If there is one thing that a period of nearly thirty years in the market has conferred upon your author, it is hopefully a sense of perspective. The other is a hefty dose of scepticism which does, yes, occasionally shade into cynicism.
Starting out in a trading room where the school was one of hard knocks and the only rules were those of thumb, the next step after the profoundly humbling process of securing one’s bare survival was to try to find some sense of order amid the chaos. That was a search which quickly led to the realisation that nobody really had a clue barring one or two truly gifted ‘tape-watchers’ and they only over a timespan which was frequently measured in minutes and never more than hours (though the very best of them managed to string that succession of shortest-of short-terms into a very impressive long-term record of returns, indeed).
It was also quickly apparent that the first of the only two useful functions of the in-house economists, however highly educated and professionally motivated, was to produce glossy Just So stories to order, each of them carefully explaining – conveniently and infallibly after the event – what had just transpired as well as, far less convincingly, why it had done so, simply in order to give the sales department an excuse to ring their clients yet again and so cajole a commission-rich, spread-earning ticket out of the goldfish bowl patsies they were typically held to be.
The second principal task of this secular Priesthood was to produce neatly extrapolated ‘forecasts’ – the 6″ rule (or its covert Excel equivalent) always constituting the most valuable item in the prognosticator’s toolbox – about the incredibly noisy and always heavily-revised macro-datum to come so that, when averaged with the guesses of their peers in every other competing shop, a ‘consensus’ number could be generated which provided us reciprocally-contemptuous – but usually harder drinking – Neanderthals on the trading floor with a psychological ‘anchor’ about which to scream and shout our offers and bids in the immediate aftermath of the figure’s release.
Can the reader of less silvered years conceive of the fact that when your author was the most jejune of tyros, the highlight of the month was the dealing room sweepstake – to three heroic decimal places of precision, no less – on the all-important monthly US trade deficit, the promulgation of which in the flickering green, Space Odyssey digital display of the then cutting-edge Reuters Dealer would never fail to unleash a frenzy of buying and selling in a style only occasionally now replicated by the worst of the HFT algo wars as conducted in the twilight hours of the Asian session?
Playing that game long enough led to the realisation that, in the near term, the trick was to try to use the price action to determine not only what the market was currently thinking and how it was interpreting events (whether ‘correctly’ or not, being neither here nor there over the shorter time-frames) but also how it had been thinking up to now. That latter allowed one to gauge whether confirmation fatigue was setting in about the Herd’s established positions or whether, far more dramatically, a cumulation of cognitive dissonance was about to go critical and perform a Kremlin airbrush job on all the self-justificatory arguments which had been so willingly embraced on the way up (or down – not being in the equity department where bull markets invariably pay better than the bear phases, no-one truly cared which way as long as the temporary line of least resistance seemed reasonably clear to all and sundry, including George Soros).
The blunt truth was that such closely-held beliefs as had been marshalled to justify the previous trajectory would be instantly re-categorized as an embarrassing exercise in Thoughtcrime and just as rapidly consigned to the Memory Hole once prices had demonstrably reversed direction. Bleeding from the inevitable ‘I always buy (sell) it at the top (bottom)’ ego smack, a new creation myth would be quickly formulated and almost universally adopted in order to bind the Tribe together once more.
The trenchant as well as amusing desk-top motto one can buy in the gloriously unpretentious state of Texas proudly inveighs that one should ‘Drink Upstream from the Herd’ but what it fails to note is that the Herd first finds the stream in which one can slake one’s own, undeniable thirst.
Having come from a hard science background (back in the days of alembics and sextants it sometimes feels), it wasn’t hard to realize that mainstream economics was a most unsatisfactory animal, full of unnecessary paradox, replete with confused cause-and-effect, holed with static accounts presented as dynamic functions, rich in spurious and seductive mathematical exactitude, and that it was pulled up abruptly short by that sickening intellectual car-crash it suffered at the weird, reverse-quantum threshold of believability it espoused where the ‘Ok, I can sort of see what you’re saying’ realm of the micro judderingly gave way to the perverse ‘fallacy of composition’ condescension of the macro Wonderland which so many of our policy makers arrogantly presume to inhabit.
After a brief flirtation with the then novel ideas of chaos and complexity – not in any way invalid but hopelessly narrative rather than prescriptive to this day – the true epiphany came when your author, in his first explorations of the infant internet, came across not just all manner of ‘alternative’ history and gold-bug conspiracy theory, but the primaevally innovative Mises Institute website.
To find a form of economics which built from the refreshingly individualistic bottom up while eschewing the pseudo-positivist diktat of the top down; which believed that things were only worth whatever people would pay for them – no more and no less – and which swore that the consumer was king (not the state-cosseted producer with his ‘sunk’ costs and his typically rent-seeking bent); and that prices – those same prices which had flickered across his primitive computer screens! – were sacrosanct as the only conduit of the crucial, societally-disembodied information about the roiling, ever changing relative valuation of one thing against another on which our very prosperity was built- that truly was a revelation!
To add to this the wider philosophy of the these same nonpareil Austrians is that when individuals interact freely, the mutual good that they confer upon each other vastly outweighs the occasional fraud which may be perpetrated; that there are no – indeed that there cannot usefully exist any – earthly gods or supreme leaders to insist that we should suppress our Hautnah Fingerspitzengefühle judgement about what is good for us and ours in favour of their overarching Platonic wisdom as to how they, hoi Phylakes, the Guardians, the Davos Men, the cradle-to grave political elite, wish to dispose of us.
Cerise sur le gateau is that this way of looking at the world allows one to be iconoclastic but not mindlessly destructive; to criticize but yet to be constructive; to be pessimistic about the boundless stupidity of Men acting in concert and yet unlimitedly optimistic about what the lone Man can achieve, given the framework, accorded the property rights, and showered with the plaudits his entrepreneurial acumen and courage deserves. A cipher of ours is that advances occur via I2E2S2 – i.e., by means of Innovation, Economisation, and Substitution achieved through the medium of Investment led by Entrepreneurs utilizing voluntary Savings.
Not ‘Jobs for All’, but ‘All a (Steve) Jobs’ is what we believe and here that is how we shall write. You may well find this unpalatable but we hope you will not find it easily dismissible.
Welcome to the site.
Sean Corrigan aka Wild Goose