Is the FinTech Utopia Just Around The Corner?

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Utopia: noun  uto·pia  \yu̇-ˈtō-pē-ə\; an imaginary and indefinitely remote place; an impractical scheme for social improvement

There is a common belief today that a coming technology utopia will solve all our problems with the financial system. This type of belief is not new – take a look at these quotes from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s:

 “The hottest item in the stock market these days is not a security but an automated quotations system called NASDAQ that is speedily revolutionizing the over-the-counter market…The new electronic system gives bid and asked prices on about 2,500 counter stocks” (“The Counter Revolution: NASDAQ Bringing Competition To Wall St”, New York Times, April 4, 1971) Continue reading “Is the FinTech Utopia Just Around The Corner?”

The Unexpected History Of Capitalism (4 min read)

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(An excerpt from my upcoming book)

In any conventional history of capitalism, we are taught that the Dutch were one of earliest innovators in financial markets (before the baton was passed to the Brits, then the Americans). Indeed, they appear to have invented securitisation in the 1600s. And if we wanted to look even further back, we are told that the 12th century financiers in the Italian cities of Genoa and Venice were the earliest capitalists.

But what is less well known is that it was the Italian interaction with the Muslim world that likely transferred to Europe many of these financial techniques. We now know much of this from the ancient Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo. Continue reading “The Unexpected History Of Capitalism (4 min read)”

Am I Racist?

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Of course I’m not, but surely others are. Hang on, if the “other” is me twenty years ago – were the attitudes I had back then bigoted? (hmm, no comment). Or twenty years hence, will I look back at my perspectives today, and think how regressive they were?!

I’m tempted to think that I’ll always have the perfect attitudes, but I’m not so sure when I look at the views of some of the past greats like Gandhi, Lincoln, and Churchill: Continue reading “Am I Racist?”

Banking On War And Peace (2 min read)

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(excerpt from my upcoming book)

The retaliatory use of US and EU financial sanctions on Russian individuals show the importance of finance in geo-political relations. It shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise as the largest increases in government debt tend to occur around wars. The financial system, then, is critical to raise these funds, and later find ways of paying it down.

Indeed, after the Second World War, most involved countries saw their government debt levels shoot higher. One way to pay the down down was to use financial repression, which is the most direct link between the state, war and the banking system. Continue reading “Banking On War And Peace (2 min read)”

What Causes Great Civilisations To Fail?

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The excellent British historian, Arnold Toybee (1889-1975),  studied the rise and fall of great empires in his 12-volume “A Study Of History“. He couldn’t find many common drivers for them. That’s why no-one could easily have predicted that the British would have the largest land empire of all time,the Mongols the second largest, and the Umayyads the fifth largest. But he did find Continue reading “What Causes Great Civilisations To Fail?”

Writers and Traders Are More Similar Than You Think

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(excerpt from my book-in-progress)

It’s easy to separate the “real” economy from the financial world. One makes real things like cars and fridges, while the other manufactures money from money.

This has been a rich theme for authors for centuries. Take the 1900 L.Frank Baum classic the “Wonderful Wizard of Oz”.  The yellow-brick road represented something real, gold. It was the path to follow. Continue reading “Writers and Traders Are More Similar Than You Think”

What I Learnt From Cicero (and Caesar)

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I finished reading Robert Harris’ “The Dictator” about the rise and fall of Caesar as told from the perspective of the statesman-philosopher Cicero. While it wasn’t as fun as the first two in the trilogy, it still had many gems of insight:

“How easy is it for those who play no part in public affairs to sneer at the compromises required of those who do” (Cicero had stuck to his principles and been banished from Rome).

Continue reading “What I Learnt From Cicero (and Caesar)”

Our Pet Chow, Sherlock, On Holiday

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We took our pet Chow, Sherlock, to visit Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire. The place has a sordid history, which includes the Profumo Affair, which eventually brought down the Conservative government in the early 1960s. Sherlock wasn’t too aware of the history, but did enjoy the grounds: Continue reading “Our Pet Chow, Sherlock, On Holiday”

8 Books To Read

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1. Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull. One of the founders of Pixar describes the secret of their success including turning Disney Animation around. It comes down to focusing on how people interact with each other. Their “braintrust” meetings are a core part of this where ideas are debated, but the idea-owner can ignore or take on whatever he or she wants.

Continue reading “8 Books To Read”

Napoleon As Management Guru?!

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Yesterday, I attended a talk on Napoleon by the British Historian Andrew Roberts at the School of Life BusinessWise conference. Napoleon of course is known to some as one of great military commanders in history. But this time, Andrew Roberts instead focused on his broader leadership style and character. This is what I took away from the talk:  Continue reading “Napoleon As Management Guru?!”