One of the core philosophies behind generalism as a pursuit—knowing a lot about a lot of things—is that any topic you might learn about is better understood if you also know about other things informing or adjusting or underpinning or adjacent-to that topic.
When I started learning about economics, both personal- and macro-scale, I fumbled around for a while, trying to cobble the pieces together into a unified whole: something that would help me understand how all these big, philosophical and graph-laden topics were connected to the ground-level advice you can find seemingly everywhere about stocks and bonds and ETFs and building a balanced portfolio.
Finding people who write on this topic in an inclusive, top to bottom way helped me understand how everything fit together.
One such person, Matt Levine, writes a daily column—which is also distributed as an email newsletter—called Money Stuff, and it’s not only ridiculously informative, it’s a pleasure to read.
It’s casual and often funny, but also well-sourced and exploratory when it comes to the strange intricacies of the economy, the market, and the myriad forces informing and influencing both. It has a point of view, but it’s not polemical. And it references quite a lot of high-level ideas and topics, but in a way that makes them accessible and interesting.
Consider this, from a recent column on “payment for order flow”:
A rough, inaccurate but useful way to think about U.S. equity market structure is that the prices on the stock exchange are bad. You can go to a public stock exchange and see a “lit,” public bid and offer for every stock; the exchange will tell you at all times, like, “you can buy this stock for $10.05 or sell it for $9.95.” (The best buying and selling price available on all the lit exchanges is called the “national best bid and offer” or NBBO.) But if you ever find yourself paying the lit price to buy a stock, or accepting the lit price to sell it, you have done poorly. That is just the sticker price, the advertised price, the price for rubes. Somewhere, in the dark, there are hidden orders at better prices, and if you and your broker are any good you will find them.
And this, from a piece about who’s being hired by big money-management companies:
There are two conflicting theories of junior hiring on Wall Street. On the one hand, Ace Greenberg memorably sought to hire people “with PSD degrees
”: “Poor, Smart
, with a deep Desire to become rich.” Wall Street is a place with lots of money, and you want junior people who are very motivated by money so they will work hard; junior people who don’t already have money are more likely to be motivated by it.
On the other hand, as I said yesterday
, Wall Street is essentially in the business of building deep personal relationships with giant piles of money, and if you come from money you have better odds of doing that
. If you grow up rich you are more likely to be able to swap sailing anecdotes with a client, or discover that you have neighboring estates in Bridgehampton, or — and this is particularly helpful — you might be the client’s child. If your mother runs a large public company or a state-owned enterprise
or a multibillion-dollar family office, and you go to work for an investment bank, that investment bank is more likely to win lucrative business from her, isn’t it? The bank certainly thinks so
If you’re keen to learn more about this bundle of topics, consider signing up for the newsletter (it’s free), and then (this has worked well for me) commit to reading each one and googling anything you don’t understand: there will probably be a decent amount of things you don’t understand, at first, but by reading this thing on a regular basis, that will be less and less the case over time.