NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Sometimes, it seems nearly everyone is divided into two camps: either they love Wall Street or they hate it. But Michael Lewis's tale about an obscure and unlikely hedge fund manager who appears to have invented the trade that made investor John Paulson famous, published in the April issue of Vanity Fair provides good reasons both to love Wall Street and to hate it. The obscure and unlikely hedge fund manager is Michael Burry, who has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism characterized by relatively normal brain functioning and an exceptionally small tolerance for human interaction. Burry was a young doctor who did not sleep much even in his off hours. His "social" life appears to have consisted mainly of writing about stocks he liked on Internet chat rooms. In doing so, he attracted a following among serious investors, such as Jack Byrne, head of an insurance holding company called White Mountain and whom Lewis describes as being very close to Berkshire Hathaway ( BRK.A) Chairman Warren Buffett. When Burry took the radical decision of leaving medicine to set up his own investment firm, Byrne and a few other professional investors backed him, as Burry showed amazing abilities as a stock picker. But Burry soon became fascinated by what he recognized as a housing bubble. He then convinced Goldman Sachs ( GS) and Deutsche Bank ( DB) to create securities that would allow him to bet against a basket of mortgages he identified as being especially likely to default. ( Citigroup ( C), Bank of America ( BAC), Morgan Stanley ( MS) and a few other banks initially didn't understand his idea, though it didn't take them long to start copying the trades.) The beautiful part of Wall Street is that it could so quickly and efficiently create a security that allowed Burry to express his bearish view of the U.S. mortgage lending environment. The horrible part was how Burry's Wall Street sales people suddenly became unreachable as his holdings began increasing in value. In other words, while the banks thought he was the sucker, they were only too happy to help him. When it became clear they were on the wrong end of the trade, he couldn't get them on the phone.
Though Burry appears to have eventually gotten what he was owed, the story gives the impression the outcome could easily have been different. Also disturbing is the fact that Burry appears to have gotten rich because he is the only one who did what all investors were supposed to be doing -- taking the time to be sure he understood what he was investing in. And the only reason he did it was because of his disease. The investments that led to the crisis we are in were not meant to be understood. As Burry told Lewis: "Only someone who has Asperger's would read a subprime-mortgage-bond prospectus." The moral of the story appears to be this: Wall Street is very good at figuring out what a client needs and delivering it in record time. That spectacular efficiency should not be confused with honesty or loyalty. The historian Ron Chernow has argued that investment banks no longer serve any useful purpose. He may be right, though it seems there are still things they can teach us. What they cannot teach us is how they should be regulated. And yet we are not smart enough to figure out how to do it without their help. It is one thing when the fox guards the henhouse. But what is a hen to do if the fox owns the henhouse and is the only one who knows how the alarm system works? -- Written by Dan Freed in New York.