e pluribus unum October 16, 2007 9:13 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone else noticed those boring finance/economy fpps...

...have been spawning some of the best damn discussion threads on Metafilter lately? Apparently the community has some players who work with this stuff and have a way of making it understandable. Thick skin and some sort of tacit respect among the commenters keep several viewpoints in play - and keep the threads good and rowdy.

So, for those who usually scroll past those arcane wall streety posts, this is a callout to start checking them out. (I really wish I could link to more examples, but the tags seem to fail me.)
posted by klarck to MetaFilter-Related at 9:13 PM (43 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

This one by Asparagirl was one of my all-time faves here.

I have a theory that because Wall Street is less personal (it's just money, baby) and because fewer people consider themselves "pundits" (as compared to politics, religion, psychology, music, art, etc) and because the people who chime in here are often a lot closer to the action as compared to other rather controversial subjects, the conversations are naturally more intelligent, less petty, and generally more useful to everyone involved, contributors and readers.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 9:39 PM on October 16, 2007


Could be worse! Could be a whole slew of obituary posts. Or LOLXIAN.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:51 PM on October 16, 2007


Some of the most intellectual and smartest people in finance / economics that I've come to correspond with have been here in Metafilter. I am talking about the quants with pHDs in some esoteric math topic that I'm forced to talk to once in awhile. No, people who understand the metaphysical implications and the complex epistemological considerations that come with finance. In any case, a very healthy degree of skepticism should permeate any economic discussion. There is no standard model in finance as there is in physics, I'm wary of anyone claiming to know anything about any current economic topic. I think such skepticism permeates the field, especially amount intellectuals you'd find on Metafilter, which is why the discussion bar is set so high. We don't have the same level of trust we have in applied sciences.
posted by geoff. at 10:00 PM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Economics is trying to model the behavior of six billion intelligent beings, BY those beings themselves. The act of simply understanding part of the market changes it, because every observer is part of the system.

No matter how sophisticated the player and how impressive his or her mathematical models may be, there's a good chunk of handwavy estimation in the givens.
posted by Malor at 10:23 PM on October 16, 2007


(which, of course, leads to some damn fine discussions. :) )
posted by Malor at 10:39 PM on October 16, 2007


MetaFilter: a good chunk of handwavy estimation in the givens.
posted by loquacious at 11:00 PM on October 16, 2007


buy corn, bitch.
posted by quonsar at 3:54 AM on October 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


Very concise clear formulation of the inherent unpredictability of economics Malor.
posted by jouke at 4:09 AM on October 17, 2007


I am learning a lot from these threads. Thank you all!
posted by DreamerFi at 4:36 AM on October 17, 2007


On a related note: does anyone remember a FPP a while back (as in years) that was a series of three or four blog entries about what it's like to be a trader? The only thing I vividly recall was the story of smashing keyboards when they got mad, only to have them replaced immediately.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:54 AM on October 17, 2007


I've learned a lot since I started working my way through the MeFi finance threads.
posted by Prospero at 5:02 AM on October 17, 2007


Anything ever come of that weird hedge that was talked about in an FPP about a month ago?
posted by afu at 5:56 AM on October 17, 2007


On a related note: does anyone remember a FPP a while back (as in years) that was a series of three or four blog entries about what it's like to be a trader? The only thing I vividly recall was the story of smashing keyboards when they got mad, only to have them replaced immediately.

That's my post about MeFi's own (ugh) Jeff Deeney. I also wrote a post on his research into OxyContin distribution. I think he took his blog entries down to put together a book, so unfortunately I don't think you'll still be able to read them from the original post.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:08 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


buy corn, bitch.

That trade is pretty crowded.
posted by Kwantsar at 6:40 AM on October 17, 2007


I think he took his blog entries down to put together a book, so unfortunately I don't think you'll still be able to read them from the original post.

Damn. But at least that means a book might be forthcoming...
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:05 AM on October 17, 2007


These finance posts are some of the best of mefi for sure. As are all the posts that draw out people who are into discussing things they actually know about.

Tangentially, Jeff Deeney is one of my favorite mefi writers, I'm going to buy two copies of whatever book he puts out.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:41 AM on October 17, 2007


Don't buy or sell high.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:37 AM on October 17, 2007


This is a good idea for a MetaTalk thread. I was getting ready to refuel Ye Olde Flamethrower, but then I read below the fold.

Thanks klarck!
posted by chlorus at 9:51 AM on October 17, 2007


I'm frequently baffled when folks are talking about finance or equities and someone else, like Malor above, brings up the academic discipline of economics. The relevant academic discipline is not economics, it is political science, man; when are you going to catch on?
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:48 AM on October 17, 2007


the community has some players who work with this stuff
...
because the people who chime in here are often a lot closer to the action

For the record, I was an artsy-fartsy English major, currently work at a pop culture cable network, and should NOT be confused for someone who knows anything about the inner workings of Wall Street. That's partly because I interned on the Street during the summer of 1999 (height of the dot-com bubble!) in a firm's research department (where people like Mary Meeker and Henry Blodget were treated like stars instead of recognized as shills), and got to sit through some amazingly awful roadshows for stupid-ass Internet "companies" that were going public. To my parents' dismay, I went back to college that fall even more determined to stay away from that world! I went back to reading Chaucer, and my sister ended up the third-generation-Whartonite in my stead.

What got me finally interested in finance and companies and Wall Street and all that "money stuff" I had tried my best to stay away from was Bethany McLean's book about Enron, "The Smartest Guys in the Room". That's because she brilliantly told the whole tale as a great story, not as a dry financial document, and could slip under my usual defenses. (There's a documentary film version too, but it's not nearly as good.)

I knew almost nothing about Enron before reading it -- and frankly, didn't care -- other than sorta-kinda knowing the names of the big players (Lay, Skilling, Fastow). But McLean's book laid out in great detail exactly who these people were, where they came from, the psychological interactions between them at the company, and how a few people's toxic egos could create an unhealthy corporate culture that led to specific financial decisions that eventually led to the place's downfall. I was totally enthralled. This was high drama and double-crossing worthy of an opera, but played out through accounting methods and subsidiary entities and off-balance-sheet SIV's! There were intra-office affairs among key players and conspicuous greed thrown about and a slick but stupid CFO who was obsessed with "Star Wars"! How could I have dismissed this world as dry and boring?

My experience with "Smartest Guys" has led to a glut of true-financial-crime reading on my part. I've recently finished "Den of Thieves" about the Milken/Boesky leveraged buyout, insider trading, and junk bond dealings in the 1980's and found it similarly compelling, another moral and psychological tale (poor Martin Siegel!) disguised up as a financial one. (James Stewart, who wrote "Den", plays up the Biblical allusions, too, for that extra oomph.) I'm currently partway through Kurt Eichenwald's "Conspiracy of Fools", which is also about Enron but not quite as good as McLean's book, but he does have some key interviews and insights that she didn't. And looking I'm forward to "When Genius Failed" about LTCM and "And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)" about the IMF and Argentina's financial collapse (yes, the title comes from "Evita") and "Liar's Poker" about the fucked-up psychology of Wall Street traders. And then on the web, I'm finding the housing bubble stories (covered wonderfully by a multitude of blogs) engrossing, particularly the whole Casey Serin mythos. (Did you know he's back blogging and podcasting again? Well, he is. Knew he couldn't stay away for long.)

And through it all, I've been somewhat-inadvertently learning a lot about finance and deals and mortgages and stocks and derivatives and companies and all kinds of economic stuff that I would have not just ignored but actively avoided before. I'm actually reading Bloomberg.com and the Wall Street Journal and watching CNBC. It's bizarre. I just needed the "hook" of the story to get me going.

So maybe I still don't like "money stuff" all that much. But dammit, I seem to really like reading about money-gone-wrong!
posted by Asparagirl at 12:06 PM on October 17, 2007 [8 favorites]


Why does Casey Serin have another blog? This is a serious question. No one should read that blog. Not for advice, not for schadenfreude, not for any reason at all.

Asparagirl, why don't you write a book about this current mess? It has its cast of characters (Casey Serin is the face of the speculator, Jim Cramer the face of Wall Street, etc.) and would probably make a good read.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:15 PM on October 17, 2007


Casey Serin has another blog??? What the heck is wrong with that kid???
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:28 PM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Asparagirl - no love for Barbarians at the Gate?

I too love the financial threads, another vote to keep them comin'!
posted by vito90 at 12:54 PM on October 17, 2007


afu: yes.
posted by patricio at 12:57 PM on October 17, 2007


"The Smartest Guys in the Room", "Den of Thieves", "When Genius Failed", "Liar's Poker", "Barbarians at the Gate", etc.

A lot of these books are excellent (and necessary), but when I compare their stories to my real life experience on Wall Street I get a feeling that I imagine must be shared by Hollywood-types when they watch Entourage, or lawyers when they watch Law & Order.

Anyway, what I really wanted to share is this. Financial Models & bottles--Livin' the life, baby!
posted by mullacc at 2:36 PM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


On a related note: does anyone remember a FPP a while back (as in years) that was a series of three or four blog entries about what it's like to be a trader? The only thing I vividly recall was the story of smashing keyboards when they got mad, only to have them replaced immediately.

Yeah, I wrote a book about this weird five year detour I took away from social work to trade on Wall Street. It was a total chop shop environment, Datek Securities was the original name for those who might remember Jeff Citron and the Maschler clan, quite a cast of characters. They subsequently changed the name to Heartland, I believe because they were under indictment by Elliot Spitzer for money laundering. The firm's founders eventually wound up banned for life and given the heaviest fines ever levied on individuals for a complicated accounting scheme that allowed them to exorbitantly profit off illegal day trading schemes. Google the names Erik Maschler, Sheldon Maschler, Jeff Citron and Mike McCarty for the SEC docs.

Unfortunately, I decided to take my market winnings and hole up in a room for three years and get high before writing the book. By the time it got to publishers the opportunity window was closed. Everyone loved it but nobody thought it would sell.

Then I wrote a book about OxyContin addiction and the black market for pharm narcotics in Philly. It got to publishers about two weeks after James Frey imploded. Clearly, I have timing problems.

I have another book about being a social worker in Philly that I'm about to submit, sort of like the Wire but with more of a focus on families. Hopefully the third time is the charm.
posted by The Straightener at 2:42 PM on October 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


"My mother said," he complained, "that as much as I might like it to, the world doesn't turn on English literature and philosophy. She aid I ougt to go out and learn something for a change. She said I ought to take economics."
"I think she's right," I said.
"So do I," he said.

- James Simon Kunen, The Strawberry Statement.
posted by dismas at 2:44 PM on October 17, 2007


Hey, what is metafilter if we can't get together and be dismal.

They're some of my favourite threads too.
posted by blacklite at 3:04 PM on October 17, 2007


I imagine must be shared by Hollywood-types when they watch Entourage, or lawyers when they watch Law & Order

Well, not quite. Maybe you feel like Hollywood execs when they read nonfiction books about the movie biz.
posted by mediareport at 3:55 PM on October 17, 2007


This ain't trading places, nigga. You gotta protek yo goddam neck.
posted by Eideteker at 4:17 PM on October 17, 2007


Yeah, I wrote a book about this weird five year detour I took away from social work to trade on Wall Street. It was a total chop shop environment, Datek Securities was the original name for those who might remember Jeff Citron and the Maschler clan, quite a cast of characters.

Holy crap. I used to trade on Datek before switching to etrade in order to trade options. Real time quotes and low commissions. I had no idea that's what happened to the company. Did you work there?
posted by Pastabagel at 6:00 PM on October 17, 2007


A lot of these books are excellent (and necessary), but when I compare their stories to my real life experience on Wall Street I get a feeling that I imagine must be shared by Hollywood-types when they watch Entourage, or lawyers when they watch Law & Order.

I would love to think that, but they make lawyers look cool. That's why you get "Boiler Room," which not only was bad on multiple levels but more focused on the more accessible stupid schemes that play as a background to demonstrate alpha males in the room. The Enron movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio (!), and the documentary and book are fairly easy to understand. It was outright theft. It was the Nixon Watergate of financial scandals, incredibly complex in details, which is not important to the accessible morality story.

You could show the hubris of the former GS bond nerds that helped start LTCM, but it won't play well in a narrative. If someone got creative with animation they could demonstrate what was trying to be done, I find calculus a lot easier to grasp in graphical form. Even so, the main characters do not necessarily come off as careless. They were able to fool a lot of smart people, not to mention themselves, and were able to do it for some length of time. You could play it as being blinded by their own wealth, but then they look like the fools of fortune. I think only Pynchon could manage to weave a story like this and make it literary. It would involve musicians that play imaginary instruments, railroads appearing and disappearing as soon as they came, and Alan Greenspan being pleasured by a cocker spaniel disguised as a cat -- and it would manage to get the point across.
posted by geoff. at 6:01 PM on October 17, 2007


I had no idea that's what happened to the company. Did you work there?

Datek Online and Datek Securities were one and the same at one point. However, what you saw as a Datek Online user and what we saw as desk traders at the day trading operation were different. We were basically market makers using the Island ECN, which this guy named Josh Levine, a childhood friend of Citron and the Maschlers, invented, and SOES (small order execution system).

Datek Securities was infamously shady, besides the accusations of money laundering there was the accounting scheme in place that shuttled money between (mostly phony) customer accounts in order for traders to not be over certain maximum account sizes when trading. SOES wasn't really designed for a guy with a ten million dollar client account making 600 trades a day. But with enough dummy accounts and technological sleight of hand you can make those trades all look legit. Then there was the shit that got shut down, the wonder buttons on the keyboard that would light up like eight trades at a time. Who knows how they made that shit look even vaguely legit. Apparently they didn't do it so well.

Basically, we made tens of thousands of illegal SOES trades every day.

Around the time Datek morphed into Heartland every other electronic trading firm was going public. E-Trade and Ameritrade both IPO-ed and came out strong. Citron and the Maschlers wanted desperately for Datek to IPO so they could cash in on the bubble more than they already were.

They split the day trading operation off and tried to distance themselves from Datek. They instituted these ridiculous rules about not hiring anyone who didn't go to a top ten school. So you had these Ivy Leaguers trading next to Hasids and hustlers and the founders' old neighborhood bruiser buddies. It was wild.

The problem was that no I-bank would touch them with a ten foot pole. And that's really saying something. Remember, these were the days of pets.com. That's how much the Street hated those fucking guys. That's how tainted they were.

The executives didn't give a fuck, they all came out worth nearly a billion dollars each anyway. Who needs prestige and Wall Street's esteem when you fly to work in a helicopter?

Citron went on to start Vonage. Look at what a disaster that was. He could barely get anyone to touch that IPO, all because of the old Datek taint.
posted by The Straightener at 6:55 PM on October 17, 2007 [5 favorites]


The problem was that no I-bank would touch them with a ten foot pole.

That's odd, I thought Ameritrade bought them. If not, how did my old Datek account get magically changed into an Ameritrade one?
posted by b1tr0t at 8:12 PM on October 17, 2007


Plastics.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:24 AM on October 18, 2007


Well said, as always, miss lynnster.
posted by Mister_A at 7:04 AM on October 18, 2007


why don't you write a book about this current mess?

I really don't think I'm qualified to write a book about the current mess. I'm more the person sitting on the sidelines eating peanuts and watching the parade go by.

no love for Barbarians at the Gate?

Added to wishlist, thanks! I had heard of the HBO (?) movie version, but not the book.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:59 AM on October 18, 2007


Hey The Straightener - you should publish your book online yourself. I'd buy it. Metafilter Project?
posted by vito90 at 12:17 PM on October 18, 2007


I work for [insert name of EnormoFundCorp here] and it has convinced me that the world of finance is a boring bunch of arse that I can't wait to leave. Reading well written stories about it's seedier aspects is far more fun than being there....
posted by i_cola at 1:06 PM on October 18, 2007


Seconding Barbarians, and I also recommend The Predators' Ball, by Connie Bruck.
posted by GrammarMoses at 2:22 PM on October 18, 2007


Speaking of Vonage, those bastards sold my email address.
posted by Malor at 1:37 AM on October 20, 2007


(Cross-posted this to the recent SIV thread, but it's too good not to share here too:)

Follow-up: This is a MUST-WATCH VIDEO for those who are interested in the whole mortgage-meltdown/credit crunch/SIV subject matter and/or those appreciate smart and very very dry British comedy. [via]

(Warning: contains mild but annoying racial and nationalist stereotyping by old snobby British guys with posh accents against black Americans living in the South -- when really they should be railing against over-extended people of all colors in Phoenix, Sacramento, the Inland Empire of CA, condo buyers in Miami, etc. -- not to mention all the bubble speculation in their own backyards in the UK.)
posted by Asparagirl at 3:05 PM on October 20, 2007


Quite amusing, really, but I have one question: What's a string vest?
posted by GrammarMoses at 6:25 AM on October 22, 2007


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