Posts Tagged ‘GM’

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This week, in A Tale of Two Depressions, we taught Don DeLillo’s extraordinarily prescient novel Cosmopolis (which was later made into a movie by David Cronenberg).

We presented it as a description of our time—of the conditions leading up to the crash of 2008 and, as it turns out, of the conditions that still obtain even now in the midst of the Second Great Depression. In the scene above from the movie, Eric Packer learns that his prostate is asymmetrical—and, toward the end of the novel, his would-be assassin, Benno, reminds Packer that “You should have listened to your prostate” (p. 199). Why? Because in attempting to predict movements in the yen, Packer forgot about

“The importance of the lopsided, the thing that’s skewed a little. You were looking for balance, beautiful balance, equal parts, equal sides. I know this. I know you. But you should have been tracking the yen in its tics and quirks. The little quirk. The misshape.” (p. 200)

What we didn’t plan on was the publication of Michael Lewis’s latest, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, which—much to the consternation of Wall Street, which Lewis didn’t anticipate—documents the profits that can be and are made through a form of insider trading based on the asymmetry of information caused by the difference in speeds of placing and fulfilling orders. As Elaine Wah explains,

Virtually all modern financial markets match orders continuously – that is, as orders arrive to the exchange. Continuous-time matching is essentially a winner-takes-all race. A high-frequency trader who receives and acts on new information faster than others can readily pick off orders sitting on exchanges – over 40 venues are competing for the same orders – before others can react. So being faster by as little as one microsecond is enough to grab all the profit.

This is how the “flash boys” win.

Apparently, high-frequency traders have been listening to their prostates.

We also spent a great deal of time in class arguing about whether Packer, in all his posthumanist will to become “cosmic dust” (p. 206), is an accurate representation of our contemporary subjectivity. The general opinion was that, no, Packer lives in a virtual world devoid of “real” human contact and is too callous and lacking in empathy to tell us anything about ourselves. My own view, for what it’s worth, is that today—more than a century after Nietzsche and when we communicate with and learn about others (and, of course, ourselves) in the on-line world of  Facebook and other social media—Packer does tell us a great deal about what we have become or, at least, are on our way to becoming.

Of course, I could have also made the argument that we have become a nation that cuts food stamps and extended unemployment benefits for our fellow citizens. And of not changing faulty ignition switches directly linked to the deaths of at least 13 people because it would have added about a dollar to the cost of each car.

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