Wall Street's Surreal New World

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A dance seems to be going on right now, where some bankers flirt with the idea of leaving Wall Street for different industries, or to start their own business, while others hang on, determined to tough out the downturn and get back to investment banking as soon as there's investment banking to get back to.

In the words of Dennis K. Berman, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, Wall Street's become a surreal place, a "phantom realm." Writing in today's edition, he describes a world where meetings have replaced deals, making less than $1 million seems generous, and mortgage-securities bankers drive forklifts.

Or, so the stories go.

Given the drumbeat - no, the drum line - of bad news, it's no surprise the ranks of investment banking are feeling beaten down. "An entire generation has worked for 20 years, lifted up their heads, and it's all gone 'poof,' " one Goldman Sachs banker told Berman. Those that still have jobs labor under the threat of losing those jobs. Last week, JPMorgan quietly let go a group of Bear Stearns bankers who thought they were out of the woods.

Still, a number of people remain committed to the industry. They show up for work, surf the Web, watch CNBC. "People are busy," the Goldman Sachs banker said. "They're just not getting paid."

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