A Holiday Tradition
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Our hero, Ebenezer Speculator sits at the end of the trading day, marking to mark his current positions. Good day for his egg nogg crack spread (long one eggs, long one milk, short two bourbons) broke even on his march candy Cane short but as always the long Fruitcake trade settled heavily on his p and l. It seemed to him that he had been doing this forever and the watching of green and red blips fall across the screen seemed to be a non productive way to spend his days. I should be ding something productive with my life, something that adds value to the world, he thought to himself." Feeding the poor, promoting world peace, teaching white men to dance, something that would add real and permanent value to the world. Sure, I am making money and all that and I employ a few people and helped others learn the tricks of the trade and make money. But what real value do I add to the universe sitting here greedily racking up profits for my own benefit while others fail and starve around the world. Surely, I could be a more productive member of society is some way." At that point his nephew Fred burst through the door in his Cleveland Indians baseball cap, excited with the sprit of the season. "Quick, Uncle" he cried, " housing starts are down, mortgage defaults are up and the world is awash in debt. We must short, we need to sell calls. Tis the season for economic collapse and profits all around!" Ebenezer look at his nephew and chided him for thinking only of profit for himself and not the plight of the poor around the world. "Bah Humbug. I am tired of all this buying and selling, selling and buying for no purpose other than to fill my own purse."
The thoughts stayed with our hero as he made his way through the streets. He noted the homeless with their dire condition. He gave generously to the faux Santa's ringing bells over little kettles, giving freely of his cash so they could continue the good work of forcing winos and degenerates of all forms to sing hymns to get a chicken supper and providing child care so the crack mamas could get to the corner on time and not worry about the fate of their little ones. He noted all the dregs and depressing things of the human condition. Of course had he lifted his eyes from the gutter he might have seen the towers of steel and glass that provided jobs for literally millions, the apartments full of people who earned their living through productive effort, cared for their families and raised their children to understand the value of education and hard work. He didn't see the procession of cabs, buses and trains that provided cheap transportation to the public at a profit, or the store windows full of consumer goods, clothes, electronics and appliances that were sold at a profit to give us entertainment, sustenance and make out lives easier while providing jobs for millions around the planet. That of course would negate the need for the rest of the story so he trudged homeward, eyes cast down not seeing the triumph of efforts and capital spread before him.
As he took his supper along with a generous glass of Irelands finest he read over the headlines of the evening papers. War here, war there, hunger, pestilence, disease. He knew that he must somehow find a way to make a difference in the world.
He awoke with a start to the clatter of chains and a soft moaning that grew increasingly louder. He recoiled in horror at the sight of a ghost, the ghost of his old trading partner when he first struck out on his own, the ghost before him was that of none other than Karl Lenin Marx Marly. They had separated after a few very profitable years when Jacob driven by the guilt of his wealth and desire to save the world. He had died in Outer Somalia when he was fried and eaten by a pack of savages who vastly preferred deep-fried ex day traders to the food presented by the various aid agencies. They were horrible fat (this was 2001. there was a excess of deep fried ex-day traders around) little men who dispatched of our crusader in quick order with a nice merlot on the side. "Karl," cried our hero," you have been dead now these many years. Why do you torment me at this hour? I must sleep as I have many fundraisers to attend this weekend for many liberal charities with heavy overheads and bizarre cost structures."
"I am here Ebenezer to save form the mistake you are near making, the same fatal mistake of mistaking charity for a productive use of your time and effort. The type of mistake that leads to one being served up with a nice merlot deep in the darkest parts of the world."
What chains are these you wear?
"The chains of every stupid do good welfare handout, government inspired relief programs that squelch the natural instinct of man to improve himself that I ever supported. The chains of every relief program that I ever collected money for only to have the cash sucked up in more fundraising drives and salaries for those who told us we were saving the world while what damn few supplies we ever sent to the poor were seized by roving warlords and midlevel bureaucrats. Tonight you shall be visited by three ghosts each with a lesson and warning for you. Take heed Ebenezer, take heed, lest you share my fate. The first shall be upon you at the stroke of midnight."
As the ghost fade, or hero blinked in disbelief and swore he must be hallucinating. It must have been bad oysters or too much whiskey, a dream, nothing but a bad dream .Not as much of a nightmare of any his marriages, but still a bad dream. Back to bed, back to sleep he told himself.
At the stoke of midnight the first visitor did indeed arrive. Clad in pink slacks and a teal sports coat, he roused Ebenezer by smacking him firmly over the head with a copy of Dimson Marsh and Stautons triumph of the Optimists, a most weighty tome capable of rousing one for sleep or knocking one back into it as the case demanded. "Come and see the past, of the profound impact on world history that speculators and investors have made." With a flash they were gone into another time and another place. "But that's me, as young man sitting at the ancient quotron cold-calling strangers to get business. Me, with no gray hair, no bifocals. Look at me so young and foolish thinking of nothing but making money." And he watched himself as time and space compresses as I can do because its my story, watched himself in those first few years as a young salesman peddling stocks and bonds for companies no one had ever heard of, Golden Nugget, MCI, Microsoft, Amgen, Netscape. He watched as he helped raise money for companies that transformed the world with their technology and their medical devices and drugs. The specter whacked him now with Stigler Statistics on the table and they sped though days past seeing whole new industries, airlines, automobiles, computers created. Created with money raised in financial markets made possible by the liquidity provided by traders and speculated. Men who speculated to raise their standards of living and endowed educational institutions and libraries that made it possible for others to expand their knowledge, not with a hand out but an opportunity. He saw the million per cent a century return of the capital markets raise standards of living virtually around the globe and for the first time he began to realize that maybe, just maybe business and capitalism did far more harm than good. Another smack to the head with a copy of Galton's Art of travel and he saw the history of other approaches, the complete and total failure of communist and socialist systems over the years and around the planet.
With a thump they land back in our hero's apartment. "Why show me these things spirit. Surely in spite of these things I saw, I can still do more good acting out of charity than avarice." With another smack of the optimist tome. Our spirit departs leaving Ebenezer crumpled to the floor.
As the clock strikes one, the second ghost, the ghost of speculative now shows. He looks disturbingly like Kenny Rogers and is wearing some sort of cheese apparatus as headgear with a twinkle in his eye like David Hillman might have if he ever did actually find someone incredible to actually agree to marry him.. Oh wait that did happen and Hillmans been twinkling ever since. The spirit yanked Ebenezer from the floor, stuck a gin and tonic in his hand and off they went.
First to nephew Fred's where he sat around with his boon companions and fellow traders Jason and Ryan. Jason sighed wearily: this market is killing me. After today's trading debacle I m only up 913% for the year. I tell you I'm getting desperate.." Ryan was quick to agree ' If this keeps up next year I ll only be able to go to outer Mongolia and the north pole. I may actually have to skip paying a fortune to slip into communist dictatorships that are sworn enemies of the US. The horror of it all!"
"Guys", said Fred, I am worried about Uncle Ebenezer. Why just yesterday I went into his office and showed him some great housing shorts and an ingenious way to be short stocks and long volatility at the same time. He didn't pay any attention. He was too busy writing checks to the sierra club and the feed Sally Struthers s foundation! He's losing his drive and mumbles all day of doing good."
"Enough of the gloom" shouted Jason. "We shall go now to Melvin B's and drink copious amounts of beer and then gather around a brightly decorated cell phone and call Chesapeake Slim and berate him for his nefarious bad habits of drinking, smoking, and gambling, to say nothing of chasing women with Kentucky accents and only buying stocks under book value. It is after all, a holiday tradition."
With the splash of a lime in a fresh G&T they were off again. They looked upon the Voodoo Prof. and Elena living in Deltaville, VA, living a life of trading, teaching and boating, saw aforementioned Slim on his island, writing strange stories and books, as well as perusing vague financial documents, mandatory glass of Famous grouse at his side enjoying the benefits of a capitalist society that allows a man to marry as many times as he likes and still figure out a way to pay for it, they saw the wiz and the Weston crew, trading and living lives, raising families, gaining knowledge as well as profits that enabled them to enjoy the fruits of their efforts, they passed over Hawaii where Mr. Sogi continues to trade and dabble in business enjoying the companionship of his incredible wife and the Pacific surf, Scott brooks , stalking profits all week and innocent fuzzy animals all weekend. All of them trading and investing in the markets, using the profits they reap for the betterment of themselves and the ones they love.
Thump back into the apartment, the spirit snatched way the gin and tonic mumbling about being in a hurry to get back and make dinner for Paula and departed. Before Ebenezer could compose himself the clock struck 2 and the last spirit appeared. With an I pod full of Cajun rock and roll tunes, a U of C bobcats sweatshirt and smelling of small town Chesapeake breezes he hurled Ebenezer into the future, a future where capital markets failed, there was no innovation. The poor die first and frequently as there are no innovators figuring ways to ever cheapen the cost of food and clothing, disease was rampant as the government stepped in and removed the access to capital markets and the profit incentive, no new drugs were discovered and those that remained were expensive. Energy costs were prohibitive as there was no capital to develop new alternative source or search for new discoveries of oil and gas. There were no new jobs created and the taxes collected to support the ever-declining system ensured that business could not expand and create new opportunities. It was a bleak world, one without the hope for improving the lives of ones self and loved ones. There were no traders or investors to put money into new ventures, no speculators to provide liquidity or generate profits that create jobs and support families. The only wealthy folks were those that worked at charities paying themselves fine salaries to collect what little money remained to dispense to those less fortunate... Which of course is everybody but you and I.
"This my friend", spoke the spirit as he sipped a rare 30 year scotch from some obscure Scottish village" is what happens when there are no markets and no traders." And he was off, back to fight the battle of the neighbors light pole. "What a fool I have been" cried Ebenezer." Thinking of my self as non-productive because all I did was trade an invest. How could I fail to notice that I have provided jobs for dozens of employees, taught many to make money in the market and support their families and put their children through school, or that the money I invested helped to create new technologies and industries, providing jobs and opportunities for literally thousands."
He dashed to the window and cried to a young boy passing below." You boy. What day is this" Saturday said the boy, Christmas eve" "Thank the gods I haven't missed it ... Boy do you know the newsstand around the corner. Take this 20 bucks and run round there and fetch me today's Barron's, FT and NY times. I must prepare for the next weeks trading." Of course this being modern times and not Dickensian London the kids was never seen again most likely spending the twenty on cheap booze and porno. We can only stretch our fiction so far. later our hero had to go to the newsstand himself to obtain copies and make his way over to Starbucks to sip a large (grande, venti my butt. It's a large coffee) coffee.
An Ebenezer spent a nice Christmas with good friends and family, chatting with Jason, Fred, the Voodoo Prof. and all the specs about trend and trades in the market, ready to return with a new zeal and new appreciation for the life of speculation.
"Heck," he though to himself." I may even call Slim and see if he's got any of those weird little cheap stock ideas. It is after all the holidays."
Best early wishes to all for a wonderful Holiday season and may you trade well and learn much in the new year.