. They slip, they slide, they flounder. Without a clue as to what they're doing, they begin drowning this, the biggest and most publicized IPO in history, beneath wave after wave of incompetence. Flummoxed, the old boys call it a "technical error" when the onrush of bids so overwhelms them, millions of transactions are recorded at the wrong prices. The leader of the lead bank, Gorman of Morgan Stanley, blames it all on NASDAQ, the exchange handling the transactions. Under the circumstances--namely, the biggest IPO in history--it sounds like Napoleon blaming Waterloo on the quartermaster corps for not delivering freshly laundered smalls to the front lines in a timely fashion. …

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