My previous blog post considered the lessons to be learnt from the book The End of Wall Street about the perils of global financial markets, and in it think I gave a clear indication of my distaste for Wall Street traders.
Since that post I’ve thought further about the practice of global trading currencies, securities, futures and financial instruments and have found that my attitude would better be described as abhorrence. Financial trading is actually a betting game with huge financial stakes for the players, which has huge but mostly hidden impacts on the lives of the rest of us – the 99.9% who don’t play these markets.
I was talking with a friend who in recent months has been making a comfortable living out of a scientific and business pursuit of online sports betting. I found myself reflecting on whether his income process was useful or damaging to society. My answer was “neither”.
I cannot for the life of me find anything in his new career that makes the world better. At least in Lotto a percentage of the stakes goes to community developments. Personal private-sector betting merely moves money around between winning and losing players, with the bookmaker taking a cut. At the same time, though, my friend is not actually damaging society. He’s not a problem gambler, and has systems built in that prohibit his activities from harming his family financially.
When I think of the money traders (commonly called “Wall Street”), I do not feel the same level of tolerance. Or any tolerance whatsoever. I may be wrong, but … I think they’re a blight on society, and that their departure would make every economy in every country more productive.
As with sports gambling, any damage they do among themselves is none of my concern really. These traders choose to play their game and accept that they will win some and lose some as they spend their day speculating on what will go up and what will come down in price. Some traders are bound to get into personal difficulties and probably affect the lives of their families, but apart from that, there’s no wider damage.
But unlike sports gambling, global financial traders DO have an impact on the way economies operate. With their betting they can influence the value of currencies: if they have enough funds the richest of them can outbid reserve banks and force exchange rates to move against the wishes of sovereign states. Although I don’t properly understand how it works, short selling of stocks or financial instruments can and often does artificially destroy the value of those assets. In other words, the activities of these gamblers actually affects the outcomes of what they are gambling on.
America being what it is (the land of the brave), there will always be a group of people there who are self-motivated to use whatever means they have to make easy money at the expense of others, without doing anything productive or useful at all. And the free enterprise-driven regulatory framework within which they play will always protect them. So I cannot see these trading leeches ever being eliminated unless capitalism collapses totally.
But my abhorrence of the money-market men is one reason why I support a global Financial Transaction Tax, a tiny percentage tax which would be placed on every financial transaction in the world. It may add a few dollars to my own personal banking each year, but just imagine how much money it would reap for the whole of society – and how much it could moderate the amount of betting going on among Wall Street traders – if every multi-million dollar transaction they do every day was subject to this tax!
Perhaps that would mean that these trading leeches would, however unwillingly, actually be contributing something to society for a change.