Skip to main content

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions

The Wolves of Wall Street

As head of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, Jordan Belfort fleeced investors of hundreds of millions of dollars in the early 1990’s. But Martin Scorsese’s recent film, based on Belfort's memoirs, does not do justice to all of the reputable investment banks that shorted the products they were selling.

LONDON – “What a commentary on the state of twentieth-century capitalism,” mused “motivational speaker” Jordan Belfort as he looked back on his life of fraud, sex, and drugs. As head of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, he fleeced investors of hundreds of millions of dollars in the early 1990’s. I saw Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street and was sufficiently intrigued to read Belfort’s memoir, on which the screenplay is based. I learned quite a lot.

For example, the scam known as “pump and dump,” which netted Belfort and his fellow Strattonites their ill-gotten gains, comes into much clearer view in the memoir than it does in the film. The technique works by buying up the stock of worthless companies through nominees, selling it on a rising market to genuine investors, and then unloading all of it.

It was not just small investors who were ruined; what stands out is the greed and gullibility of the rich who were sold the same rubbish by the “young and stupid” salesmen Belfort preferred to hire. Belfort was (is) obviously a super-slick snake-oil merchant, brilliant in his trade until drugs ruined his judgment.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/70yhV2f;
  1. elerian122_Peter MacdiarmidGetty Images for Somerset House_bigdatascreentechman Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for Somerset House

    Adapting to a Fast-Forward World

    Mohamed A. El-Erian

    The world is going through a period of accelerating change, as four secular developments illustrate. Firms and governments must make timely adjustments, not only to their business models and operational approaches, but also to both their tactical and strategic mindsets.

    2
  2. roubini137_Mikhail SvetlovGetty Images_xi putin Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

    The White Swans of 2020

    Nouriel Roubini

    Financial markets remain blissfully in denial of the many predictable global crises that could come to a head this year, particularly in the months before the US presidential election. In addition to the increasingly obvious risks associated with climate change, at least four countries want to destabilize the US from within.

    8
  3. tharoor137_ Hafiz AhmedAnadolu Agency via Getty Images_india protest Hafiz Ahmed/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

    Pariah India

    Shashi Tharoor laments that the government's intolerant chauvinism is leaving the country increasingly isolated.