The vast majority of people who work in finance are intelligent, charming, desirable people who enrich society and subscribe to daily opinion newsletters. They help us buy houses, start businesses, sell JPGs of cartoon apes. They make dreams come true.
But let’s be honest: They have a bit of a reputation, perhaps best summed up in the many NSFW replies to this recent tweet by Jordan “Wolf of Wall Street” Belfort:
Belfort is of course a notorious outlier on the reputation spectrum. But “Where are the customers’ Miami estates?” is the sort of question even more highly regarded financiers have been hearing for decades. Some people would think twice about trusting them to babysit, is all I’m saying, especially if that baby is made out of money.
Justin Fox writes of a German experiment that suggests financiers’ reputation for untrustworthiness may not be entirely unearned. In this experiment, a group of people in one room is told the value of every dollar they give to people in a second room will triple. The people in the second room then have the option of giving some of that tripled money back to the people in the first room.
It will perhaps not shock you to learn that people in the second room who worked in finance were significantly less likely to give money back to people in the first room. Some might call this “selfish” or even “smart.”
The authors of a new paper about the experiment called it “untrustworthy.” The idea is that sending money back to the first room benefits the whole of this two-room society, and these people couldn’t be trusted to care about that. This judgment might be unfair when applied to the broad swath of people working in finance in actual human society, which is a lot bigger than two rooms. It still might not be a bad idea to think about the implications. Read the whole thing.
Good Luck Guessing What Putin Does Next
For the past several months, the whole planet has been in thrall to the fevered churnings of Vladimir Putin’s brain. He invaded Ukraine, trashing the global political order and his own economy, just because he felt like it. It didn’t make a lot of sense to those of us with non-Putin brains, but that just means we have to be ready for more ugly surprises.
For example, rather than accept a military loss or stalemate in Ukraine, Putin could very well double down, subjecting his country to more economic punishment and isolation, turning it into what Hal Brands calls “Tehran on the Volga” — a nuclear-armed Iran.
We also have to wrap our own minds around the fact that a cornered Putin is much more likely to use those nukes than we expect, warns Andreas Kluth. That includes having a game plan that doesn’t involve just turning the whole planet into the setting for “The Road.”
While we’re reading minds, we also have to guess what Xi Jinping is thinking. He’s one of the few people on Earth who could pressure Putin to end this madness. But for Xi to turn away from Putin now would be to admit he made a mistake, Clara Ferreira Marques writes. And an autocrat would be out of his mind to do that.
Bonus Nuclear Nightmare Reading: A new deal with Iran isn’t worth taking the Revolutionary Guard off the terrorist list. — Bobby Ghosh
Don’t Fear the Rate Reaper
Investors took a bit of a pause today to catch their breath after weeks of bludgeoning bonds, although the beatings will likely resume. It all has a very “2007” vibe to John Authers, which is never a thing you want to hear, though there’s no guarantee we have a 2008 in our immediate future.
Rising rates were kinda disastrous back then, kicking over a whole economy propped up by derivatives of subprime mortgages (see “finance trustworthiness” above). The world is much different in 2022, writes Conor Sen. Banks are stronger, and so is the housing market, where the mortgages are healthier, supply is scarce and the children are all above-average. Jared Dillian believes the Fed will have to raise rates until the economy breaks, but it might be sturdier than we realize.
Further Rate Reading: The Fed has ways of keeping the yield curve from inverting. — Marcus Ashworth
Russia’s ruble has rebounded because of a massive hole in the sanctions regime, through which fossil fuels flow in one direction and heaps of cash flow in the other, writes Paul Davies.
Food-delivery services could fall victim to inflation, write Andrea Felsted and Tae Kim.