David Bloom instructs. Only two years out of Duke University, he persuaded 100 ''clients'' to give him $10 million to invest. Occasionally, he issued nicely printed statements which showed how their money was doing (terrifically, he said), but he may not have invested a cent. He bought a house, an apartment, two cars and millions of dollars in art. At age 23, he looked like a million bucks.
David Bloom had a house in the country. He had an apartment in New York City. He had an Aston Martin car and a Mercedes, too. He dined at New York's finest restaurants and, when he was joined by one of his ''clients,'' he sent a car for him. They limoed silently to places where for only $200 or $300 you can eat quite nicely, wine not included.
The clients came with their money. They ponied up $25,000, $100,000 or $1 million. During dinner or lunch, Bloom would excuse himself to take phone calls. Rich, very important people, called him all the time. He had the best of associations, he said. He was supposedly a special consultant to Goldman Sachs, and he claimed that Equitable Life Assurance had entrusted him to invest its money. Likewise the sultan of Brunei and the Duke of Wellington.
Who were these people who invested? What do they tell us about ourselves, our times -- the financial markets of the 1980s and the Age of Greed which is, thank God, now over, according to Newsweek? Who were these people who were rich enough to invest $25,000 or $100,000? We don't know their names. The Securities and Exchange Commission, which seized everything Bloom had, won't identify them. Reportedly, most are friends of Bloom's father -- older men. Older but not wiser.
Probably Bloom's investors were people who no longer could figure out how the stock market worked. They knew the financial markets are estranged from production, from the making of things -- and that money can be made in the dissolution of corporations, in intimidation by feigning a takeover, in the shuffling of paper and the clicks of a computer keyboard. The market went up and up. The dollar went down and down. The government's debt increased and the trade deficit yawned wider and wider. Did any of it matter? No? Yes? Bloom knew. Give him the money.
How could it be that old men gave a kid their money to play with? Because, suddenly, all the old rules were worthless. Age, experience, perspective -- all of that -- no longer mattered. The market was for hackers, for kids who knew how to split the screen and date women by computer. There was something called program trading and portfolio insurance -- making a profit on futures in Chicago while losing less money on stocks in New York. The money moved fast: little electrodes of the stuff, particles of billions, surges of zillions. It zoomed around the world, alighting at Hong Kong or London, Chicago or Tokyo. And it kept moving. It never slept. Old men need to sleep.
Who could understand such a system? Maybe the older you were, the less you could understand. Maybe the fix was in. Maybe Bloom had inside information. Who cared? Look at his wealth! He had $4.7 million in art. The New York Times did an article on his apartment and paintings. He made lots of money. How? What did it matter? Just look at all that art.
In his commission's report about the market crash, Nicholas Brady paints a picture of what happened that dark day on Oct. 19. It is almost incomprehensible -- a description of what some major traders did in a flash that is beyond the understanding of the average person. It seemed to have nothing to do with annual reports, with profit statements and how products were selling. Who stood a chance? What small investor, even a pretty rich one, could move so fast? Computers whirred. The earth shook. The market collapsed.
The small investors remain scared, and many have walked away from the market -- about 8 million, according to one survey. It seems a crap shoot to them, a gamble in which the deck is stacked by computer programs and winning cards taken from under the table in Hong Kong.
In his wonderful novel, ''The Bonfire of the Vanities," Tom Wolfe calls major Wall Street figures ''Masters of the the Universe.'' They make a wildcatter's fortune without bringing in a well. Of course, there's both purpose and utility to their activities -- essential parts of capitalism -- but the saga of David Bloom suggests things have gotten out of hand. By pretending he knew the market, Bloom took the money of men who had to concede they no longer did.