The Masters of the Universe had always thought of their customers as people who should never have been let out of the house with money in their pockets. But here they were and somebody was going to take advantage of them. To turn your palms up and shrug and just watch them walk by, you’d have to be as lame as they were. They were lame; they weren’t stupid. They had money and IQs above 98. So you had to ask yourself, Why would they ever invest in an investment bank? In a hedge fund you at least had a fighting chance. The manager was investing his own money the same way you were. Well… let’s be fair. Not every investment bank would lead its customers to the slaughter. On the other hand what was wrong with shearing the fleece every so often?
Our manly Masters, still gorged with so much testosterone and dopamine, just didn’t get it in 2009 even when the most unlikely thing in the world happened: a bunch of weaklings, a bunch of nerds known as quants, shut the golden door flat in their faces.
Nerds… the nerd has never been precisely defined, thanks to the psychological complexity of the creature. The word has connotations of some level of intelligence. The typical nerd is a male with intelligence but no sense of giving it a manly face. He doesn’t play sports, doesn’t automatically crack up over jokes about slutty girls, doesn’t shore up his masculinity with frequent drops of the f-bomb, doesn’t realize how bad it looks when he shoots his arm into the air and flaps his hand like a flag in his eagerness for the teacher to call on him first to answer the question, doesn’t retaliate against insults from his fellow males in the schoolyard—oh, the schoolyard… the schoolyard… It is there that he learns he is not a Master of the Universe and never will be… not in his whole lifetime… and so he develops interests that are neither male nor not male—just obsessive, such as capturing bugs at night and pinning them up on a push-pin board, studiously arranging them by genus, species, and subspecies. There’s nothing wrong with it… it’s just a little weird and brainy—in short, nerdy. If a nerd was a little weird and not brainy at all, he was known as a dork. There was no connotation of deviant sexual behavior. The Master of the Universe assumed all varieties of nerds—quants, dorks, and plain nerds—were asexual.
Quant was what a nerd could move up in rank to, if he turned out to be a mathematical genius. It was the manly traders’ and salesmen’s condescending contraction of the actual term, quantitative analyst. Quants started showing up on trading floors in the late 1980s to set up computers that could retrieve information and sort it out faster than a trader, thereby freeing the Master of the Universe from a lot of tedious clerk work. At the outset, the traders looked down upon the quants as nerds who didn’t have, in real-manly MasterSpeak, “the balls” it took to go out on the floor and take the big risks required if you wanted to make real money. It was in the early 1990s that the Masters actually coined the word quant, possibly because that was what it sounded like when you squashed a blood-ballooned tick with your thumb. They had no suspicion, none at all, of what these ball-less, sofa-bottomed weaklings were up to.