American Consequences - August 2017

wrapping financial analysis in a moral, populist language that is calibrated precisely to draw maximum attention in a media environment in which screaming is the only way to be heard. As for those being screamed at, the banks and the business schools that feed them, Left represents at best an interesting character and at worst a nuisance. American high finance is extraordinarily good at absorbing attacks on it. Just a few months ago, Left delivered a keynote speech at Harvard Business School’s annual investment conference, where students who could afford the $72,000 tuition calmly imbibed Left’s strategies, which were once considered fringe. He texted me a photo of himself in Harvard Yard, looking comfortable and middle-aged, smiling, his eyes closed.

of their clients. It is widely believed that Trump will limit the power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or eliminate it entirely. Hundreds of key positions in the executive branch remain unfilled. Americans have seen this pattern before. When a sector of society weakens, Wall Street conquers it as a profit. In a town with a dozing sheriff, vigilantes become the agents of order. Claire Stovall, a researcher at the industry analyst Activist Shorts, told me that the situation was not necessarily to be feared. “The market is often quicker than the government at catching frauds,” Stovall said. And most successful activist short campaigns produce no regulatory action anyway. But Zhao took a dimmer view. “If you create a deregulated boom not supported by fundamentals,” he said, “you will have a disaster. The activist short-sellers will make a fortune. But sometimes, as a member of society, you don’t want to have a total collapse.” In retrospect, it is not coincidental that 2015 was the year Left became famous. His tactics matched our mood. Most of us do not care about a random pharmaceutical company meeting its debt covenants. We care about getting medicine at a price we can afford. We don’t care about organic versus inorganic growth, but we worry that our kids will have no coverage if the Trump administration repeals Obamacare. Left’s very timely gift is to connect our daily human concerns to the convoluted operations of the economy,

Originally published in The New York Times Magazine

84 | August 2017

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