Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Monday, January 22, 2018
The great problem of man, how to live in conscious harmony with himself, with his neighbor, and with the whole to which he belongs, admits of as many solutions as there are provinces in our Father's kingdom; and it is in this, and not in the material sphere, that individuals and nations display their divergences of character.
-Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen
“People who look for easy money invariably pay for the privilege of proving conclusively that it cannot be found on this earth.”
-attributed to Jesse Livermore
The crookedness of Wall Street is in my opinion an overrated phenomenon. The hearts of Wall Street men are not more or less black than the hearts of the men in the sausage-cover game. There is probably the same percentage of malpractice, but the Wall Street depredations are more spectacular. The involve vastly greater sums, and they make more interesting reading. Best of all, they suggest to the public an excuse for the public's own folly.
The indignation school of writers never tires of pointing out the millions that are stolen in the Street. But while the millions are being stolen, the billions are being lost. Nothing crooked—just bad luck and bad brains met together in an effort to do something that couldn’t be done in the first place.
-Fred Schwed, Jr., Where Are the Customer's Yachts? or A Good Hard Look at Wall Street
Sunday, January 21, 2018
Periods of speculation had always fostered dishonesty, but in the nineteenth-century American stock market this tendency was even more pronounced. The corruption of speculation was not limited to company promoters and stock operators; it infected the entire political class of the 1860s.
Having burnt their fingers at direct speculation, the New York legislators reverted to the more certain profits of bribery. ... Gould subsequently travelled to Albany with half a million dollars in cash - needless to say, the money technically belonged to Erie shareholders - in order to bribe the legislators to validate retrospectively the new issue of shares. Vanderbilt played the same game but was defeated by Gould at (what Adams called) the "legislative broker's board, where votes are daily counted." The total expenditure on bribes in Albany during the summer of 1868 was estimated to exceed a million dollars.
-Edward Chancellor, Devil Take The Hindmost: A History Of Financial Speculation
............................................................especially about the future:
"Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau," declared the eminent Yale economist Irving Fisher in the autumn of 1929. A few weeks after this oracular pronouncement, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had declined by more than a third. The worst was still to come. On 8 July 1932, the Dow Jones closed at 41.88, a drop on nearly 90 percent from its 1929 peak.
Edward Chancellor, Devil Take The Hindmost: A History Of Financial Speculation
The commercialization of molecular biology is the most stunning ethical event in history of science, and it happened with astonishing speed. For four hundred years since Galileo, science has always proceeded as a free and open inquiry into the workings of nature. Scientists have always ignored national boundaries, holding themselves above the transitory concerns of politics and even wars. Scientists have always rebelled against secrecy in research, and have even frowned on the idea of patenting their discoveries, seeing themselves as working to the benefit of all mankind. And for many generations, the discoveries of scientists did indeed have a peculiarly selfless quality.
When, in 1953, two young researchers in England, James Watson and Francis Crick, deciphered the structure of DNA, their work was hailed as a triumph of the human spirit, of the centuries-old quest to understand the universe in a scientific way. It was confidently expected that their discovery would be selflessly extended to the greater benefit of mankind.
Yet that did not happen. Thirty years later, nearly all of Watson and Crick's scientific colleagues were engaged in another sort of enterprise entirely. Research in molecular genetics had become a vast, multibillion-dollar commercial undertaking, and its origins can be traced not to 1953 but to April 1976.
That was the date of a now famous meeting, in which Robert Swanson, a venture capitalist, approached Herbert Boyer, a biochemist at the University of California. The two men agreed to found a commercial company to exploit Boyer's gene-splicing techniques. Their new company, Genentech, quickly became one of the largest and most successful of the genetic engineering start-ups.
Suddenly it seemed as if everyone wanted to become rich. New companies were announced almost weekly, and scientists flocked to exploit genetic research. By 1986, at least 362 scientists, including 64 in the National Academy, sat on advisory boards of biotech firms. The number of those who held equity positions or consultancies was several times greater.
It is necessary to emphasize how significant this shift in attitude actually was. In the past, pure scientists took a snobbish view of business. They saw the pursuit of money as intellectually uninteresting, suited only to shopkeepers. And to do research for industry, even at the prestigious Bell or IBM labs, was only for those who couldn't get a university appointment. Thus the attitude of pure science was fundamentally critical toward the work of applied scientists, and to industry in general. Their long-standing antagonism kept university scientists free of contaminating industry ties, and wherever debate arose about technological matters, disinterested scientists were available to discuss the issues at the highest levels.
But that is no longer true. There are very few molecular biologists and very few research institutions without commercial affiliations. The old days are gone. Genetic research continues, at a more furious pace than ever. But it is done in secret, and in haste, and for profit.
-Michael Crichton, from the Introduction to his 1990 book, Jurassic Park
Saturday, January 20, 2018
I'm really convinced that our descendants a century or two from now will look back at us with the same pity that we have toward the people in the field of science two centuries ago.
Saw this quote while looking for something else, but thought, "Ah, an excuse to re-play (again) one of my favorite cartoons":
In a democratic society, such as the United States, where wealth is the ultimate determinant of status, there lingers a constant fear of being left behind materially. We may say that the guiding principle of American society is not to grow richer in absolute terms, but to avoid becoming poorer in relative terms. And nothing makes a man feel poorer than being a passive bystander during a bull market. Therefore, the fiercest struggle for the preservation and restitution of economic equality in the United States takes place in the stock market, where everyone is seeking to discover what others are doing and anticipate what they intend to do. As Keynes observed with all the cultural disdain of the Old World for the New: "Even outside the field of finance, Americans are apt to be unduly interested in discovering what average opinion believes average opinion to be; and this national weakness finds its nemesis in the stock market."
-Edward Chancellor, Devil Take The Hindmost: A History Of Financial Speculation
Although the desire of acquiring the good things of this world is the prevailing passion of the American people, certain momentary outbreaks occur when their souls seem suddenly to burst the bonds of matter by which they are restrained and to soar impetuously towards heaven. ...
Here and there in the midst of American society you meet with men full of a fanatical and almost wild spiritualism which hardly exists in Europe. From time to time strange sects arise which endeavor to strike out extraordinary paths to eternal happiness. Religious insanity is very common in the United States. ...
The soul has wants which must be satisfied; and whatever pains are taken to divert it from itself, it soon grows weary, restless, and disquieted amid the enjoyments of sense.
-Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy In America, Volume II, Chapter XII, 1840