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Easy Street

Welcome to Marketplace on Wall Street

Heidi Moore Apr 5, 2011

Anyone who listens to Marketplace knows that the world of business is woven into – and in some cases, ensnared within – all of our lives. Credit cards, mortgages, jobs – they’re all business stories as well as stories of how we live.

Despite this, there is one part of the business world that still remains esoteric to many people: Wall Street. It’s always been a vague term, one that encompassed completely different businesses: investment banks that help companies raise money in the stock and bond markets; hedge funds that make speculative bets with funds from pensions and college endowments; mutual fund giants; insurance companies, and stock exchanges are all lumped together when they have very little in common. No wonder most people still rely on the picture of Gordon Gekko to understand how “Wall Street” works.

But Gordon Gekko – that smooth salesman talking only to fellow members of the elite – is gone. Since the global financial crisis and subsequent bailouts, more of us have become aware of how investment banks, stock exchanges, and the complex machinery of high finance can trickle down into our news, our daily consciousness – and our wallets. We see the results – but the “why” and “how” of it all is pretty hard to get at. A lot of educated, intelligent people want the tools to be able to participate in the national conversation on finance.

That’s why we at Marketplace are starting this Wall Street section of our website. (Don’t call it a blog.) We’ll write columns and post explainers, links and articles about Wall Street to help you understand how the Street works, in plain English and with the same lively and conversational coverage you’ve come to expect from us.

I’ll be writing most of the section, so let me introduce myself. I cover Wall Street here at Marketplace and I’m also the New York bureau chief. I’ve been covering Wall Street since 1999 – the height of the tech boom, when it was at its giddiest – first for publications including The Deal and Financial News, designed specifically for the bankers and lawyers and traders to learn about each other. By the time the financial crisis rolled around in 2008, I was writing for The Wall Street Journal (both online and print every day) and almost everything that I knew – and that everyone else knew – about Wall Street was rendered completely useless. That was still true after two years later – as I found out while writing for the New York Times’ DealBook, the Washington Post, Slate, Fortune.com and the Financial Times. Wall Street after the financial crisis, for everyone, was like falling through the looking glass – and in fact, it reminded me of the great line from “Alice in Wonderland” : “Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!”

Wall Street is not breaking the rules of time and space any more, and we don’t have banks failing at warp speed.

But in many ways, we are in an even more interesting time. We are creating new rules in Washington. Most investment banks, hedge funds, and stock exchanges are looking for new ways to make money, because the old ways aren’t working the way they used to. The federal government, Federal Reserve and Treasury are setting rules every week that impact the flow of money and America’s position in global competitiveness. The nature of Wall Street itself is changing. Even the experts – and there are many – are hanging on by their fingernails to what they knew before.

So don’t worry if you didn’t know much about Wall Street before; it’s becoming a whole new place, and it’s never too late to get started in understanding it.

I particularly look forward to hearing from you about what you want to know more about, and what you think of the subjects we tackle. Let’s get acquainted.

Heidi N. Moore is Marketplace’s New York Bureau Chief. Contact her at hmoore at marketplace dot org or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/moorehn.

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