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December 1, 1998

Veteran Trader's Intriguing Portrait of the Trenches: A Million a Minute: Inside the World of Sec

By Gregory Bresiger

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  • Veteran Trader's Intriguing Portrait of the Trenches: A Million a Minute: Inside the World of Sec

Hillary Davis, a veteran trader who formerly managed U.S. equity portfolios for Baring Brothers, and now trades for herself, has written at least two books with this one effort. Too bad she just didn't do one.

One book is syrupy, lachrymose, with about as much substance and thought as a boob-tube "magazine" show presided over by that hyena Sam Donaldson or the fawning Barbara Walters. ("Be good to us, Mr. President," she told Jimmy Carter in 1976, apparently thinking that he actually had been elected dictator for life, or Ayatollah.) "A Million a Minute," in parts, has the feel of an "instant book" that has been just slapped together.

But then there is another book, a wonderful read that makes the controversies of trading across national borders come alive. This one is quite good, taking us inside the world of international trading and skillfully explaining the foibles of infamous traders. This section will stir up the animals. No one reading this part of "A Million a Minute" will come away without a decided opinion that Davis is either very right or very wrong. Controversy, clearly delineated and explained, makes reading a pleasure at times.

Davis also deftly shows us how currency traders painfully expose the shams of governments, which too often try the oldest trick in the book: inflating currencies as a way of paying off political promises, the great shell game in the history of governments, the three-card monte used by political mountebanks around the globe to this day. Currency traders, for their own profit-driven reasons, exploit and expose these shenanigans.

Personally, I could care less that traders do it for avaricious reasons. I care more that they often infuriate "leaders," such as Suharto, Indonesia's former president, and other such political shills.

If only this were the meat of the book! If only Davis had stuck to her knitting. She does a very good job at explaining how international currency traders brought reckless governments to heel. She obtains some serious and intriguing interviews with some incredibly smart people, including former U.S. Treasury Secretary William Simon. She quotes Stanislas Yassukovich, a former Merrill Lynch & Co. European official and now chairman of EASDAQ, as insisting that "governments should be made accountable for their mismanagement." Yassukovich notes the anomaly of governments howling for changes in the corporate world, but unable to face up to their virtual counterfeiting of currencies.

"And they talk about currency traders," Yassukovich rightfully rails, "well, that's like shooting the messenger. The currency traders are merely reflecting basic supply and demand. I say, long live currency traders. They may be the last people that keep governments accountable."

Well said.

Voters in modern-day democracies have been known to vote in rhinos, prostitutes, and charlatans of the first water. Dropping down a notch or two, they have also elected and re-elected such dubious characters as Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. The voters in many of today's boob democracies can't be expected to stop power-hungry politicians from putting their political pals in charge of monetary and fiscal policies.