Salmon is an average writer and top-shelf thinker, but his genius lies in being a lot of fun, both in prose and person, at a time when the media and finance worlds aren’t nearly as enjoyable as they used to be.
For one thing, Salmon delights in argument. “I’m rude about a lot of people on the Internet,” he says brightly. “And half the time, I change my mind anyway. … I love being wrong.” Famous targets include conservative economist Ben Stein, Business Insider’s Henry Blodget, the proudly slimy hedge-funder Anthony Scaramucci, and certain fonts that he considers to be tasteless. (He once stormed out of a Reuters meeting because the agenda had been rendered in Comic Sans.)
In [one] post, Salmon branded Robert Rubin public-enemy number one: “He, more than any other individual, deserves an enormous amount of blame for the financial crisis.” Rubin, he wrote, had “institutionalized and epitomized the revolving door from Wall Street to Washington and back again” and was “slippery and unapologetic in hindsight.” His criticisms don’t quite have the rhetorical panache of, say, Matt Taibbi’s famous screed comparing Goldman Sachs to a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” But that doesn’t make him any less angry.
And yet the players involved in the crisis take Salmon far more seriously than someone like Taibbi. In part, that’s because Salmon’s critique, though equally tilted left, is less sweaty zealot and more gentleman-scholar. He writes with the vocabulary of someone in the Citibank marketing department gone a little rogue.
In a recent blog post excoriating Jack Welch for suggesting that the White House might somehow have manipulated jobs data, he inadvertently managed to sum up his own philosophy. Whatever your opinions might be, he wrote, “What’s not fine is to base those opinions on nothing but ideology, and admit of nothing which could make you change your mind. At that point, you’re not a thinker any more; you’re a theologian.” And theologians generally aren’t too much fun. When I asked Salmon what, exactly, he is trying to accomplish with his blog, he replied, immediately, “I want to enjoy myself,” before tucking into his plate of daurade.
I say this with only the greatest admiration: if I never grow up, I want to be just like Felix Salmon.