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When Wall Street Got NastyIn addition to being an important piece of American literature, A World of Profit is a memoir of an historic milestone in American business. But its never had a written review or a summary (or even an avatar) on GR. Shameful.Almost all of Auchinclosss considerable oeuvre is concerned with the cultural transition that took place in New York professional society after WW II. As a successful corporate lawyer and socialite there could have hardly been anyone better placed to document the sometimes subtle shifts in power and influence that were occurring, first in NYC and then progressively throughout the country. Auchincloss was the Samuel Johnson of his time and place.I have a personal interest in The World of Profit because much of it involves an old house in an area called College Point near Flushing in Queens County, an area thick with my forebears who flowed into it at the end of the 19th century from Ireland. The protagonist is, appropriately in the age of Trump senior, a parvenue property developer who wants to demolish the house, which is owned by a modestly wealthy old money family, and create a complex. Auchincloss is always careful about taking sides in the transition from the old gentlemanly (all male at the time of course), word-is-my-bond, virtually hereditary holders of legal and financial power in the City, and the new, aggressive, disruptive, unconventional, often even Jewish(!) entrants into upper class bastions. He is careful to note the prejudices and idiosyncrasies of both those on the way up and those on the way out.One way to characterise what Auchincloss describes is a fundamental shift from the aesthetic to the economic, or more precisely the financial, in the culture of the time. Although old-fashioned investment bankers and stock brokers and corporate lawyers certainly had a standard living much more comfortable than their fellow citizens, manners not money was the standard of acceptability. This had been the case since at least the reign of the robber barons of the turn of the 20th century. It is the society of William James, particularly in its gentility and its European affinities.What Auchincloss sees is this ideological change which he aptly captures in his title. The morals of society are less and less those of conventional politeness and more and more about the correct use of capital. And not ones own capital but capital as a force in the world, with its distinctly non-politesse purposes. This new world is one that rejects good behaviour on principle because it is inefficient. Auchincloss occasionally mourns the loss but he doesnt condemn the new regime outright.I think Auchinclosss observations are as important to modern American society as de Tocquevilles were to an understanding of the American idea of itself. Not only America but most of the world seems to be living out the legacy of the cultural transition that began, and I risk provincialism here but I think justifiably, in New York society. The only real evidence I can offer for this hypothesis is an extraordinary study published in 2009 by Karen Ho. But that indeed might be enough to make the case: Ho, Karen Zouwen. 2009. Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press ; Chesham : Combined Academic [distributor].

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