Russell and Duenes

What Could Possibly Be Wrong With Wall Street Banks and Traders Ripping People Off?

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In my view, Michael Lewis, of Moneyball and Blindside fame, is one of the truly great writers of our times. I love reading his stuff, no matter the topic. But I found myself disappointed by what I take to be a fatal flaw at the end of his recent book, Flash Boys.

In this book he gives the reader a glimpse of the world of “high frequency trading” on Wall Street. It’s a fascinating study. At the very end, Lewis kind of laments the mystery of how telecommunication cellular towers can turn “signals into financial actions.” He says that this is “still as difficult to comprehend as the forces of nature once had been. Anything said about them could be believed.” For example, it could be believed that “[p]eople are no longer responsible for what happens in the market, because computers make all the decisions.” Just as easily it could be believed that “in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (italics in the original).

If I’m reading Lewis right, believing that “God created the heaven and the earth” is just as risible and ridiculous as believing that “people are no longer responsible for what happens in the market, because computers make all the decisions.”

So let’s side with Lewis, and agree that “God created the heaven and the earth” is mere fantasy, and a particularly egregious fantasy at that. Only gullible people could believe such a thing. There is no Creator God.

But Lewis has just spent the better part of 400 pages weaving a morality tale, attempting to convince the reader by compelling storytelling, that high frequency traders who front-run investors’ purchases – and the Wall Street banks that collude with them to get rich – are morally wrong. We ought to be outraged at people who would game a financial system by preying on the ignorance of investors in order to rip them off. We certainly ought to morally condemn people who don’t seem to care, who are indifferent to the cheating, who are content to perpetuate the system.

But there’s no God, right? So what in the world could possibly be wrong with ripping investors off? Now don’t misunderstand me. Please hear what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that, unless Michael Lewis acknowledges the God of the Bible, he cannot experience moral outrage at financial swindlers. He can be as outraged as the apostle Paul. What I am saying is, he has no basis for his outrage. He has no authority from which to morally critique others. He has no truly objective standard by which to judge.

He gives the game away at the end. There’s no Creator God, so there’s no ultimate justice or judgment, no ultimate right and wrong, no future accountability for the fraudsters, and thus, no problem. If the high frequency traders can get away with their wicked dealing, more power to them. For when they die, they too will turn to fertilizer. No sense denying oneself for some kind of make-believe altruism. Given Lewis’ view, there’s nothing wrong with Wall Streeters ripping people off, no matter what Lewis feels about it. It’s a short life before we all start pushing up daisies.

I suspect a good number of the high frequency traders on Wall Street, and the banks who accept the kickbacks from the “flash trading” system, have been more consistent in applying Lewis’ worldview than has Lewis. That would explain a few things.



Written by Michael Duenes

December 9, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Posted in Apologetics, Duenes, Ethics

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