The Man Who Crashed the World

Almost a year after A.I.G.’s collapse, despite a tidal wave of outrage, there still has been no clear explanation of what toppled the insurance giant. The author decides to ask the people involved—the silent, shell-shocked traders of the A.I.G. Financial Products unit—and finds that the story may have a villain, whose reign of terror over 400 employees brought the company, the U.S. economy, and the global financial system to their knees.

by Michael Lewis

Six months ago, I received an odd phone call from a man named Jake DeSantis at A.I.G. Financial Products—the infamous unit of the doomed insurance company, staffed by expensively educated, highly paid traders, whose financial ineptitude is widely suspected of costing the U.S. taxpayer $182.5 billion and counting. At the time A.I.G. F.P.’s losses were reported, it became known that a handful of traders in this curious unit had sold trillions of dollars of credit-default swaps (essentially unregulated insurance policies) on piles of U.S. subprime mortgages, but its employees hadn’t yet become the leading examples of Wall Street greed. And so this was before Jake DeSantis and his colleagues found themselves suburban-Connecticut outcasts, before their first death threats, before the House of Representatives passed a bill because of them (taxing 90 percent of their large bonuses), before New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo announced he was going after their paychecks, and before Iowa senator Charles Grassley said that A.I.G.’s leaders should follow the Japanese example and “either do one of two things, resign or go commit suicide.”

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