Sunday, July 07, 2013

Those human tragedies

What I knew about wiretaps, I got from The Wire.

I knew more about South Asian immigrants to the U.S., having encountered many through their academic contributions -- mostly via their writings but also many as high-achieving students and colleagues. The immigration debates highlight the latter; keeping out large numbers of talented and hard working South Asians is just one of the flaws in current immigration policy that should be remedied ASAP.

But having read Anita's Raghavan's The Billionaire's Apprentice: The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund, I know a bit more about wiretaps as well as about elite Indian-Americans. They appear on both sides of the story. I am glad the author had the good sense to cite the David Ben-Gurion quip that the new Israel will have achieved real nationhood once it has its own burglars and hookers. South Asian immigrants, the author shows, are now more than simply a "model minority."  They pass the Ben-Gurion test.

The story is chilling on many fronts. Seeing the prosecutors, the defendants and the bit players (all through Rachavan's eyes), I did not encounter many "good guys". Prosecutors can  now use wire taps when investigating financial crimes and everyone knows it. But it is amazing how much the smart guys involved in illicit trades gab while on the phone.

The rise and fall of Rajat Gupta are the most fascinating parts of the story. Gupta rose about as far as anyone can. McKinsey CEO and Boards of Directors of top schools, corporations and charities. So why did he break the law on insider trading? (Why did he do it in a stupid way, caught by a phone tap?)  His net worth of $100-plus million was not enough. Spoiler alert. When he finally moved to New York (having made it a point to work from Chicago and Scandinavia offices of groups he was attached to), he perceived a new ball game.  He  now wanted to join those who bankroll the causes that he had previously (successfully) collected checks for (p. 401). He could have progressed towards his goal of ending malaria in the world either way, but that was apparently not satisfying enough

He wanted to keep up with the Rajaratnam's, referring to the hedge fund billionaire for whom Gupta played the apprentice.  It is the human tragedies that keep us turning the pages.