Esquire Interview on Bear Stearns



So George Clooney and I are having a few beers, and we start talking Wall Street, Bear Stearns and all the rest . . .  The next thing I know, I’m faced, he whips out a tape recorder, and being pretty soused, I just go off for 45 minutes. You can read most of it in this month’s mag right online.

Good stuff (be forewarned of the R-rated language).  Clooney always gets me saying stuff that’s a bit embarrassing.

Oh, well, such is life. What’s a few F-bombs between friends?


Don’t Fear the Bear
Barry Ritholtz
Esquire, March 20, 2008, 7:45 AM

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Barry Ritholtz commented on Mar 20

    OK, not George Clooney. And not drunk. But all the rest is true.

  2. michael schumacher commented on Mar 20

    good on ya BR!!

    To bad it’s in a mag that no one reads any more……LOL


  3. MitchN commented on Mar 20

    Awesome, Barry, totally awesome.

  4. Mr. Obvious commented on Mar 20

    Nice article, Barry. But would it kill you to smile?


    BR: Old photo — but the only one in the office.

  5. michael schumacher commented on Mar 20

    BTW I get your humor……wait for the people to come here and say “Wow BR and Clooney are drinkin’ buds”…..


  6. Empire commented on Mar 20

    “I’m not negative, I’m just realistic. God forbid you’re diagnosed with cancer, you can’t walk around and say, eh, it’s a flesh wound. The first step in fixing anything is identifying it realistically. The second step is understanding that all of these economic problems are cyclical.”

    You sound downright reasonable. I wish I made that much sense when I’m drunk.

  7. Empire commented on Mar 20

    Shoulda refreshed the comments. I knew not George Clooney, on account of I can read a byline. But drunk seemed credible enough.

  8. tulsatime commented on Mar 20

    Well damn dude! That story rocked without the correction. But at least you kept the f-bombs, which language is very much called for in any description of our present situation. Now I must seek out this magazine for to read of it!

  9. Kurt Miln commented on Mar 20

    Wow – great summary and killer writing!

  10. sw commented on Mar 20

    This is the best article/rant on the mortgage crisis, bar none. Just awesome

  11. cinefoz commented on Mar 20

    Yeah, but on the other hand, you have to admire all the creative ways people can steal. God, people are smart when self interest and easy money come together. And it look like most of them not only get away with it, they can publicly tell the world to screw itself.

    Maybe Fox could put a sitcom on TV something like The Office, but the characters are all avaricious wall street types who think of ways to pump and dump, borrow and inflate, lie, cheat, and steal, and all sorts of hijinks … JUST LIKE REAL LIFE! And only the suckers get in real trouble.

    It’s only illegal if there’s a law against it. And you don’t belong in a good office on Wall Street, in fact you could justifiably be called a giant pussy, if you can’t think of news ways to steal faster than Congress can create laws against it.

  12. John Borchers commented on Mar 20

    Im done with our market. The gov’t is rigging it or something.

    Jobs lost, profits down and it doesn’t go down because they have to protect baby boomers retirement.

    My opinion is our US market is not a free running market right now.

  13. Gary commented on Mar 20

    Sooo… BR –

    How come your photo is above the headline on the side “To the Women in Our Audience: We Need Your Help”

    Dude, not a good juxtaposition. Or then again maybe it is. ;-)

    Good article btw.

  14. JustinTheSkeptic commented on Mar 20

    Thanks guys enjoyed reading your responses to Barry’s article. It sure does seem like if your not an insider you might as well say fuck it!

  15. John Borchers commented on Mar 20


    I think also Doug Kass recognizes this from what he said the other night.

    You can’t short our market the gov’t is locking it up. But you can’t tell where because some days they just let it fall.

    I’m 90% sure it’s being rigged.

  16. Frymaster commented on Mar 20

    I know I’m diving into waters over my head, but I can’t help making this simple observation.

    I love the whole shape of the piece. Super direct, no BS, and, as far as my ignit ass can tell, spot-freaking-on.

    But when you ask the rhetorical question “Who’s running the place?” the literal answer is: nobody. And that’s the set up.

    This is “government is the problem” come full circle.

    The freedom of “free markets” depends on rules, and those rules need to be enforced. Is anybody advocating a free market in armed services? Nuclear materials?

    The least rules necessary to ensure a level field, sure. But more than none.

    So I find this talk from big finance incredibly refreshing. I actually heard Kudlow use the term “collectivism” instead of “socialism” when uber-commie Bernie Sanders was on his show.

    Wait, did I just make this a left-right thing?

    Incredible piece. Thank you.

  17. Bob A commented on Mar 20

    They knew real estate prices would come eventually come down, and they knew a lot of people would get hurt. They just thought it would be other people that got hurt and not them. Too effin’ bad for them.

  18. odograph commented on Mar 20

    Man, you tapped my vibe.

  19. Donny commented on Mar 20

    Well Said Sir! I don’t think I could have said it better myself … in fact, you took the words right out of my mouth!

  20. twistytop commented on Mar 20

    Don’t fear the bear? Someone should make up a spoof song using that Blue Oyster Cult classic “(don’t fear) The Reaper”. lol

  21. Chris D. commented on Mar 20

    “And now this current generation is pretty much fucked.”

    I hope you’re right, but (as a post-Boomer) I’m more worried that I’m the one who’s [radio edit]. The Boomers are gonna cry hard and try to accelerate the intergenerational transfer. They’re going to hang around in their jobs longer with legislated protections for the aging. They’re going to be cutting property taxes, which will only short-change the schools and universities their grandchildren might attend. (Don’t forget all the targeted tax exemptions for retirees they’ll soon be demanding.) They’re going to throw the borders wide open to shave 5% of the prices at Wal-mart. “Let the poor, third world young people do all the work these lazy American young people won’t do!”

    I think we’re in for serious intergenerational conflict down the road.

  22. SR commented on Mar 20

    Senor Barry,

    As the Brits would commend: “Spot On”

    Your writing is as forthright as it is intensely & brutally honest, tinged with your immense integrity!

    Clearly focused, Concise, and Collectively Cohesive in logic.

    Thank You, Thank You, THANK YOU!

  23. Peter_BK commented on Mar 20

    From Investopedia on Glass-Steagall “The limitations of the GSA on the banking sector sparked a debate over how much restriction is healthy for the industry. Many argued that allowing banks to diversify in moderation offers the banking industry the potential to reduce risk, so the restrictions of the GSA could have actually had an adverse effect, making the banking industry riskier rather than safer. Furthermore, big banks of the post-Enron market are likely to be more transparent, thus lessening the possibility of assuming too much risk or masking unsound investment decisions. As such, reputation has come to mean everything in today’s market, and that could be enough to motivate banks to regulate themselves.”

    First how hilarious is that last sentence at this point?

    I wonder: after 65 years of trying to get The GSA repealed, was doing so repayment to the banks involved in the LTCM bailout? If so it fits that Bear Stearns would be the bank to blow up first.

  24. Emmett commented on Mar 20

    Well done. Succinct.

    I like Frymaster’s observation… nobody was in charge.

    Classic speculative bubble. So free-market rules. Winners and losers.

    Greed overruled common sense on the pyramid bottom (home buyers, MEW fools) and greed overruled ethics on the top (real estate agents, mortgage brokers, banks).

    As the smoke clears, some of the money is still in the hands of the pyramid toppers. Injustice!

    People on the street will want to see the perp-walk in line-dance form. Angelo Mozilo and his friends can lead. Matter of time, I think. Remember the witch-hunt after the S&L debacle?

  25. Douglas Watts commented on Mar 20

    Since Reagan, our culture (and esp. $$$ culture) has been drowned and marinated in the zombie cult belief purveyors shouting that regulations and regulators are bad per se and anathema to a healthy economy. The second “wind” has been the culture of greed and instantaneous gratification. Put those belief systems together, throw in an administration devoted to punishing regulators for regulating and looking the other way at rule breakers, add a braindead, biased media, and you have the present mess.

    Having grown up in and old line New England Methodist family, I was taught to be wary of acquisition for its own sake, showy wealth, and the free lunch. My Aunt Millie chided from father for leaving lights on after 9 p.m. and leaving clothes on the line after dark (the neighbors would think he was a ‘spendthrift,’ she warned.)

    It’s interesting to compare these two cultural and behavioral outlooks. One, which was dominant from the Depression to the 1970s. The second, from the 1980s to the present.

  26. zot23 commented on Mar 20

    Barry, you little name dropping whore. As long as you were spinning the tale, you might as well thrown in some sexual escapades as well. Like you went back to Clooney’s pad and it was wall to wall sheep or something.

    Good article man, you don’t have to retract the drinking part. Americans are perfectly comfortable taking financial advise from drunkards.

  27. Emmett commented on Mar 20

    “I think we’re in for serious intergenerational conflict down the road. ”

    Chris D.


    Boomers blocking the education of their grandchildren?

    Way off topic.

    But I wonder… I’d be really interested to see an age-demographic distribution of underwater mortgages. My bet is the evil boomers dodged that bullet. We know a stinky mortgage contract when we see one.

  28. ef commented on Mar 20

    That article is a saver.

    You should write a book for the general public and get on Oprah. You could be the male version of Suze Orman’s, “Suze smack down.” (Icks! Sorry) A hard dose of reality would do us all good. William Bernstein tried, but you have to have a shtick these days. First entertain, then educate.

    “clueless retail brokers” Unfornately, “clueless retail broker” meet middle-America and their retirement. :-(

    People should be angry about this. They should say to themselves, “Why have our institutions failed us? Why did the Fed not do its job? Why didn’t the Congress and White House do anything until it was already a horrific debacle?”
    It falls on deaf ears. People scurrying about our society, our teachers, professors, scientists, doctors, nurses, all sorts of folks, go throughout their day being an “expert” in their field. Doing their part. Playing by the rules.
    While all the time, having an understanding that other people are doing their part, to do what is right in a civil society. We expect financial institutions and those that play in that particular component of our society to uphold their fiduciary responsibility. Just think if other professionals, other components of our civilized community, like doctors or civil engineers, conducted themselves with the same reckless behavior.

    Like Angelo Mozilo, the founder of the biggest mortgage company in the U.S. He’s the poster boy for inside sales. The guy sold $400 million in stock. That’s a red flag that way too many people missed. Unfortunately, that requires actually knowing something
    about the industry, companies, boards, and executives, which requires reading a lot
    of material (i.e., SEC 10k). Folks are interested in making “easy money”, not investing in a company, not understanding how a company makes money and what its execs are doing. Show them a graph with earnings and sales growth, some re’s and pe’s, and you can get them to buy anything, no matter the red flags.

    You’re supposed to raise your standard of living by working harder, being clever, earning more income — not by using your long-term savings. Amen. But that isn’t what Wall Street sells. That isn’t the environment that we live in. Wall Street can blame Main Street or visa versa, but it is those that have been anointed financial experts in our civilized society, that live and breath Wall Street everyday, that have the greater responsibility. If nothing else, to disseminate “real!” information and monitor their own.

    pray that Social Security is still around in 20 years Hey, there’s always that traditional pension. Oh, those don’t exist anymore for most people. Well, then there’s always their traditional IRA. Oh, Roth IRA. And whatever nth-type of plan Congress dreams up. Ummm, unless they lost that in the last bubble. Life insurance, but the bummer is, you have to die first. ;-)

    go to take money out of their houses at retirement time Dang. I always forget a home isn’t where you hang your hat and dine with your family, it’s a piggy bank. Most people think of their home as a home. A roof over their heads. They don’t see it as a savings account.

    Over the past seven years we put 3-to-4 million people who were renters into homes. Or, in some cases, we just made more landlords. People bought multiple homes, and rented them. These homes were normally considered starter homes. Now the house is rented. Often to low-income, so the state funds their housing. Great for the landlord, they have almost guaranteed cash flow. But, in the meantime, the pride of ownership isn’t there, the house isn’t maintained, so the community begins to suffer. What a deal for the landlord. Not so much for everyone else.

  29. Simon commented on Mar 20

    It’s how you look on the inside that matters …really… Anyway having a chin implant’s gotta hurt.

  30. RPB commented on Mar 20

    Man, nothing gets you instant street cred like dropping f-bombs as if it were the literary equivalent of the Bikini Atoll!

  31. mo commented on Mar 20

    Very good


    Saying it’s worse than Katrina is a bit of a stretch.

    People haven’t died – yet.

  32. OkieLawyer commented on Mar 20


    Today on NPR they had a guest who contradicted this statement you made in your article:

    The housing market couldn’t just go up forever. Yes, that was part of their “models.” You just have to be alive for 15 years to know that these things cycle. People who said that real estate prices weren’t ever going to go down should be beaten over the head with piles and piles of foreclosed mortgages. Idiots.

    Apparently, one of the guests, a former Fed governor, made the incredible statement that real estate had never gone down in American history. He made it at about the 4:45 mark.

  33. Rich_Lather commented on Mar 20

    “What is so amazing is how long it took to actually happen.”

    No doubt. I would have shorted long ago had it not been for the fact that house purchasing has been a practice of denial and delusion the past couple of years. It takes a while for the spell to wear off.

  34. David commented on Mar 20

    So true, great and totally fabulous interview.
    You are so right, “It was so obvious it was going to fall apart eventually. What is so amazing is how long it took to actually happen.”
    I feel sorry, now that, many are going to get hurt financially, that don’t deserve to get hurt.
    I think Fed and Bernanke, are doing the best they can, I just hope, they don’t hurt to many good people.
    Again, great interview, and remember President Harry Truman like sharp, straight, dirty words, to get the point across.
    “When words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain” William Shakespeare

  35. Kevin 1 commented on Mar 21

    “But they didn’t — they ate their seed corn.” Semper Fi!

  36. jb commented on Mar 21

    Someone has to tell it like it really is! How about forwarding a copy of the article to the NYT ?


  37. Amos Newcombe commented on Mar 21

    selling their stock like their was no tomorrow

    Drink all you want, Barry, but not with the proofreader.

  38. Guy M. Lerner commented on Mar 21


    You summarize somewhat how I feel about this issue: where were the checks and balances? In my former career, we were trained to always anticipate the worst. Preparation. Preparation. Never put yourself (or patient) in a position you cannot get out of. Do no harm!

    Unfortunately, those most responsible will likely not pay for their actions. Sh-t happens. But in this case, I am sure it took more than one incident to make this mess happen. For example, adverse events in the operating usually occur because a confluence of events. It is rarely just one factor.

    That’s my 3 cents

  39. Shnaps commented on Mar 21

    That was a great one, Barry.

    Am I the only one that noticed, in the lower-right hand corner, that they also (mistakenly, I think) used Barry’s photo for different article entitled “To the Women in Our Audience: We Need Your Help”.

  40. maximo commented on Mar 21

    Congrats Barry!!! Excellent article!

  41. Clay Ward commented on Mar 21

    Great piece Barry.

  42. Clay Ward commented on Mar 21

    Great piece Barry.

  43. snooky commented on Mar 21

    I like the Esquire comments. However: “It’s like this: if I send the Marines into a town and I give them the equipment and manpower that they need to get something done, they’re going to get the shit done. It’s not like government can’t do stuff. But you look at what FEMA did after Katrina, and you wonder, “Who’s running the ship?” This disaster is more of the same — only it is much, much worse than New Orleans.BR” I (ME)think NOLA WAS much like (BSC)and the mortgage mess as their tragic demise was founded on greed and blown up on chaotic stimulus, both natural. If anything, the FEDS were the first to blame for the mortgage mess, NOLA and the ‘State of La.’ hampered the Feds after Katrina. *Yes, with respect to apres Katrina, our Gov’t let us down by a much greater factor. Who was playing “Kingfish” in D.C. allowing a waiter in Central Cailf., making $12,500/yr. to control 2x $500K condos knowing this could, would be a game of musical chairs..

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