Tuesday, May 11, 2010

And, he's good with that . . .

Jesse's Café Américain: Trading in Hubris: Pride, Overreach, and the Inevitable Blowback and Consequences
I had a conversation this morning with a trader that I have known from the 1990's, which is a lifetime in this business. I have to admit that he is successful, more so than any of the popular retail advisory services you might follow such as Elliott Wave, for example, which he views with contempt, a useful distraction for the little guy, the same way that casino operators view most gambling systems except counting cards. He is a bit of an insider, and knows the markets internals and what makes them tick. I remember a time when some of the more obvious market shenanigans used to bother his conscience a little. But he is well beyond that point now. . . .

He thinks the euro is done, and the dollar will remain the sole currency. His attitude is, "What will replace it?" He cannot even imagine anything different than what we have today. But interestingly enough he does not believe that the US government is running things. "Things are being run by a new world order, and have been for some time." He said that so matter of factly that it made me catch my breath.

And he's good with that. Does not bother him in the least little bit, as long as he is making money. And that is where our conversation started to go downhill, quickly. I was in no mood to hear his usual perspective on the future and the triumph of the willful.

If there is a new Mussolini in the US to maintain order, he's good with that. If they start putting people on trains to resettlement camps in the southwest, he's ok. If there are starving people in the streets, it doesn't bother him because he lives in a gated community. If the middle class gets crushed by a new market crash that is ok. He made a killing shorting the Crash of 1987, and was able to enjoy the resort where he spent the winter even more than ever because they were so few people there.

I would like to say he is an outlier, a one of a kind. But he is not. He is typical. He is driven purely and almost solely by personal greed, and he makes no bones about it. Life is a war, and he wants to conquer you.

But he is not a monster. If you met him you might like him. He's affable, conservative, a decent conversationalist, and personally well kept and engaging. But he is missing something, like the derivative of a human being. If you talk about the 'bad guys' he doesn't identify with them. He thinks he is 'us.' It's never occurred to him that he is the problem. Because his value system is utterly one dimensional and egocentric. In some ways he is the most intelligent twelve year old I have ever met. But I am sure he considers me a fool and an idealist. And I might agree. But it is not so much who you are, but why. Who or what do you serve?

He is a microcosm of Wall Street, and the prevailing attitudes in the Big Banks in particular. If you wish to form public policy, if you want to create a stable system, one based on human values, never ask a trader or a trading company for advice. They are incapable of framing the question in a way that will provide you a workable answer. What is good is whatever works for them in the most narrow definition of the terms. They think they are being altruistic when they take a little bit of a haircut on terms that are already well into the realm of usury.

The problem is the ability of Wall Street to buy power and influence among the regulators and politicians, and bring their unbalanced world view to bear so heavily on the formation of public policy and governance.

That is not to say that they are necessarily bad people. They are what they are. It's just that they need to be restrained by regulation, and certainly should not be in the driver's seat of anything outside of their own accounts, and those with external supervision and transparency. But certainly not in control of things in general, of running the system by proxy, which is where they are today. Or at least where they think they are.

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