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Blind resentment of things as they were was thereby given principle, reason, and eschatological force, and directed to definite political goals

Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology (1962)

Imagine a time before writing, when you would learn things from your hands and your elders. Spoken words were helpful, but the root and branch of education was one’s experience with things, not abstractions. Timothy Ferris fashioned exactly this idyllic world in Wired Magazine this week and enlisted the vanguard of scientists and engineers to invoke the old path of learning and bring us back to interrogating nature directly.

What, then, drove society off course? Read the rest of this entry »

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Those who assert that taxes are rising or are at confiscatory levels simply do not know what they are talking about.

Bruce Bartlett, former adviser to Reagan, Bush (41), Jack Kemp, and Ron Paul: via NYT

The plaintiffs’ claim against the defendant for ‘hot news’ misappropriation of the plaintiff financial firms’ recommendations to clients and prospective clients as to trading in corporate securities is preempted by federal copyright law.

We conclude that in this case, a firm’s ability to make news — by issuing a recommendation that is likely to affect the market price of a security — does not give rise to a right for it to control who breaks that news and how.

Robert Sack, U.S. Circuit Judge, writing in the joint opinion of a three judge panel, via Bloomberg. The opinion does not impact Judge Cote’s findings of copyright violations by Flyonthewall, it does undermine New York’s hot news doctrine and the enduring notion of property rights for the news.

there are probably a couple of bad apples…But how many people have gotten raped and killed after using Craigslist? You can’t go blaming Craigslist for that.

“Former GLG Exec,” quoted as fuming by the Economist.

OK – it’s alternately hilarious and disgusting to think that someone would actually say something like this.

First, sorry Gerson Lehrman Group, you’re disruptive, but you’re not Craigslist-disruptive. They undermined the entire newspaper industry.

Second, the stories of murder and abuse that have imprinted themselves into the lore of Craigslist personals are deeply saddening. It is inappropriate to make light of them through such an irresponsible and deluded comparison. That the comparison was made while fuming, as the Economist reports, is even more distressing, for it suggests a measure of petulance, delusion and utter lack of sensitivity on the part of this unnamed individual that ignores the very real suffering realized by those who have been raped and killed.

Third, and the Economist alludes to this, as well, Craigslist has come under fire for having appeared to enabled those tragic circumstances. Those who believe it to be only a platform, beware. Many have called for safeguards and procedures that might protect users and prevent just such outcomes. But both the Economist and this nameless “former executive” ignore some basic facts that would belie the parallel, benefit Craigslist and illuminate some underlying strengths and lessons that expert networks could provide.

Unlike Craigslist, where participation is largely anonymous and without controls or records, participation in an expert network is diligently recorded and carefully organized according to a series of procedures, policies and systems that are designed to protect everyone involved. Quoting Alexander Saint Amand, the Economist writes, “If you want to sell inside information, this is a terrible place to do it.” If that’s the case, perhaps Craigslist would benefit from making similar investments in an effort to protect their users and prevent those horrible outcomes described.

Yes, there are lessons to be learned, and the parallel can yield benefits, but what delivers immediate comfort to me is that the individual is not a current but a former GLG exec. Such craven and mercenary comparisons with so little insight into the basic workings of either Craigslist or expert networks have no place at Gerson Lehrman Group, Craigslist or any other enterprise.

The Economist drafted a typically cheeky and wonderfully entertaining gloss on the current state of expert networks. For the most part, they get it right, but they also get it wrong in important ways.

No, Wini Jiau is not a player in the expert network industry. She was a consultant whose information was the envy and downfall of the investment community and is alleged to have persistently acquired and sold material non-public information to a loose band of investors. The Economist would have done better to mention Don Chu, who did work at Primary Global and did confess to trading in inside information. Wini was just a consultant.

Yes, because of what may eventually be described as a systematic conspiracy by Primary Global to trade in inside information through a vast network of corrupt insiders, both alleged and confessed, eyebrows have been raised. Regulators, investors, and limited partners have awakened to the risks inherent in any research activity.

No, these risks are not particular to expert networks. Indeed, an example elaborated by the Economist actually suggests the opposite – that expert networks might serve as a kind of prophylactic to the kinds of funny-business to and for which we have recently seen many confessed and convicted.

The Economist suggests that compliance protocols and procedures are no match for those determined to do wrong. The piece conjures a cautionary tale of an investor, having been introduced to an expert through a network, rerouting their activities through an independent consulting relationship, “which enables them to buy tips without GLG ever knowing.”

It’s certainly possible, but isn’t it also an argument for expert networks. If expert networks are so darn difficult about compliance that an adroit and corrupt investor would choose to circumvent them, then shouldn’t “compliance chiefs” relish the chilling effect expert networks have on their employees’ baser instincts?

I did enjoy, however, their clever turn of phrase to a conclusion. Indeed, Rajat could have used some expertise in discretion. Though perhaps he could have learned it through the policies, procedures and systems of an expert network.

As the Rajaratnam prosecution revealed, the “expert network” firms that produced high-level insights — allegedly by paying technology industry workers for inside information — hardly were engaging in legitimate research.

Jim Pavia, Editor, Investment News.

It’s surprising and disappointing to see Jim Pavia commit a gross failure of analysis in his review of insider trading. The Raj case wasn’t about expert networks. It was about insider trading.

Jim boldly misstates the circumstances, figuring a relationship that he thought must exist, and failing to recognize the fact that Raj was accused of insider trading based on information obtained through personal relationships with insiders, not through expert networks.

The crimes Raj has been convicted of weren’t conducted in the open. They were committed in the shadows, outside of any formal process. His information came from personal relationships and personal sources. If anything the formal compliance systems, controls, and policies of an effectively managed expert network would have scared him off and made him think twice about pressing for inside information. Knowing that an auditable record of his interactions would be on file at the network would have reminded him of his obligations to the law and society.

Yes. Insider trading is a problem. It poisons the market in a way that suggests the “game is rigged.” But one must also learn to recognize it for what it is – bad people doing bad things. Raj was convicted for gathering inside information through  personal relationships with insiders, not through expert networks.

Our biggest fear is Raj was found not guilty

Lee S. Ainslie III, managing partner of Maverick Capital: via WSJ

The expert network brand has been severely damaged. Most insider-trading investigations to date have more to do with direct, corrupt relationships between insiders and their investment brethren. But these became synonymous with the handful of exchanges alleged to have been facilitated by the likes of Guidepoint Global and Primary Global. Through a failure of analysis, insider trading and expert networks became one and the same.

Whether it was Rajat Gupta and Raj Rajratanam or the alleged extracurricular activities of various attorneys and accountants accused of passing along material nonpublic information to a scurrilous group of investors in search of an edge, though they weren’t facilitated by a network, they certainly stained the networks. The consequences will be pervasive and persistent for the industry, and we can already see a handful of changes – among them, compliance, consolidation and repositioning. Nonetheless, the consequences will be good, and they will reinforce the benefits of expert networks. Read the rest of this entry »

Even inside information from an ‘expert network’ would not have helped.

–Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Not even an expert network would have helped, says Yves Smith of the earthquake in Japan, rather blithely suggesting that an expert network is nothing more than a vehicle with which to exchange material non-public information. Would it were the case. If only inside information equated to expert networks, imagine how easy enforcement of insider trading would be! Shut down the networks, Smith might say, and we will purge the rot of a rigged game from the system.

But inside information and expert networks are different things. To conflate them is a failure of analysis and a lazy view on the role of expert networks, the problem of inside information, and research in general. Read the rest of this entry »

Today marks John James Audubon’s 226 birthday. Though he wasn’t the first to document and detail the various birds of America, he is certainly most famous. The woodsman artist introduced us to birds as specimens to appreciate, rather than eat or fear, and his work dominated the wildlife genre.

The seminal Birds of America collection set the standard for representations of birds and wildlife for many years to come. Sold as a subscription, buyers parted with $1000 -a princely sum- for what would later number 435 prints, issued five times a year, between 1827 and 1838. Today, the style persists through the works of Roger Tory Peterson and David Sibley – not to mention the more unusual stylings of Walton Ford. But it was actually not the first to take on the project, and it’s worth remembering another contributor who occupied his Birds of America with the pursuit of what was American. Read the rest of this entry »

Contrary to some reports that I have seen, I believe these cases do not represent some inherent hostility by the Commission toward expert networks, nor do they indicate that the Commission is seeking to undermine the mosaic theory, under which analysts and investors are free to develop market insights through assembly of information from different public and private sources, so long as that information is not material nonpublic information obtained in breach of or by virtue of a duty or relationship of trust and confidence.

Carlo V. di Florio, Director, Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, remarking on the misplaced focus on expert networks during the unfolding of the various insider trading scandals that “seem to have spawned some urban legends and misunderstandings”: via speech at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, D.C., March 21, 2011

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