[E]verybody “understands” what happened with GameStop. Unlike some other Wall Street stories, this one isn’t complicated. The entire tale, in a nutshell, goes like this. One group of gamblers announced, “Fuck you!” Another group announced back: “No, fuck YOU!”
Short-sellers bet by borrowing shares from so-called prime brokers (Goldman, Sachs and JP Morgan Chase are among the biggest), selling them, and waiting for the price to drop, at which point they buy them back on the open market at the lower price and return them. The commonly understood rub is that prime brokers don’t always really procure those original borrowed shares, and often give out more “locates” than they should, putting more shares in circulation than actually exist (as in this case). GameStop is exposing this systematic plundering of firms using phantom shares and locates, by groups of actors who now have the gall to complain that they’re the victims of a “get rich quick” scheme.
… The degree to which even the beneficial functions of short-sellers are cheered or not is dependent upon whose corruption they’re uncovering. Let the record show that when the S.E.C. imposed a ban on shorts of financial stocks in 2008, they routed short-sellers who were dead right about the insolubility of America’s banking sector. The state prevented their correct judgment about companies like Wachovia and Washington Mutual, whose stocks kept plunging even after the ban and went bust soon after.
Matt Taibbi, Suck It, Wall Street - TK News by Matt Taibbi