2016 Salt Conference - Michael Lewis Reflects on The Big Short, Flash Boys

May 12 2016 | 1:07pm ET

Renowned author Michael Lewis sat down with Vanity Fair contributor William Cohen to discuss high-frequency trading, the cinematic success of The Big Short.

Lewis questioned why regulators and other investors allowed high-frequency traders like those he explored in his book Flash Boys to engage in their activities. 

“I think it is outrageous — we already have income inequality — that we have this machine in America that takes money from the middle class and gives it to rich people,” Lewis said.

The Making of the The Big Short

Lewis discussed the recent success of the film adaptation of his bestseller The Big Short.

“I have nothing to do with it. They wish I wasn’t there. The people who make the books into movies, the only thing you can do is screw them up. The relationship is this: They pretend to be interested in what I think, and I pretend to be interested. And from there blooms a relationship.”

Lewis says he was surprised that both Moneybal| and The Big Short were turned into films.

“I give them credit for the implausibility of doing it in the first place. The Big Short was a very difficult dive,” he said. Lewis said that Christian Bale nailed his interpretation and representation and impression of Michael Burry after just nine hours with the fund manager.

Lewis deflected any praise for the adaptation of the film, saying that he attended the Oscars this year reluctantly when The Big Short was nominated for Best Picture. “I don’t want them to think that I had anything to do with the making of the film,” he said, calling it a remarkable achievement.

What the Hell Happened?

Cohen asked Lewis about the paradox of his book Liar’s Poker, released in 1989.

Lewis wrote the book to say that people “should only go to Wall Street if you really want to go to Wall Street.” He was trying to encourage others to follow their passion.

“I thought it was a funny story of my stories. I thought my stories were insane. I thought it was crazy that anyone would pay me money to give financial advice.”

Lewis, an art history major at Princeton, says that he was being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars and says he knew nothing. He says that a dog whistle went out to young people who didn’t have director or goals on what they wanted to do – and would now turn to Wall Street as a way to make a lot of money for knowing very little.

“It was read as a How-to Book,” he said.

Lewis said he has written a screenplay since finishing Flash Boys, but called himself a failed screenwriter.

He is also working on a prequel to his best-seller Moneyball. The new book comes out in December. 

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