Streetwise Professor

January 7, 2011

Happy Birthday to SWP

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of Streetwise Professor.  Time do fly.

I’ll try to keep the navel gazing to a minimum, but I think a few comments are warranted.

The blog, and most notably its reception, have exceeded all the expectations I had when I started it.  I originally envisioned it as a place to think out loud on relatively arcane issues related to financial markets and market structure, and thought that if a few readers stopped by from time-to-time, that would be nice.  It has played that think-out-loud role, but it has attracted many more readers than I had ever anticipated.  Not a huge number by blog standards, but given the rather arcane and arguably eccentric content, a surprising number.

I think a couple of things are responsible.  The first is the wholly unplanned foray into writing about Russia.  That subject generates by far the most comments, and certainly the most heated and passionate ones.  Given the fact that there would be no readily apparent reason for me to write about Russia, it has also resulted in some rather puzzled inquiries from friends and acquaintances, who have offered some rather entertaining hypotheses to explain it.

There is an explanation, convoluted, but an explanation nonetheless.  Several interests serendipitously converged on the subject of Russia.  I attended the Naval Academy in the Cold War, which generated an initial interest in Russia.  I took a year long Russian Civilization sequence at the University of Chicago after I transferred from Navy, taking classes from major scholars Arcadius Kahan and Richard Hellie (both now passed, sadly), which fed that interest.  The interest went into hibernation as I launched into my profession, but as my career developed, I became deeply involved in energy issues (an unexpected departure in its own way with its own story), and also became very interested in institutional economics issues, including property rights economics and political economy.  Russia represented a fascinating case study regarding energy and institutions, and that’s what started me down the path of Russian commentary.  After that, my tendency towards serial intellectual obsessions (which started with Civil War history as a kid) took over, and led me to read and write more; one damn thing led to another, and reading about one thing led to related issues and on and on.  Conditioned response played a role too: I naturally wrote more about the subjects that generated the most feedback.

The second major factor explaining SWP’s unanticipated trajectory was the financial crisis.  As a result of the crisis, aracana that I’d written and researched about for years–financial market structure and clearing, most notably–to the collective indifference of a big swathe of the economics/finance academy all of sudden became extremely topical.

It’s funny, actually.  In October, 2008, (note the timing) I received a rejection letter from a journal for a paper I’d written about the economics of clearing and OTC markets and which had been under review since mid-2007.  The letter said that the topic was of insufficiently general interest to warrant publication.  (It took 18 months to figure that out?)  Well, virtually all of the issues discussed in that paper were soon at the center of debates over financial reform and clearing mandates.  If the journal had actually published it in a timely manner, the editor would have looked prescient.  Instead . . .

But the blog gave me the opportunity to write about topical things in a timely way without having to deal with editorial gatekeepers (whose value added is not necessarily positive).  Although I know a number of who come here to read about Russia, or broader financial issues, groan when they see another clearing post or market structure post, these have served their role as first drafts for some serious academic work, and moreover, have had some influence in business and policy circles.  I’ve been gobsmacked on more than one occasion when some pretty prominent people have mentioned a specific blog post–by title–that had influenced their thinking.  I’ve also had the pleasure of hearing, sometimes directly, sometimes through back channels, that I’ve ticked off a few people.  Given who said people are, I consider it an honor.  I’ve been warned that if I want to have more influence, I need to be more politic.  (The other day somebody at a major financial institution told me that I risked being burned for heresy.)  Well, that cuts against my personal (Jacksonian) grain, and what’s more, being “politic” usually involves pulling punches and leaving important things that need to be said unsaid.  So, that’s not likely to happen.

Where will things go from here?  Who knows?  The moral of the story so far is that the trajectory of SWP is highly contingent on developments in finance, regulation, and yes, Russia, and those are all extremely dynamic.  The subject matter will probably stay in the same general ballparks–financial markets, especially their regulation; Russia; energy; climate issues from time to time–but the specifics will depend on how the world turns.  And the past five years have shown that the world does turn in highly bizarre directions.

I appreciate all of you that have come to visit SWP over the past five years.  It is truly gratifying, and completely unexpected.  It’s been an interesting and rewarding five years, and I look forward to engaging with you all in the years to come.  Thanks, and Happy New Year.

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  1. Happy birthday, Prof. Your commentary on Russia is simply the best around. Thanks – I’m glad I found you. I’m sure your economics stuff is great, too – but I’m afraid your speciality is not my subject. Now if only we could get a bit of a more balanced approach to Obama…

    Comment by Gaw — January 7, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

  2. Happy B[log]-Day, Professor. SWP is my daily education on Frank&Dodd, the occasional WWII, and the ongoing disaster that is Russia.

    Comment by Hal — January 7, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

  3. This is merely my opinion of course, but your writings on Russia seem to be far more accurate than those of most blogs which claim to specialise in the subject. You cannot understand Russia, especially in the context of identifying where it is going wrong, without understanding economics, yet the number of people writing about Russia who also understand economics is few indeed. And if anyone criticises you for commenting on Russia from afar without actually being there, most English language bloggers who write about Russia do exactly the same thing, and very few have experience of Russia outside of academia.

    Actually, I noticed some time back that most blogs dealing with Russia seem to position themselves as speaking the truth about perceived media biases against Russia (I’m more of the opinion the media is merely generally incompetent regardless of the subject) and then adopt much the same techniques of peddling opinions as fact and lazy half-truths considered (in some circles) to be incontrovertible facts. The end result is a blog which spends half its posts congratulating the Russian government on its latest move, or predicting the next great Russian success story (always a few years away), whilst ignoring enormous elephants in the living room which would be immediately obvious to anyone who has lived and worked there outside the sheltered life of a Moscow-based academic. That’s not to say that some English language blogs of a Russian-based academic are not good, I can think of two which are excellent, but their best posts are those that are either directly related to their research or their own personal experience. And indeed, IMO the best Russia-focussed blogs are those which add specialist knowledge (in your case, economics and trade) or rely on personal experience and anecdotes.

    In short, insofar as you write in general about the state of Russia and Russian politics, you are doing as good a job as most, and usually better. Do keep it up.

    Comment by Tim Newman — January 7, 2011 @ 9:34 pm

  4. I second Tim’s observations. You manage to capture the Russia that I knew and witnessed during my 5 years there, while also giving the reader a great philosophical, economic, political, or historical context behind it. It always hits home with me. I don’t read here because you come up with some good rags about Russia. I read here because it is thoughtful, substantive, and as far as I’m concerned, a dead on review of what the real Russia is. Not bad for someone who hasn’t lived there. (Tim knows exactly what I’m talking about)

    As for clearing and OTC markets, well, I’ll groan a bit, but I’ve definitely learned a lot… uh, I think.

    Thanks a lot. Congratulations. Keep it up.

    Comment by Howard Roark — January 7, 2011 @ 10:53 pm

  5. Congratulations, Prof.

    I enjoyed your class @ Olin in the late 90s and I make it a habit of stopping by your blog daily. Well done & Thank You.


    Comment by Mike Barham — January 8, 2011 @ 10:36 am

  6. Woo hoo SWP!

    Comment by Surya — January 8, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

  7. I too second Tim’s comment. Well done Professor, keep it up.

    Comment by peter — January 9, 2011 @ 4:22 am

  8. Thanks very much. Your blog is very important to the futures industry.

    Comment by Glenn — January 10, 2011 @ 8:49 am

  9. Way to go SWP!!

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 13, 2011 @ 7:37 am

  10. Hey SWP, seen this?

    How about this?

    Just more proof of how deadly accurate SWP’s analysis of the Russian market has been.

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 13, 2011 @ 7:39 am

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