the greatest depression

The Complete John Paulson

We at Intel have a come-hither go-away relationship with hedge-funder John Paulson. On the one hand, we find the way he made billions of dollars off the financial meltdown — essentially, other people’s grief and misery — repellent and vaguely unethical, like he “bought insurance policies on houses he didn’t own along the Indian Ocean just moments before the tsunami hit,” as Gary Weiss puts it in his comprehensive portrait of Paulson in the February issue of Portfolio. On the other hand, it was pretty smart. And we don’t find him unsexy … at least, we didn’t think we did, until we read Weiss’s description of him.

Paulson is in his mid-fifties, hair thinning at the top just a bit, with a slight paunch that he fights by jogging in Central Park … He is of medium height, medium build, medium disposition. He favors old-fashioned tortoiseshell bifocals and dark-gray suits

Okay, so maybe it was the billions of dollars that we found alluring. We’re only human. But to be fair, that’s all there is to Paulson, at least the way it seems from reading this story. He went straight from business school into the highest-grossing sector of his field, and has been hopscotching after the money ever since. There’s no personality in evidence, no there-there. He doesn’t watch birds or catch fish or practice Christian Science, like that other Paulson we love to hate. So what is it that drove Paulson to become an empty shell of a human being, driven solely by the desire to attract more lucre? Daddy issues, of course. Actually, granddaddy issues. His grandfather, Arthur Boklan, was a banker at a Wall Street firm who prospered, amazingly, during the Great Depression.

Boklan saw to it that his grandson had an early appreciation for the principles of capitalism. When John was a small child, Boklan was the one who encouraged him to buy Charms candy in bulk at the supermarket and then sell the individual candies to kids in the schoolyard at a substantial markup. His profits grew, as did his appreciation for economies of scale and the tendency of certain commodities to become mispriced through ignorance or carelessness… Paulson would spend much of the rest of his career under the tutelage of older Wall Street role models, seeking to replicate those days with his grandfather.


The Man Who Made Too Much [Portfolio]

The Complete John Paulson