”The propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals.”— Adam Smith
We were invited to a cocktail party at the New York Stock Exchange.
The party we went to last night was hosted on the floor of the NYSE by Vince Molinari, an industry colleague who is also the founder of FinTech.TV. Vince is buddies with our friend John Newtson, who founded The Financial Marketing Summit.
It was a kind of a muckity-muck event with a very odd array of attendees.
Vince’s crowd are all Brooks Brothers, gold money clip finance bros. Thousand dollar haircuts (just guessing), polished leather shoes, and a helicopter waiting at the W30th Street Heliport. They’re like cliche Hollywood mobsters who figured out how to go legit two or three generations ago.
The crypto guys are very different… untucked button downs, tight jeans and white sneakers, backwards ball caps. Scruffy-beard kind of guys. Geeks, and the guys who are on the make in the digital world.
FinTech.TV films their sessions from a booth on the floor of the exchange across from where Jim Cramer shouts his opinions on CNBC’s Mad Money.
To see the graphs and hundreds of computer screens— “the pits” they call them— put the NYSE in perspective. Gone are the days of flagging down your pit boss, using hand signals and getting all fired up about fast moving trades.
Everything is digitized now.
Maybe that’s a good thing. I do like the Gangs of New York aspect of the old days, though.
Inside the pit, a lone A1 steak sauce suggested a lunch had been had amid all the din. It sat in front of a screen that flashed the closing prices of whatever picks that “bro” had been instructed to trade.
We saw the companies that we write about to you crawling across 8-bit news tickers— Charles Schwab, TJX, Citadel Securities, EF Hutton — some in red, some in green.
There was no air of a banking crisis or the looming specter of inflation. But then again, we were at a cocktail party after hours with a bunch of new era NFT enthusiasts.
What we’ve learned, however, is the times, names, innovations and scandals change, but the patterns don’t. It was like the party at the end of the world and nobody cared.
We’re giving a presentation at Wealth 365, the largest summit of its kind in the world, on Monday about this very topic.
My son Henry made these comments by email this morning:
The soirée had open wine mini-bars posted up on the exchange floor and servers offering small or d’oeuvres on platters to chattering guests. People respectfully took their photo opps in front of the Closing Bell and Jim Cramer’s notorious Mad Money station. Overall, the ambience was enlivening and yes, we were geeking out. This is our medium, after all. We did, however, have to remember to keep up the cool disposition of good business. Everything you would expect from an institution that prides itself on exclusivity, maybe.
The Party at the End of the World! Or rather, it was our job to uphold some sense of reverence and poshness… There is something there, something fragile, some idea of civilization that, albeit driven by corporate greed and the ever-lasting, ever-swindling promise of wealth, exists for some reason. For exchange, or the movement of goods, perhaps. A place where an influx of ideas meets and then disperses to all other parts of the globe, maybe. It’s nice in theory. The practice, however, is a whole nother story, and one which we are constantly trying to decipher the truth.
Swilling a glass of red around and reading the room we asked, “Is Wall Street mostly a charade?”
Before the event, we’d gone to a low lit pub on Beaver Street known as Harry’s. The pub is famous enough among the Brooks Brothers crowd that, last week, when Harry’s turned 50, they had Harry himself ring the NYSE closing bell.
On the wall a picture showed four young men— traders, presumably— gussied up in suits with ties pulled out from their necks in tired exasperation, half the frame covered by a Wall Street Journal paper emblazoned “Market Bloodbath.” But they didn’t want to hide their faces. In fact, the photo gave the impression that losing money was actually something to be proud of, getting in trouble for some perverted spectacle.
The mythology of stock market frenzy, the frustration and anger of constant hustle and bustle… The art of the deal, the deeply psychological science of exchange… Wall Street traders love the drama of it all. They thrive on the image of throwing papers and crumpling to their knees as billions of dollars evaporate, justifying their risk.
It’s a game, really. The stakes are high. The dollar, as the reserve currency of the world, hides a lot of the failed skills of those playing.
We like to say we write for the common man. And on our travels we try to find the pockets of the American spirit that so conjure up the idealism that brought us to where we are now.
That being said, Wall Street is a world of its own. It does not represent regular folks. We do not want to lose money. We are outsiders to this way of thinking, this frivolity and wealth and irresponsibility. And the egos. Oh my.
In a place where stakes seem to be so up front, the game always comes first. Consequences are something for the lawyers, who, too, dance the charade and take part in libations.
So goes the game, eh?
The Wiggin Sessions
P.S. We took the Amtrak Acela up and back from Baltimore to New York. The train ride got me home at 3:30 am. I’m not sure I was in solidarity with the conductor who was trying to get some socialist reaction from the crowd or the other Amtrak employees.
What a far cry Wall Street is from the families just trying to catch a train back to Weehawken, Cherry Hill, New Carrollton… or wherever. And, geographically, only miles apart.
Addison Wiggin is an American writer, publisher, and filmmaker. He was the founder of Agora Financial and publisher for 18 years. An acclaimed New York Times best-selling author, his books include: Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt, The Demise of the Dollar, and The Little Book of the Shrinking Dollar. Addison is also the writer and executive producer of the documentary I.O.U.S.A., an exposé on the national debt, shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2008. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his family. Addison started his latest project, The Wiggin Sessions, powered by Consilience Financial, in March 2020. He films from a homegrown studio in his basement.