I heard a man say that a couple of years ago and of course it made me gag.

He works in the financial industry and went on about the wonders of greed and how his 5000 square foot house was not large enough for his wife and small child, how he loved buying his wife diamonds, blah, blah, blah.

Colleagues of mine who also knew him found this appalling and we threw plenty of rocks at him behind his back. It’s always nice when people provide such nice targets for one’s rock-throwing.

Blatant greed just isn’t attractive.

But subtler forms of greed?

Well…

On Monday and Tuesday, even though I was up to my eyeballs in writing projects, I found myself snatching time to whip through the novel Dear Money by Martha McPhee, which is about a female novelist and English professor named India Palmer who chucks it all for money.

She takes up a dare offered by a bond trader she meets, who says he can turn her into a full-fledged trader within 18 months.

She’s married to a sculptor and has two daughters. They live in NYC so they barely make it financially, month after month.

The financial gymnastics she has to perform each month in order to slide by is all too familiar to me, so I found myself riveted by the story and by her desire to want to leave financial problems behind once and for all.

She takes him up on his offer and proves to him and all the other men on the floor that a total novice – a female, even – can learn bond training in a short period of time.

I also found myself fascinated with the behind-the-scenes glimpse of the mortgage situation that existed prior to 2008, which made it possible for almost 70% of the country to be homeowners, and which obviously became unsustainable. The book ends in the fall of 2007, before it all crashed.

I also wondered throughout if I would be tempted to do the same thing in her position and take a $300K per year job. I found it hard to judge her like the way I judged the Greed Is Glorious guy.

Once India is established as a trader she says:

Yes, I was happy. I was exhilarated. I was cool. I was smart. I had brains, fast brains. It’s a lie that money is more interesting for those who don’t have it than for those who do. It’s too fun to spend.

She goes on about the things she can now afford, such as groceries, parking tickets, a cleaning woman four times per week, etc. And then says:

Having lived the other life, I knew the difference, knew that I now preferred to worry about my trades, other people’s money rather than my own, rather than all I had struggled to afford.

She recalls how she once promised herself she’d be generous if she ever became rich and then notes the various causes she can finally contribute to. I’ve made similar promises to myself a time or two (cough, cough).

The author Martha McPhee explains why she, too, doesn’t judge India:

But I would also like to add that I do not judge India. I think we have gotten to this place in society, in our world as a collective whole.

We are cogs in a system and many of us to some degree play a part. India as a writer contributes her part alongside the banker.

This is not to say that you can’t lay blame at the feet of bankers, brokers. I just think that is a little too easy and I enjoy complexity. I appreciate the bigger picture and we’ve all bought into it – or most of us – in one way and another.

We’ve all bought into it? Not just Mr. Greed Is Glorious? Oops.

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