Tin Men

This past weekend David Kocieniewski wrote a lengthy New York Times article on Goldman Sachs’ influence over 27 industrial warehouses that store aluminium. Slate’s Matthew Yglesias queried the alpha return drivers on Goldman Sachs’ decision.

 

My gut response on reading Kocieniewski’s piece was that it had something to do with trading: probably proprietary desk strategies that used swing trading or that manipulated spreads. I had experienced that in late 2011 during my first trades, and pieced the evidence together from regulatory filings and visits to Mitsubishi UFJ Bank in Tokyo, Japan. Yglesias later confirmed my instincts when he linked to Izabella Kaminska’s FT piece that explained the Goldman Sachs trade.

 

I learned a couple of things from this exchange. Three years of hard work means I am starting to slowly understand how financial markets really work. I saw from a series of past trades how similar dynamics could be repeated today. My gut instincts about the Goldman Sachs trade were correct. But I didn’t have the precise, conceptual understanding of the commodities markets and the relevant central bank regulatory loopholes — despite knowing what contango and backwardation were — to nail the Goldman Sachs commodities trade in the way that Kaminska did.

 

This is a humbling intellectual experience.

26th December 2012: Picks & Pans

Antifragile: How Things Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (New York: Allen Lane, 2012). (TS-5) (MAM-5). Taleb (Fooled By Randomness, The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes) is a former options trader and philosopher who focuses on the ontology and epistemology of uncertainty. Antifragile develops a via negativa philosophy about things that benefit from disorder and shock: vega and long gamma exposure in stock markets; post-traumatic growth in medicine; and cultivating ‘optionality’ and the ‘barbell strategy’ as ways to deal with Hazard, chance, and life stressors (preferably of short duration followed by recovery). Taleb rails against ‘fragilistas’, ‘touristification’ and details a range of Black Swan errors that humans and social institutions can fall prey to. He constructs a dense personal, subjective universe that needs its own glossary to decode. Antifragile’s mix of analysis, critique and personal memoir would have benefited from an editor but is filled with Taleb’s philosophical insights. For a specialist view of vega and long gamma see Robert A. Schwartz, John Aidan Byrne and Antoinette Colaninno’s Volatility: Risk and Uncertainty in Financial Markets (New York: Springer, 2011) (TS-4) (MAM-4). For an historical counter-view to Taleb on vega and risk see Aaron C. Brown’s Red-Blooded Risk: The Secret History of Wall Street (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2012) (TS-3) (MAM-3).

 

Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max (New York: Viking, 2012). (TS-3). David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) was a United States novelist, short story writer and essayist best known for the maximalist novel Infinite Jest (New York: Little, Brown, 1996) (TS-5). D.T. Max’s autobiography is a cathartic and confronting exploration of DFW’s development as a humanist, philosophical writer, his impact on academia and popular culture, and his personal demons. DFW struggled with depression and nervous breakdowns at Amherst to write the Wittgenstein-influenced novel The Broom of the System (New York: Viking Press, 1987) (TS-3). Infinite Jest combined a critique of popular culture with DFW’s experiences in Alcoholics Anonymous, and brought him major critical acclaim and commercial success. In some ways this could be interpreted as de facto Recognition (‘the most influential writer of his generation’) which DFW was unprepared for, and which attracted criticism from Bret Easton Ellis and other writers. Max is unflinching about how DFW dealt with this disproportionate success and includes some reflective correspondence with Don DeLillo, Jonathan Franzen and other writers. DFW would spend over a decade writing his unfinished novel The Pale King (New York: Little, Brown, 2011) (TS-3) and struggling with Buddhist mindfulness practices. He articulated this philosophical shift in his commencement speech ‘This Is Water’ delivered at Kenyon College in May 2005 and available on YouTube. Perhaps what DFW missed was a balanced initiatory sense (which developed from Infinite Jest to The Pale King) and the appropriate psyche-strengthening resources and skills to overcome his suicidal ideation. DFW’s papers are now housed at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places by Michael J. Mauboussin (rev. ed.) (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). (TS-3) (MAM-1). Mauboussin is Chief Investment Strategist at Legg Mason Capital Management and Adjunct Professor of Finance at Columbia Business School. More Than You Know is a guide for investment strategists to find alpha (actively managed returns in excess of a performance benchmark — or, philosophically, what is psyche-enhancing in your life). It is an accessible guide – influenced by Edward O. Wilson’s ‘consilience’ integrative approach – to current thinking about behavioural finance, market microstructure (how market design and transaction costs impact price activity), portfolio management, and how the emerging sciences can be applied to investment management, idea generation, and decision-making. The essay structure in More Than You Know also highlights the importance of metacommunication in conveying new insights to different audiences: this is a book about how the exploratory search for investment and trading ideas can lead to new applied knowledge and can refresh strategic thinking. For an overview of Mauboussin’s interest in the emerging sciences, fitness landscapes, and economics see Eric D. Beinhocker’s The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics (New York: Random House, 2006) (TS-3) (MAM-3). For an in-depth conceptual and historical account of model-making in economics, game theory and macroeconomic simulations see Mary S. Morgan’s The World In The Model: How Economists Work and Think (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012) (TS-4) (MAM-4).

 

How Much Is Enough? The Love of Money, and the Case for the Good Life by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky (London: Penguin Books, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). In 1928, the economist and philosopher John Maynard Keynes spoke to Cambridge University undergraduates on ‘economic possibilities for our grandchildren’. The Skidelskys set out to examine how and why Keynes’ forecast has failed to occur. This book generated a sustained public debate about consumption, work productivity, and income inequality in London’s Financial Times and other media outlets. The ‘insatiability’ of work, Faustian and self-interested economics, and shifts in global attitudes to wealth are considered. The Skidelskys debate the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth World-3 simulation forecast and its ‘overshoot and collapse’ scenario; happiness economics; and what a ‘good life’ consists of. They conclude that a philosophically-oriented worldview that cultivates the Good is healthier than a consumption-oriented life. For the historical context of the shift from Keynes to Faustian and self-interested economics, and the key personalities involved, see Jeff Madrick’s Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (New York: Vintage Books, 2011) (TS-3) (MAM-3). If you aspire to the 1% then Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (New York: The Penguin Press, 2012) (TS-3) (MAM-3) might convey why this was a highly visible socio-political issue in 2012.

 

The Stewardship of Wealth: Successful Private Wealth Management for Investors and Their Advisors by Gregory Curtis (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). Curtis is founder of the wealth advisory firm Greycourt & Co. The first third of this book explores Curtis’s views on creative capital, wealth management, government policies, capital and financial markets, and risk. The second third deals with advisors, family investment decisions, and trusts. The third deals with asset allocation and portfolio decisions including equities, international markets, real estate, fixed income, and alternative investments (including hedge funds and private equity). Curtis addresses money managers, tax minimisation strategies, investment policy statements, and the myths of wealth, the rich and happiness. A website has further chapters and resources. If you are considering a career in private wealth management then you might consult G. Victor Hallman and Jerry S. Rosenbloom’s Private Wealth Management: The Complete Reference for the Personal Financial Planner (8th ed.) (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009) (TS-4) and Harold Evensky, Stephen M. Horan and Thomas R. Robinson’s The New Wealth Management: The Financial Advisor’s Guide to Managing and Investing Client Assets (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2011) (TS-4) which outlines the CFA Institute’s approach.

 

The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction by Nate Silver (New York: Penguin, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). Silver is a United States statistician and ‘sabermetrics’ (sports statistics analyst) whose blog FiveThirtyEight (currently hosted by The New York Times) achieved a highly accurate forecast of the 2012 United States election outcome. The Signal and the Noise outlines Silver’s Bayesian approach to forecasting and prediction, including under what conditions these may fail. His methodology uses Big Data, model building, probability, analytics, inference testing, and other tools. If you grapple with uncertainty or to use statistics insights in organisational management, Silver’s book may be a useful introduction to a rapidly growing field. Jim Manzi’s Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society (New York: Basic Books, 2012) (TS-3) argues for the use of induction, randomised trials, and experimental social science in government, political administrations, and the diffusion of social innovation.

 

Market Sense and Nonsense: How the Markets Really Work and How They Don’t (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). Schwager is a futures market expert whose four volume Market Wizards interview series (1989-2012) have status amongst traders as mouth-to-ear initiation. Market Sense and Nonsense collects Schwager’s insights on capital preservation; market experts and the investment media; why he feels the Efficient Market Hypothesis doesn’t always work; and lessons on evaluating past returns, volatility, risk, hedge funds, mutual funds, and portfolio management. A strategic primer for new investors to understand how capital and financial markets work, and how to critically evaluate advice, media, and other information sources.

 

Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story by Greg Smith (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). On 14th March 2012, The New York Times published Smith’s op-ed ‘Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs’. In the NYT op-ed and this follow-up book Smith adopts a ‘whistleblower’ stance about the cultural change he believes the investment bank Goldman Sachs has undergone from client-oriented service to extractive rent-seeking and proprietary trading. This rushed-to-publication book doesn’t live up to the promise of Smith’s op-ed and “muppets” claim about how Goldman Sachs views its clients. However, it can be read as a firsthand, somewhat initiatory account of Smith’s transformation from idealistic intern in 2000 to disaffected sales trader and manager in 2012. Were there ethical dilemmas, shadow projection, or a combination? The reaction to Smith’s book particularly from NYT Dealbook editor-at-large and CNBC co-anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin offers lessons in framing and metacommunication about ethical dilemmas. For an historical and contemporary overview of Goldman Sachs and its investment bank culture see Charles D. Ellis’s magisterial The Partnership: A History of Goldman Sachs (New York: Allen Lane, 2008) (TS-3) (MAM-3) and William D. Cohan’s reportage Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came To Rule The World (New York: Penguin Books, 2011) (TS-3) (MAM-3).

 

Octopus: Sam Israel, The Secret Market, and Wall Street’s Wildest Con by Guy Lawson (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). I first heard about the Octopus power elite conspiracy from parapolitical researcher Kenn Thomas and later from open source intelligence advocate Robert David Steele. Octopus resurfaces in this biography of Bayou Group hedge fund founder Samuel Israel III who had $US117 million in debts and trading losses. Israel attempts to enter a purported high-yield bond debt ‘secret market’ involving the Rothschilds and other elite banking families. The first third of the book deals with Bayou’s Ponzi scheme; the second with how Israel becomes ensnared with conspiracy theorist Robert Booth Nichols; and the third with the fallout involving international prime bank fraud. This is a cautionary tale of multiple cons and marks; the ‘medial’ conspiracy netherworld; and the failure of reality-testing. Israel might have benefited from Mark Schindler’s Rumors in Financial Markets: Insights Into Behavioral Finance (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007) (TS-4) and Jeffrey A. Winters’ Oligarchy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) (TS-4).

 

The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World by Jonathan Powell (New York: Vintage, 2011). (TS-3). Jonathan Powell was Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff from 1994 to 2007. The New Machiavelli is a defence of applied Machiavellian realpolitik from The Prince and The Discourses that draws on Powell’s unpublished diaries and his political administration experiences. Powell discusses the Blair Government’s rise-to-power; Cabinet, Chancellery, and Civil Service negotiations; the importance of multi-stakeholder decision-making and strategic thinking; and how the Blair Government dealt with Europe, geopolitical crises, scandals, and war. For Powell, Blair was a leader who benefited from both Fortuna and also from heeding Machiavelli’s insights about people, persuasion, and leadership. For a comparative analysis of Machiavellian leadership and statecraft in the contemporary era see Carnes Lord’s The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need To Know (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003) (TS-3) which considers states, regimes, elites, and the various levers of national power (such as economics, diplomacy, force, intelligence, education, and strategic culture). Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Power: Why Some People Have It – And Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins, 2010) (TS-3) considers power in organisational culture and leadership.

 

Wait: The Useful Art of Procrastination by Frank Partnoy (New York: Public Affairs, 2012). (TS-3). Partnoy is the George E. Barrett Professor of Law and Finance at the University of San Diego and a former investment banker at Morgan Stanley. Wait examines evidence and insights from diverse sources—sport, high-frequency trading, neuro-marketing, information economics, and fighter pilot training—that delaying our decisions can give us situational and strategic advantages. This book is pitched at a Malcolm Gladwell audience but with more substantive research and interviews. Partnoy introduces ideas that have become very influential in their fields, such as George Akerlof’s ‘market for lemons’, and John Boyd’s OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act) which is situated in Grant T. Hammond’s The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2001) (TS-4). The late Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman’s work on cognitive biases and decision heuristics is detailed in Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Penguin Books, 2011) (TS-1) (MAM-1).

 

Willpower: Why Self-Control Is the Secret to Success by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney (New York: Penguin, 2011). (TS-3) (MAM-3). Baumeister is the Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. Willpower is the first popular account of Baumeister’s influential research program into emotional self-regulation, self-control, cultivating will, and the danger of ego depletion: perhaps the key to world-building. Baumeister and Tierney discuss current psychological research on will; the design of personal productivity tools; decision heuristics; self-help programs; parenting; dieting; and other topics. This is a gateway to academic research by Baumeister, Kathleen D. Vohs and others about self-control and experimental social psychology — where the insights and writing can surpass Tierney’s journalistic account here.

 

The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotion by Jaak Panksepp and Lucy Biven (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2012). (TS-3). Panksepp is a Professor at Washington State University and this book presents his affective neuroscience research program for a broader audience. Panksepp’s research examines how deep brain systems and affective consciousness can affect humans and animals, and might be part of the neuro-evolutionary roots of archetypes, legends and myths. He has identified several deep brain systems—seeking (expectancy), fear (anxiety), rage (anger), lust (sexual excitement), care (nurturance), panic/grief (sadness), and play (social joy)—that shape the neuro-biology of the core self. This book considers how the frontier research on brain emotional systems can affect our mental life and philosophy. Panksepp’s popular account here is supported by a growing number of highly cited academic research papers and collaborations.

 

The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life by Timothy Ferriss (Las Vegas, NV: Amazon Publishing, 2012). (TS-3). Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek) is a raconteur who shifted from self-promoting author to popular blogger and adviser for entrepreneurial start-ups and venture capital. The 4-Hour Chef is Ferriss’s guide to accelerated learning using cooking as a domain of expertise. Ferriss’s framework of DSSS (deconstruction, selection, sequencing, and stakes) and CaFE (compression, frequency, and coding) is a distillation of techniques that Richard Bandler, John Grinder and Robert Dilts developed for Master Practitioner courses in Neurolinguistic Programming, and that were previously outlined in Leslie Cameron-Bandler, David Gordon and Michael Lebeau’s The Emprint Method: A Guide to Reproducing Competence (Moab, UT: Real People Press, 1985) (TS-3). However, Ferriss is able to use metacommunication skills to reach a broader audience: this is a book to be closely studied for how Ferriss distils and presents information, as well as his advice on transferring competence. For two comparative models on developing expertise see Brett N. Steenbarger’s The Daily Trading Coach: 101 Lessons For Becoming Your Own Trading Psychologist (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009) (TS-3) and Robert Greene’s Mastery (New York: Viking, 2012) (TS-3). Cook Ferriss’s recipes at your own risk—and remember to send me some ‘food porn’ photographs.

 

The Net Delusion: How Not To Liberate The World by Evgeny Morozov (New York: Penguin, 2011). (TS-3). In a former life I edited an alternative news website and was a senior researcher on the sociology of the internet for a university research consortium. Morozov’s Net Delusion and his Twitter feed (@evgenymorozov) are one of the wittiest, scathing critiques of the democracy-internet nexus promoted by Wired, Fast Company and Red Herring magazines and by TED’s popular talks. Morozov in the past has been funded by the Open Society Foundations funded by George Soros. Amongst the book’s insights are an exchange between Aldous Huxley and George Orwell about oligarchical social control; how authoritarian regimes use the internet and social networks; how ‘internet freedom’ can have propaganda elements; and the technological determinism embedded in many internet histories. Morozov’s next book is To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism (New York: Public Affairs, 2013).

 

The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict With Iran by David Crist (New York: The Penguin Press, 2012). (TS-4). A possible conflict between Iran, and Israel and the United States was a highly visible geopolitical scenario in 2011 and 2012. Crist is a United States historian who spent over a decade researching this eye-opening exploration of United States diplomacy and low-intensity conflict involving Iran, from the Carter to the Obama Administration. The “Iran Problem” involves the Middle East, oil, religion, nuclear weapons development and other complex national security issues. For author and defense historian Thomas Ricks, The Twilight War “is the secret history of the last three decades of American foreign policy in the Middle East”: it provides the historical and institutional context to understand current geopolitical debates, forecasts and pundits. Crist’s contribution is to capture the multi-sided decision-making that occurs in a national security confrontation which lies below the escalation threshold of declared physical war.

 

Tantra by Geshe Tashi Tsering (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2012). (TS-3). Tsering is a guiding teacher at London’s Jamyang Buddhist Centre and this is the final volume in his very accessible Foundations of Buddhist Thought series (which might be regarded as vital for Buddhists and are useful metacommunication guides on how to present religious doctrines and practices to a broader audience). This book explains with model clarity the Tibetan Buddhist tantric practices of the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools with a Madhyamaka or Middle Path emphasis: initiation and vows; deity, guru, and kriya yoga and visualization practices; highest yoga tantra; the generation and completion stages; and the physiology of esoteric practices involving the subtle body. Kirti Tsenshap Rinpoche’s Principles of Buddhist Tantra (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2012) (TS-3) explains the Middle Path of spiritual illumination in greater detail, whilst Lama Yeshe’s Becoming Vajrasattva: The Tantric Path of Purification (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2004) (TS-3) explains Vajrasattva purification and retreat practices.

 

Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy by Georg Feuerstein (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1998). (TS-3). Feuerstein (1948-2012) was a major scholar on Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, and yoga. Tantra provides an accessible, clear introduction to Hindu Tantric cosmology, the major Hindu deities and their religious significance, the subtle body, and the practices of mantra, mudra, and yantra. The chapter ‘The Transmutation of Desire’ quotes from Kaula and Left Hand Path scriptural sources, discusses the panchamakara or 5 Ms (madya, mamsa, matsya, mudra and maithuna); and examines how the ritualised practice of maithuna or sexual intercourse differs from the Western Neo-Tantra derived from the Kama Sutra. Feuerstein dispels many of the myths and misunderstandings in Western contemporary occulture about the panchamakara and maithuna, in particular. Feuerstein also makes comparisons where relevant between Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist forms of Tantra, their religious practices, and cultural transmission.

 

Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religion by Hugh B. Urban (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). (TS-4). Urban is a Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University and an expert on the historiography and sociology of Tantra. Tantra posits that Tantra arose through the interplay of Western and Indian encounters and the ‘medial’ battle between scholarship and the popular imagination, and political elite and social non-elite practice. Urban examines the contributions and debates over Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Mircea Eliade, Sir John Woodroffe, Chogyam Trungpa, Osho, Aleister Crowley, and the popularity of ‘sex magick’ in contemporary occulture. Urban concludes that although Tantra is an “imagined category” it can also be reimagined in new ways. This book is an academic theory-dense gateway to the historically contested Vamachara (Left Hand Path) and its influence on Western contemporary occulture.

 

Sinister Yogis by David Gordon White (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009). (TS-4). White is professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Sinister Yogis examines the esoteric writings of yogis in Hindu Tantra, their development of siddhis (special powers), and cross-cultural encounters with the West. Yogis had a far more sinister reputation in Hindu religious and occult circles before Colonialist discovery, and the modern yoga and Neo-Tantra industries which White traces to B.K.S. Iyengar in the 1930s. White includes a wealth of information and translated texts on the ‘immanent’ Vamachara (Left Hand Path) that contextualises yogic practices involving inner space, apotheosis, self-willed death, and siddhis. Gordon’s earlier books on Tantra and Yoga are highly recommended.

 

The Taming of Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism by Jacob P. Dalton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011). (TS-4). Dalton is Assistant Professor of Tibetan Studies at University of California, Berkeley. This scholarly study examines the Tibetan ‘Dark Ages’ period or “age of fragmentation” (842-986 AD) and how socio-political upheaval shaped the subsequent transmission of Tantric Buddhist doctrines in the 11th and 12th centuries. Dalton focuses on Tantric manuscripts found in Dunhuang that explore the taming of Rudra and other Tibetan Buddhist demons; Buddhist warfare doctrines; the 19th century debate about early Tibetan blood sacrifice rites; and transgressive ethics in Vajrayana Buddhism. How early Tibetan Buddhists dealt with the “age of fragmentation” violence had profound effects on its cultural transmission as a religion.

 

Understanding Sarkar: The Indian Episteme, Macrohistory, and Transformative Knowledge by Sohail Inayatullah (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002). (TS-5). Inayatullah is a Professor at Taiwan’s Tamkang University and an Adjunct Professor at Australia’s University of the Sunshine Coast. Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar (1921-1990) was an Indian spiritual philosopher, social activist, founder of Ananda Marga, and conceptualised Progressive Utilisation Theory (PROUT). Understanding Sarkar is the book-length version of Inayatullah’s PhD that situates Sarkar’s neo-humanist, macrohistorical contribution in the context of Hindu Vedic and Tantra frameworks as initiatory, transformative knowledge, and the Yugas as historical cycles. Sarkar’s social cycle and sadvipra leaders (“the spiritual intellectual”) offer a way for social and civilizational transformation in the Kali Yuga, which Inayatullah compares with Sri Aurobindo and other Indian thinkers. Inayatullah also compares Sarkar to other macrohistorians including Ssu-Ma Ch’ien, Khaldun, Marx, Pareto, Mosca, Comte, Vico, Hegel, Toynbee, Spengler, and others. Inayatullah concludes with an analysis of Sarker’s laws for social change, and contrasts this with Krishnamurti, Foucault, Galtung, Wallerstein, and other contemporary religious and socio-political thinkers. For a background on macrohistory see Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah’s Macrohistory and Macrohistorians: Perspectives on Individual, Social, and Civilizational Change (Westport, CN: Praeger, 1997) (TS-4). Further Sarkar-related analysis can be found in Sohail Inayatullah and Jennifer Fitzgerald’s Transcending Boundaries: Prabhat Ranjath Sarkar’s Theories of Individual & Social Transformation (Maleney, Australia: Gurukula Press, 1999) (TS-3) and Sohail Inayatullah’s Situating Sarkar: Tantra, Macrohistory & Alternative Futures (Maleney, Australia: Gurukula Press, 1999) (TS-3).

 

The Teacher-Student Relationship by Jamgon Kongtrul The Great (Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion, 1999). (TS-3). The institutional challenges of Dakshinachara or Right Hand Path religions in the West often relate to abuses of power rooted in Vedic-derived brahmacharya or guru and wisdom teacher yoga. This excerpt from Tibetan teacher Jamgon Kongtrul’s Treasury of Knowledge provides a Vajrayana Buddhist perspective on the Master or Wisdom Teacher and the Student, the criteria for selection, dangers of the Vajrayana path, and the mind-to-mind transmission of Dharma teachings. Kongtrul’s text provides Dakshinachara insights into the X crisis in the Church of Satan and the Xem crisis in the Temple of Set, and into scandals involving Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, Chogyam Trungpa, Adi Da Samraj, and other guru-like teachers.

 

Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal by Jeffrey J. Kripal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). (TS-3). Kripal is the J. Newton Razor Professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University. Mutants and Mystics is an historical and thematic analysis of the ‘daemonic’ Super-Stories and mythemes in the occult, paranormal and superhero literature, and their interplay with ‘medial’ subcultures and the individual Quest for higher consciousness and self-actualisation (Divinization or self-godhood). Kripal’s framework distinguishes between Orientation (East-West cultural transmission and fusion of religion, and mythological framing); Alienation (the impact on consciousness of cosmos awareness, an expanded space-time continuum, and UFOlogy); Radiation (how the discovery of the electromagnetic spectrum and quantum physics led to speculation about metaphysical energy and ‘siddhis’ or special powers); and Mutation (Eros as a vehicle for evolutionary transformation). For Kripal, this is an initiatory dynamic in which the individual has Realization awareness (they are being ‘authored’ by contemporary culture) and then Authorization enactment and experiences (in which individuals ‘author’ their own Divinization using elements of Orientation, Alienation, Radiation, and Mutation mythemes). Kripal discusses many authors including: Charles Fort, Wilhelm Reich, Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, Michael Murphy, George Leonard, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Philip K. Dick, John Keel, the remote viewing debate, and how Gopi Krishna and Sri Aurobindo influenced Western contemporary occulture.

29th August 2012: FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Longlist

The longlist for the FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year is out. I’ve eyed off Steve Coll’s Private Empire for several months as the exemplar investigative reportage that I like (see this 2008 conference paper which mentions Coll’s previous work). I’m about halfway through Guy Lawson’s Octopus book on the Bayou hedge fund scam and things are starting to get surreal. I bought John Coates’ The Hour Between Dog and Wolf  to understand trading psychology. I saw Charles Duhigg’s SXSW presentation on The Power of Habit but he will still be known for a now-infamous New York Times article on high-frequency trading. I’m hoping Coll will win with Coates and Lawson as ‘dark horse’ bets.

25th June 2012: Wall Street 101

Wall Street

 

Goldman Sachs ($GS) and Wall Street 101 (The Minimalist Trader).

 

How to avoid becoming a myopic fund investor (MarketWatch).

 

The new rivalry: Traders versus Macros (The Reformed Broker).

 

US legislators trade in the stocks of companies that they can impact (Washington Post).

 

Academia

 

Why women and foreign policy professionals can’t have it all (The Atlantic; Foreign Policy; The American Spectator).

 

Work

 

What if the Apple Store were the worst job around? (Slate).

15th April 2012: How Does Goldman Sachs Make Its Profits?

One academic journal article I’m working on is about Goldman Sach‘s institutional foresight culture. I’m digging up lots of interesting information on Goldman’s proprietary trading desk. Below is a two-part PBS Newshour investigation by Paul Solman from February 2010:

Part 1:

Part 2:

29th February 2012: StratCap

Stratfor Logo

 

Strategic foresight practitioner Stephen McGrail pointed me to a Yes Men press release on Stratfor/Wikileaks, where I found this gem:

 

Among the millions of other leaked Stratfor emails are some that reveal dubious financial practices, including an apparent insider trading scheme with Goldman Sachs Managing Director Shea Morenz, who joined Stratfor’s board of directors and invested “substantially” more than $4 million in the scheme, called StratCap. “What StratCap will do is use our Stratfor’s intelligence and analysis to trade in a range of geopolitical instruments,” wrote Stratfor CEO George Friedman in September 2011. StratCap was designed through a complex offshore share structure to appear legally independent, but Friedman assured Stratfor staff otherwise: “Do not think of StratCap as an outside organisation. It will be integral… It will be useful to you… We are already working on mock portfolios and trades.” (StratCap has been due to launch in 2012, though that could now change.) [emphasis added]

 

I wrote about Stratfor/Wikileaks here. The StratCap documents are here. They reveal plans by Stratfor chief executive officer George Friedman and colleagues to establish an event arbitrage and global macro fund that would trade on the basis of Stratfor’s geopolitical and strategic intelligence. Friedman and colleagues envisioned a $US25 million fund with a 10% equity investment from Stratfor: small for global macro but possible for a boutique event arbitrage or special event fund. The emails deal with the fund’s offshore structure; the service agreement; the role and compensation of Shea Morenz; and Stratfor’s role to provide StratCap with actionable intelligence.

 

“From where I sit, this deal is dead,” Friedman wrote on 23rd July 2011. The deal show-stoppers included Friedman’s discontent with attorney Bruce Herzog‘s handling of the service agreement and anger over a $US200,000 fee (“for Bruce’s clumsy attempts to undermine the process”); an immediate tax liability that impacted on the initial investment capital; potentially adverse effects on Stratfor’s publishing business and working capital; and the potential for Shea and StratCap to bankrupt Stratfor through demanding potentially unlimited strategic intelligence. These show-stoppers made the deal non-viable: it exposed Stratfor to credit and transaction risks.

 

Friedman explained in his 23rd July 2011 email to Stratfor colleagues:

 

I can imagine easily a scenario in which StratCap’s demands outstrips Stratfor’s means to the point that StratCap would hold Stratfor in default and even push it into bankruptcy with StratCap the major creditor. Nothing in the course of the negotiations gives me the slightest hope that Bruce would not do this in a heart beat and that Shea wouldn’t let him. I regard the proposed service agreement as a threat to the survival of Stratfor as a company under Don and my control. [emphasis added]

 

Friedman notes: “I have no intention of being the Chairman of a failed investment fund . . . I will not be the public image of StratCap, ridiculed for the failure of an enterprise that was built to fail.” (A reference to Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’s influential management book Built to Last.)

 

StratCap may have run into other problems if the fund had launched. In 2002, Goldman Sachs paid a $US110 million fine to separate its sell-side research from Goldman’s trading activities. So did dotcom era analyst Henry Blodget. Morgan Stanley paid  $US125 million in fines though analyst Mary Meeker escaped prosecution. It’s possible that Friedman and Stratfor may have faced similar fines or regulatory threats if they had proceeded with the StratCap deal.

 

Want to start your own event arbitrage fund? You might start with Robert Webb’s Trading Catalysts (London: FT Books, 2006) and Andy Busch‘s World Event Trading (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007) on event arbitrage and special event strategies. On hedge funds, read Sebastian Mallaby‘s excellent history More Money Than God (London: Penguin, 2011), and for the best academic research, Andrew Lo‘s Hedge Funds: An Analytic Perspective (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).

21st March 2010: Bloomberg on Michael Lewis and The Big Short

Wrote two pages for PhD draft on Alastair Johnston‘s generational model of strategic culture analysts in security studies and international relations theory.

Cover of

Image Source: Amazon.com

Michael Lewis on Bloomberg‘s ‘For the Record’ to promote his new book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010). Amazon’s #1 book although the reviews are affected by end-user problems with the Kindle  version. Lewis clearly has had extensive media training.

Major points that Lewis makes:

The five main people that Lewis profiles are outsiders — stockmarket analysts rather than bond market specialists — who had to learn about the subprime mortgage market in order to track stocks that they were interested in, and who then decided to short the market.

Financial innovation should be regarded with some skepticism – we can see examples that led to greater inefficiencies rather than more efficient markets, so some innovation can have a downside, and this may be clear only in retrospect. Lewis believes collateralised debt obligations should be more transparent, i.e. traded on exchanges and clearinghouses, so that all parties can manage their counterparty risk.

Financial service firms are now more professional than what Lewis saw at Salomon Brothers during the late 1980s. Yet Wall Street is now far more cynical: bonuses, incentives and hypercompetition have eroded the partnership ethic that keeps these firms stable.

Reviews of The Big Short: The Big Money, Washington Post.

A 20th anniversary piece on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks has a couple of interesting anecdotes on how Lynch dealt on-set with his actors.

Roger Lowenstein asks: Who needs Wall Street?

John Kay on oblique decisions.

Goldman Sachs’ Foresight Culture

Recently I posed two questions about Foresight in Organisations: What are are the intervention points?  After five or six years, who are the teachable case studies for successful implementation of the foresight function?

I’ve only read the Los Angeles Times and New York Times reviews but Charles D. Ellis’s The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs (Penguin Press HC, New York, 2008) has some answers to both questions.

Ellis suggests Goldman Sachs has three intervention points to cultivate a foresight function: (1) a human resources function staffed by A+ people who recruit “A+++ people” usually in computational finance, financial engineering and statistical arbitrage; (2) an organisational culture tolerant of the “longer-term view” that is linked to the “[operational] details” necessary for strategic execution; and (3) a creative tension between past excellence and new frontiers.  Intriguingly, the “longer-term view” or “forward view” in Foresight parlance, emerges from people in a supportive culture who are faced with challenge at the boundary of the firm and the external competitive environment.

Two other biographies partially validate Ellis’s insights.

Perry Mehrling’s biography Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2005) and his working paper ‘Understanding Fischer Black‘ describe why Goldman Sachs recruited the economist Black: to tap his academic knowledge to design new financial instruments, and use his influence as coauthor of the Black-Scholes equation in finance to impress clients.

Emanuel Derman describes his Goldman Sachs collaboration with Black in My Life As A Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004) and how the firm benefited from the influx of PhD graduates in the 1980s.  Derman was bored at AT&T Bell Labs which had a reactive culture of research management.  He transitioned into Goldman Sachs’ fixed income division in 1985 and then moved to equities in 1990 where he thrived for the next decade in a culture that appreciated how conceptual expertise can underpin a firm’s competitive advantage in new growth markets.

The contrast was so different that I pointed Derman’s experience out in a private submission to Australia’s National Innovation System Review (aka Cutler Innovation Review) in comments about the institutional design and research management culture of Cooperative Research Centre consortia.  Maybe given the subprime fallout CRCs can also learn something from Goldman Sachs and Berkshire Hathaway‘s Warren Buffett who has now taken a $US5 billion equity stake in Sachs’ foresight culture.