Superman to the rescue!

So, I’ve been absent too long from this blog even though I’m writing things that can’t seem to get refined. Here’s one I hope just pops itself out there as I struggle with what it is I’m really wanting to write about.

That which has captivated much of my attention this week is the release of Michael Lewis’ (of The Blindside fame) new book Flash Boys. While few people reading this blog have any interest in the stock market, or Wall Street, or the financial sector, that’s not my reason for being interested.

It’s true I’m drawn there partly from having spent a good part of my career on the fringes of that world, and not too happy about it, being on the fringes that is. But it came to me finally, the fringes were as far as I needed to go, realizing after a while there was far too much “rotten in Denmark” than I would have known how to handle. Unfortunately the adages are true, power, as well as money, corrupts. But it’s far less the people than the atmosphere that is the problem there, it’s just all that money and power, like being dropped into a vat of chocolate for some folks.

What I like about Michael Lewis’ books are the attention some of them focus on some knight in shining armour, as well as on some ladies. While most think his new book is primarily an excoriation of Wall Street itself and something called high frequency trading, it actually isn’t though his subtitle asserting the system is “rigged” certainly suggests that! HFT if you’re interested is a technology phenomenon that has brought lightening speed and efficiency to the marketplace for trading stocks. Just as technology has done the same for your smartphone, which is “smarter” than my cell phone!  The problem is, as is always true, a few folk always have to stretch the rules, try to manipulate the system for their own gain.  Happens everywhere.

In fact, in consummate storyteller that he is, Lewis’ book is about a knight, an unassuming, mild-mannered Clark Kent of a guy who is like a modern day Superman out to help clean up the system, one Brad Kutsuyama. He’s a good-looking, really, really smart guy who much prefers the sidelines but apparently felt compelled to first find the source of some problems with the trading going on in the operation he managed at the Royal Bank of Canada.  And then having found the solution, to quit his comfy seven-figure salary job to go fix it. He’s taken a huge risk, starting his own company.

But, oversimplifying a bit, the book has brought the situation out into the light.  People who’d been complaining for years in the background, afraid to speak publicly now have a platform and someone to back them up. For years, and especially since the financial crisis, many have been complaining about the Wall Street types and all their millions, that no one was fixing anything and letting the rich guys get off scot-free. Well, here’s someone doing something about it!

Listening to a lot of interviews with Lewis about the storm he’s created, starting with 60 Minutes last Sunday, I was fascinated by his responses, measured ones sometimes to what seemed to me some very silly questions. Some very smart people really don’t get what he’s about!  It was interesting to learn that he doesn’t have a real focus for his writing. He waits for something to catch his fancy, though the interviewers were determined to put a label on him, box him up to put on a shelf.  It did come up that apparently he’s drawn to disrupters, people who can’t keep going along with the status quo.

It was helpful for me to relax a bit about finding some narrow focus for this blog as I listened to the random way he stumbles onto a story.  I see I can just experiment, write about anything, see where it leads, as long as it stays true to my interest in finding the light.   The financial sector may be boring, or worse, to most folk, but I’m grateful to see this much light in an arena that has far more impact on the affairs of Main Street than most people believe, and can create a lot of darkness.   It gives me hope to see someone who didn’t have to choose to follow his higher sense of right instead of his bank account. Not that Katsuyama will starve, but his actions are rare. Maybe they will become less to.

Thanks to Michael Lewis for bringing out the light, again.


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