Aug 03 2014
While I was back in the land of the free and the home of the stupid and overweight, I had a chance to stumble into Barnes and Noble. This was ostensibly for the purpose of purchasing a study guide for the examination I have to take later this year, but that did not stop me from perusing the aisles and finding some other great books. Since I am home sick today-woke up at 4AM sick as a dog-I thought I might share them with you.
When I left the store 1+30 after entering it and 167 dollars poorer, I had five books in my bag. The study guide of course, and this one, by Michael Lewis:
Originally published in 1991, this is a collection of the columns he wrote after leaving the world of investment banking. Taken together they are a great picture of the foolishness that was the 1980's-and provide insight into the ideas that laid the foundation for the disasters we say in the second half of the first decade of the 21st Century. I have now read 4 of his books and enjoyed all of them very much. I had recently finished this book, which was a fascinating investigation of Flash trading and how it screws the average investor:
The book is a fascinating read.
Flash Boys is about a small group of Wall Street guys who figure out that the U.S. stock market has been rigged for the benefit of insiders and that, post–financial crisis, the markets have become not more free but less, and more controlled by the big Wall Street banks. Working at different firms, they come to this realization separately; but after they discover one another, the flash boys band together and set out to reform the financial markets. This they do by creating an exchange in which high-frequency trading—source of the most intractable problems—will have no advantage whatsoever.
The characters in Flash Boys are fabulous, each completely different from what you think of when you think “Wall Street guy.” Several have walked away from jobs in the financial sector that paid them millions of dollars a year. From their new vantage point they investigate the big banks, the world’s stock exchanges, and high-frequency trading firms as they have never been investigated, and expose the many strange new ways that Wall Street generates profits.
The light that Lewis shines into the darkest corners of the financial world may not be good for your blood pressure, because if you have any contact with the market, even a retirement account, this story is happening to you. But in the end, Flash Boys is an uplifting read. Here are people who have somehow preserved a moral sense in an environment where you don’t get paid for that; they have perceived an institutionalized injustice and are willing to go to war to fix it.
What I found most interesting was the lengths these companies would go to , to gain milliseconds in time. And the outrage they expressed when someone actually called what they were doing the thievery that it is and was. The main narrative involves Brad Katsuyama, a trader at the Royal Bank of Canada, a relatively obscure firm that is no where near the top tier when it comes to Wall Street trading. Katsuyama discovers that his trades aren't getting filled as he expects, and he becomes suspicious and goes looking for the problem. He finds it-and a whole lot more problems.
In both books, it is a fairly clear common thread that the people with money, are conspiring to keep other people from joining in the party. Investing is increasingly rigged against the average person and small investor-which I find especially disgusting in light of how corporations have walked away from their obligations to provide pensions and made millions of Americans utterly dependent on making good investment decisions. The problems identified in both books are symptoms of a bigger problem, namely that people do not embrace a business model that looks out for all the stakeholders in a company, which includes more than just the shareholders; it includes the employees and the customers. If you ever needed convincing of why unregulated markets are dangerous, these two books do a good job.
Moving on to the other purchases, to keep up with my commenters, I purchased this little gem:
It is a great book and one I have really enjoyed. I look forward to using some of these quotes to respond to Curtis in the future.
On a more serious note, I came across this fine book by astronaut and moon walking explorer, Buzz Aldrin.
Basically, Aldrin is offering a well reasoned argument that: 1) Exploration is important, 2) The US manned space program is broken and finally 3) there are some commons sense and affordable solutions on our part that would fix it.
I agree with this assessment:
"There is no reason to go there," "Let's wait until we have better technology," "Let's straighten up our home front first before we venture into somewhere else." These tired, old excuses could have been said to Columbus or any of the great explorers in our history; people use them to stall progress since the day of dawn. Yet, here we are, thousands of years later, and we still kill each other on a daily basis. Let's face it, humanity haven't changed a bit, and if we were to wait for the perfect time for everything, we would still live in caves and pray for some imaginary lightning god for fire. Curiosity and exploration are the real driving forces of progress. We harvest and bask in the fruits of scientific progress today, of which not a small part come from space exploration from our kitchenware to satellite TV. Similarly, the process of exploring Mars could hold technologies that could define our future for centuries to come. Or maybe not… But if we don't go and look, we will never know!
For that reason, I wholeheartedly agree with the central premise of this book, and I am overjoyed to see the growing number of private companies taking up the baton our government had dropped decades ago.
"The day we stop exploring is the day we commit ourselves to live in a stagnant world, devoid of curiosity, empty of dreams."
- Neil deGrass Tyson
Specifically, Aldrin avoids the trap of saying we have to go back to the moon. He argues that while we should eventually have bases and industry on the moon, its not sufficient enough of a challenge to motivate us and keep us on track. Using the year 2035 as a benchmark and bemoaning all the lost time we have squandered in the last 20 years-Aldrin lays out a good plane to have government and private industry work together to get mankind out into the solar system on a long term basis. For going back to the moon- Aldrin does not ignore it, rather he proposes that we outsource it. E.G. let the Japanese or Chinese or Europeans go there and we should applaud them all the way. For the US he says we should go for bigger game: a blueprint for establishing a base on Mars involving a novel “flexible path” approach, with Mars’ moon Phobos as a docking station. He endorses commercial space travel for paying passengers, as a way to work on technology and get more people to buy into space exploration. "He favors the use of "reusable, recyclable space transportation" and equipment as the building blocks of "cycling" networks to support and replenish the movement of people, cargo, and other essential materials between the "celestial triad" of Earth, the moon, and Mars."
Most importantly, despite what many say, Aldrin's plan is affordable. Certainly it will cost maybe 15% of what we wasted on worthless wars for worthless Arabs over the last dozen years. Just think what we could have done if the US had not wasted all that money on the hell hole that is Iraq?
Read the book for yourself. I think we should put Aldrin's ideas into action. If there is any one criticism I would levy, it is that Aldrin's strategy assumes a steadfast government over the years. Given that the legislature has morons like Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan and an asshole like Louie Gohmert, I am not sure that is a good assumption.