On Friday, crude oil prices jumped in a new all-time high: the benchmark futures contract of light sweet crude was traded at US$139.54 in New York.

This new record was attributed to a comment by Iranian-born Israeli deputy prime minister, Shaul Mofaz, who said that: “If Iran continues its nuclear weapons program, we will attack it. Other options are disappearing. The sanctions are not effective. There will be no alternative but to attack Iran in order to stop the Iranian nuclear program.”

The news stories did mention that the context for this comments is the primaries in Kadima, PM Olmert’s party, where Mofaz is a contender and that it is likely that the comments were made for ‘domestic consumption’. The reaction to the statement shows that in today’s highly connected markets distinction between the local and the global cannot be made easily. Mofaz’s Israeli political bravado injected volatility to global oil markets. Such effect, in itself is dangerous enough, of course, but the other ‘leg’ of the reflexivity circle is potentially even riskier. In fact, this side of the phenomenon may feed a social loop that can place Iran and Israel on a sure collision course.

How so? Mofaz is now aware of the impact that his words have on markets. However, if anyone may think that this would serve as a lesson and that future comments would be less vehement, then they do not know the Israeli political discourse. Mofaz will now celebrate his influence on global oil markets and will use last week’s price rise as leverage for creating more political capital. Moreover, the reaction to this comment will motivate Mofaz and other Israeli politicians to outdo it and to have even more impact. So, as long as the scandal-ridden Olmert government is haemorrhaging support we should expect increasingly more flamboyant statements from Israeli politicians about Iran, more volatile markets and a steady progress to the brink of a (possibly, nuclear) war in the middle east.

Life and Debt (2001, Stephanie Black) is a documentary film that discusses the machinations of international finance in the country of Jamaica. Although it is not riveting in its execution, it does beautifully combine narrative and documentary to effectively communicate some things about how global finance has functioned in so-called third world countries. Through a short first person text by Jamaica Kincade entitled ‘A Small Place’ in which a Jamaican narrator addresses words to a tourist visiting her island, the director speaks to the audience, situating the viewer in the story, in their potential role as ‘tourist’. On the one hand, there are the glistening azure beaches; on the other, hidden in the foliage, there is massive poverty, currency devaluation, and deep social unrest.

Although the film comes from a ‘globalization’ perspective – which often, in this kind of media, tends to be an ideological critique and a diatribe against obvious injustices – this film is somewhat more subtle. It does an excellent job of capturing how trade policies create situations on the ground that affect agricultural practices, employment conditions and state finance. Rather than simply inflaming the viewer at how many panties a Hanes Jamaica pieceworker in the ‘free zone’ is expected sew per shift, the director is also careful to point to bigger issues, to the deep ironies of a tax free manufacturing area whose infrastructure is paid for by the Jamaican government indebtedness, for the benefit of American industry.

Nevertheless as the film progressed I was left with many pressing questions that nobody who studies globalization seems to be able to answer. The heart of the film was to document the slow erosion of Jamaican agriculture by the importation of cheaper food products from the U.S. An influx of powdered milk drowns out fresh dairy; frozen brown chicken meat (what’s left after the white has been taken to make chicken nuggets) floods the market at 20 cents a pound; imported carrots replace locally grown carrots. Ok, so this is happening, I see it on the screen… But my question is how?

It seems to me that trade policy alone is not a sufficient answer to the pricing puzzle. Beyond policies that lift trade barriers and do away with preferential tariffs there is still the burning question of price calculation: How is it possible for the price of an imported carrot, coming on a refrigerated, oil powered containership, to cost less for a Jamaican citizen on the marketplace than a carrot pulled out of local soil and transported by truck? (It takes only 12 hours to drive around the entire island.)

Most stories about prices in the globalization studies will show how so called free market prices are either not free because of hidden subsidies, or will defer to the ‘fact’ that superior farming practices create supply that drives prices down. But what nobody seems to show is the actual valuation process, the (calculatively legitimate) cost accounting mechanisms that constituts one carrot as being less expensive than another carrot. Is it sufficient to say that political interests fix prices so that they benefit some parties over others, or is there something to be said about how the technical processes of pricing confer differential value on goods?

My question is: Is there a problem here for the social studies of finance?

‘Life and Debt’ is available on streaming video from Netflix.

As usual, Peter Levin’s comments are illuminating and thought provoking, and this one is not different. So, I thought that it would be better to put it here as new post (with my reaction), rather than just as a comment

Peter Levin on the ‘Performativity: will any theory do?’ post

Interesting post, addressing a concern I think about all the time. But might I suggest that there are alternatives as well. You note that if the theory ‘fails’, or if it has no ‘public experiment’ available to it, there is no possibility that it will be performative – at least in the sense you mean.

I was thinking about the cases where the theory remains, despite evidence to the contrary. My art specialists are as likely to speak of a price as ‘not yet achieving’ its market price, or that its market price is not yet in line with its cultural value, or something like that. In other words, out-of-line prices are explained not by a failure of theory (in this case, theory is that mess of valuation done by specialists), but by a failure or anomaly in the marketplace.

A second case recalls to mind that someplace (I can’t seem to recall it now) I remember a study asking whether economists were judged based on their predictive abilities. This is interesting because of economics’ claim to at least aim for prediction. I recall, though, that prediction was less important than providing ‘interesting explanation’ or somesuch. I read this, again, as some kind of bending of the world to match what theorists do, rather than the reverse.

I realize these are not exact counter-factuals, but I’m interested in your thinking about how wide a range of possibilities there might be. The idea that there is a reality out there, and that theories ‘work’ or ‘don’t work’ in explaining-then-shaping those realities, seems a bit constraining.

My reaction

About situations of ‘price not achieved yet’. Yes, we see such situations frequently in markets, when the public experiment is not delivering the results one expects them to deliver. In these cases the burden of proof is transferred elsewhere. That is, in the case of the art specialists they will need to explain why it is that the price they predict for that piece is not achieved in the market. Another example, where such burden of proof is really pressing, is the example of convergence arbitrage. There, a trader’s position is dependent on asset prices in two markets to converge, but they may diverge. In such cases, it is not uncommon for the trader to ‘defend the position’, either successfully or unsuccessfully, against his/her manager who may want to unwind it There is a very good paper about this by two finance scholars (“The Limits of Arbitrage” by Andrei Schleifer & Robert W. Vishny. The Journal of Finance, 1997). So, you are right, a one-time discrepancy between prediction and market would not fail the theory, but gradually, if such incidents mount and if these incidents cannot be defended successfully, then we should expect the performativity circle to be broken in some way.

About the second case: economists who simply produce ‘interesting explanations’. In the cases where experts do not take part in the prediction-performativity game then no public experiment (at least in the restrictive sense I am suggesting here) exist. But, of course, the claim you mention is interesting with regard to expanding the concept of the public experiment to the (relevant) realms of aesthetics of theories, their appeal to policy and so on.

About ‘reality out there’: the public experiment concept is agnostic about the existence of external reality. We follow the agents here. As long as the agents find the predictions useful in their interventions, the theory will be supported.

I was asked the question above, in different variations, many times during the workshop we did in NY in April. ‘what if, instead of Black-Scholes, the traders would have used some less-useful prediction mechanism (for example, astrology) would you then expect a performative effect to take place?’ or (the flip side of the previous question) ‘if Black-Scholes was not accurate to begin with and only became so as a result of traders using it, then why would anyone use a theoretical pricing model that was not producing accurate results?’

An answer, specific to the Black-Scholes case and how it became popular in spite of its inaccuracy during time of financial stress, can be found in this paper, that’s now making its way through a journal review process. However, the concept of performativity of expert knowledge in organisations alludes implicitly to a more general mechanism through which the process unfolds. As I did very briefly in the workshop and, as I now develop a paper version, I would like to offer here an initial set of theoretical definitions that describe the conditions necessary for performativity to take place.

To generalise performativity of predictive expertise, it is necessary to refer to reflexivity. Naturally, actors’ reflexivity is at the core of performativity: actors’ reactions to the ‘predictive content’ of a theory are the engine of performativity. What then, affects actors’ reactions to the theory?

First, given that actors are aware of the content of a theory, the actors’ ability to intervene in the field for which the prediction is made determines how effective would be the efforts to act in accordance with the theory. For example, we may have accurate theories about the rate at which the universe is expanding, but we are virtually helpless when it comes to intervening in this field. In this case, our reflexivity (after all, we are part of the universe) cannot be translated to intervention. In contrast, the public nature of financial markets makes them a field that is open to theory-driven intervention. In fact, such interventions – ‘taking positions in the market’ – are the lifeblood of the financial system.

Second, to serve as a basis for performativity, the connections between the field and the theory have to form a ‘well-designed’ public experiment. By ‘well-designed public experiment’ I mean that it is necessary for the predictive theory to provide items of information that could be confirmed or refuted unambiguously by items of information coming from the field. Again, the Black-Scholes pricing model and the early options exchange provided a nice public experiment. The model predicted a numerical item referring to a future market price and the market produced the actual price. In comparison, astrology can also be used a market-predictive methodology, but it is not likely to create to a good public experiment, as astrological predictions are very difficult to confirm or refute unambiguously.

Let us go back now to question about the predictive quality of the theory. That is, what would happen if the theory produces inaccurate predictions: is it possible that performativity would take place? Note that the two conditions above do not refer to an a priori validity of theories; they simply refer to the mechanisms through which performativity of such theories may evolve. Thus, ‘false’ theories can be performed; and that is because the second half of the mechanism described above, the public experiment, is exactly the process by which the validity of such theories is tested. Theories that produce predictions about the social, and especially ones that refer to intervention-prone areas in society, are not examined in isolated laboratories, but in public experiments.

However, a simple counter-argument can be presented here: maybe what we witness are the actions of the actors that simply activate a theory that had been correct? Such an argument, of course, does not take into account the full meaning of a predictive theory. Predictions that derive from theories do not provide arbitrary predictions of the future, but refer to a causal mechanism that stands at the basis of the predictions. So, when a theory does not incorporate the effect that its own prediction have on actors that can (and do) intervene in the predicted field, the predictive ability of that theory is reduced significantly. Of course, it is possible that such a ‘deaf’ theory would work, even for a considerable period of time, but when the actors (both human and non-human, as it were) would stop ‘supporting’ it, the theory would no longer produce accurate predictions. A good example, of course is, this is what happened (with some simplifications) to the Black-Scholes pricing model after the 1987 crash.

If we take this argument to its logical extreme then we could hypothesise situations whereby any theory could be performed, just as long as actors find its predictions useful and act in accordance with these predictions. However, the notion of usefulness underlying this argument is, in essence, a pragmatist one. That is, we know that the usefulness of a theory does not equate with its accuracy (the same way a public experiment is different from a classic laboratory experiment) and yes, we can hypothesise such a situation. But, it would be safe to assume that it is unlikely that actors would find theory that consistently produces grossly inaccurate predictions useful and thus, it is unlikely that such theory would be performative.

This is a text that I prepared originally for an exhibition catalog, but I thought that it can also fit nicely with the eclectic spirit of the blog. So, I include it here.

 

We hear many different stories about where the market is to be found and, consequently, what the market should be. Many of these stories, though not all of them, are exclusionary. That is, they tell us: ‘my market is the real market’. When asked where the market is, the trader on the busy New York, Frankfurt or Hong Kong trading will spread his arms and say ‘here’. The day trader, in the basement of her suburban house will point to the computer screen and say ‘right here. This is the market’. The economics professor, surrounded by books and papers in his university office will point to a formula on a white board and explain why this is the market. ‘Well’, the sophisticated art aficionado is now saying, ‘this is not so problematic. The market simply has many representations’. Yes, quite right, but a representation of what, exactly? Where is ‘the market’?

The sophisticated art lover may revolt now: ‘why do we need a ‘real market’ that would be represented? Why couldn’t we have plurality without an obligatory original? Isn’t the artists’ re-creation of the market just as valid as that of the traders’ or as that of the securities analysts? Haven’t you heard of Walter Benjamin or Baudrillard?’ Yes. There is a faint smell of postmodernism in the air, but I think that this time the sophisticated art-lover may actually do a little better then state that ‘anything goes’.

When we state that any representation of the market is valid because there is now fundamental original that can be represented we implicitly focus on the outputs of markets. For example, the artist may take the voices of traders, graphs representing price movements or an aural translation of prices and embed these into a work of art. This brings us back, sneakily, to the apologetic position where we have to defend our ‘soft’ representations of the market against the ‘hard’ representations that analysts, accountants of finance professor produce. Isn’t there a way out?

Maybe we could shift our focus from the representation itself to the one using it and to the experience of its use. That is, what do people experience when they interact with representations of the market? An initial answer may be that these representations can help people understand where they are vis-à-vis the market and then, they can use this understanding to develop an idea of where to go next. The immediate example is of a map. You are not sure exactly where you are, but a short look at the map and a comparison with the terrain around you, may help you to estimate your location.

But, the alarm bell on our art-lover’s desk is ringing. ‘How can you look at the terrain if there is nothing ‘original’ outside? Didn’t we just say that there are only competing representations of the market?’ Well, let’s be more subtle about our examples, and maybe we will get closer to what market participants experience. You have a map, but you cannot see the terrain right now, as it’s night and it’s raining heavily. You have to rely on the map. But, the art-lover is asking, ‘is there a terrain (market) out there or isn’t there?’ Let us wait a little bit with this question. Remember, we are focusing on the experience, not the market. Let us find out what participants do with the representations.

The geographical map, like a risk map, a graphical representation of past price changes or a printout of mathematical prediction model, to name but a few, is what cultural anthropologists frequently call a ‘summarizing symbol’. Such symbols capture, in a compact informational package, numerous references to related entities. For example, the French flag may represent to a French person the sound of the French language, the beauty of a Parisian boulevard, the taste of regional food and patriotic pride. All these things, and countless others, are ‘compressed’ into a three-coloured rectangular. ‘Yes’, says our art-lover, ‘but these reminiscences are not in the flag; they are simply evoked by the flag, while the map actually includes new information. The French person is ‘smarter’ than the flag, while the market participant is not smarter than the representation of the market’.

This is true. But, the representation of the market, as smart as it may be, does not know what would be the next step that the market participant may take. Granted, the representation and the trader or analyst work together with their representations of the market, but none of them is a-priori superior cognitively to the other. Representations of the market, in their role as summarizing symbols, operate with us (and sometimes, unfortunately, against us), market participants, in our joint person-machine endeavor to make sense of where we are vis-à-vis the market and help us devise our next step.

‘Hold on’, cries the art-lover, almost dropping his espresso, ‘I am returning to the question you didn’t answer before: is there or isn’t there a market that we represent? Now you really contradict yourself. How can a representation of the market, be it a graph, an annual report or a work of art help us to find the market if there is no original market to be found? How can we position ourselves in relation to something if that something does not really exist?’

‘There is no contradiction there’ we should answer. We do not know if there is or there is not a ‘real’ market out there and neither should we care. The floor trader, the on-screen trader and the economics professor we met earlier may or may not care about the authenticity of the market whose representations they interact with. What they do care about is that the representation works. It provides them concise, compact, summarising information that allows them to make sense and make decisions.

The art-lover is now grinning cynically: ‘I like this agnosticism. It’s all very clever, but what has that got to do with aesthetic representation of the market?’ It is related to aesthetic appreciation just as much as it is related to economic, political or social evaluation and decision-making. In fact, when examined carefully, one can find elements of different realms in each market decision. It is not a coincidence that the brain sites that process emotions and logical decision-making are coupled, as recent research indicates. We think and feel at the same time. The different representations of the elusive market are all valid as long as they provide us with a valid experience. Is it interesting, moving, pleasing and insightful? Does it reverberate with your feelings and your intellect? Does it help you to understand or sense things better? If so, this is it. You found the real market.

An upcoming conference at Columbia Business School may be of interested to social studies of finance researchers. This coming January 18th, the Geofinance conference will address an issue that has been of long interest in this blog: what makes financial capitals, and how is the competition between New York, London and others evolving?

Here’s an excerpt from the conference:

What’s driving the decision to locate particular financial activities or functions in particular places? How are these decisions being influenced by technological advances, regulation and the rise of emerging markets? What matters most in the competition between New York and London to become the capital of international capital?

The conference is organized by Columbia Business School and the Wharton School.

I have long been surprised by the lack of novelty in financial visualization. Even as maps, video-games and operating systems become more and more adept at 3D, colors, layers and animation… the screens of Wall Street keep showing the exact same graphs as usual. Last week, in a panel on financial visualization, I learned the reasons for this lack of innovation. And I made an argument for the opposite.

Consider just how puzzling the existing status quo is with regards to visualization. Bloomberg, the market leader in analytics, offers the same 1980s-style aesthetics that it did two decades ago. Tickers, that ineffective relic of the pre-Internet era, continue to grace the screens of CNBC and the streets around Times Square. Yahoo and Google offer the same graph that retail investors have been using for years — a plain-vanilla price chart. Even Apple’s iPhone (supposedly, the epitome of the cool) has the same chart.

This is surprising, because existing visualizations do not support profitable trading strategies. Indeed, most systems are based on timely news and time series of stock prices and volume. And yet, we know from basic financial economics that both past prices and news are a bad predictor of future stock prices. As for the ticker… the animated display of selected stock prices is a low-bandwidth visualization born in the era of the telegraph. That’s right: 19th C. Nowadays, information can travel much faster, and one does not need to wait for “my stock” to come up on the ticker.

Why this un-innovativeness? That was the question I asked myself as I took the subway to downtown Mantattan. The panel was organized by the New York chapter of the Usability professionals (essentially: designers), joint with NYC Wireless. The presentations of the rest of the panelists — all three very smart, very sophisticated professionals — made very clear the difficult situation that designers suffer as soon as they start to work for a Wall Street firm.

One of the presenters, a brilliant and charismatic designer, was responsible for the Intranet at a major credit card company. According to her, 70% of Wall Street intranets are just numbers. Why? Other concerns prevail over graphic sophistication. First, in finance, heavy regulation forces different parts of the firms not to be able to see the same information. So firewalls are very important. Second: designers get little training. “How can you communicate with the bankers,” the presenter asked, “with only a 20-minute online tutorial on risk management?” Third, mistakes “cost millions.” And fourth, convenience is everything: “we had to completely redesign the system so that the bankers could read it on a pdf on their way home to Westchester.”

The second panelist, an acclaimed designer in his “previous life” and now head of visualization at a major Wall Street bank, abounded on these issues. The bank, he said, had more people working in IT than the entire employees of Adobe. But visualization has only arrived to two percent of software, and most of it to its intranet — the hidden part. How come? “Traders are very busy. They make an incredible amount of money, and their time is very valuable. They cannot commit to meet you at such-and-such time to discuss changes in the system.” The designer finally found a way to work with them, but even this is very telling: “I say to them, ‘I’ll come to your desk tomorrow at nine, and when you have a minute, tell me what we do.” In addition to this, traders are very practical and resist innovation. “If there is a yellow button on the left for the escape function, they need to see it in the next version of the software.”

In short, the picture of Wall Street designers that comes across is revealing. The designers in are smart, able, savvy. But they make up an distinct community of practice, one with lower status, limited financial knowledge and one that does not seem to fully communicate with the traders and bankers. In terms of innovation, they also seem to be paralyzed by the needs of their users. As as we know from Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilema,” users are a conservative group.

What, then, is the way ahead? I believe that innovation will happen. But it may not come from the internal design teams on Wall Street. Along with Christensen, I expect that it will come from some low-end entrant to the industry. (And it is interesting that there were people in the room from the entertainment industry.) My own presentation discussed some potential avenues for innovation, based on my curatorial work on art that is based on finance. Please see below a PDF document of the presentation.

Today’s announcement of the Nobel Prize in Economics is interesting news for the social studies of finance. The award given to Leonid Hurwicz, Eric Maskin and Roger Myerson celebrates a line of work, so-called “mechanism design”, that is closely related to the calculative artifacts examined by the sociology and anthropology of finance.

As Peter Boettke writes in the Wall Street Journal, the notion of “mechanism design” explores the problem of when will market calculation work or not work:

Mechanism design theory was established to try to address the main challenge posed by Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek. It all starts with Mr. Hurwicz’s response to Hayek’s famous paper, “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” In the 1930s and ’40s, Hayek was embroiled in the “socialist calculation debate.” (…) Hayek’s argument, a refinement of Mises, basically stated that the economic problem society faced was not how to allocate given resources, but rather how to mobilize and utilize the knowledge dispersed throughout the economy. (…) Leonid Hurwicz, in his classic papers “On the Concept and Possibility of Informational Decentralization” (1969), “On Informationally Decentralized Systems” (1972), and “The Design of Mechanisms for Resource Allocation” (1973), embraced Hayek’s challenge.

Obviously, the laureates’ work is not sociology, and neither does it relate to any tangible or material “mechanism.” In effect, the prize winners differ from the contemporary interest in Knightian uncertainty in the laureates’ emphasis on dispersed information (rather than the more sociological diverse interpretations).

But as much as the two problems are different, their solution — knowledge sharing, communication, debate, social interaction — is similar. For that reason, it is possible to think of the socio-technical artifacts analyzed in SSF (the strawberry market, black-scholes, the spread plot) as “mechanism design”. Conversely, the work of one of the, Roger Myerson, was directly applied to auction design… a topic that has been the subject of a famous controversy in SSF between, on the one hand Callon, Muniesa and (separately) Guala; and, on the other, Mirowski and Nik-Khah. (See the recent book Do Economists Make Markets?)

All in all, not quite a Nobel endorsement of SSF, but encouragement to the study of the social and material black box of market calculation.

The NY Times is asking whether NY is still the ‘capital of capital’ mentioning that, among other things, the largest mutual funds are not based in the city, the biggest securities trading floor is no longer that of the NYSE (see here about the demise of open outcry trading and here more discussion about it):

[I]n today’s burgeoning and increasingly integrated global financial markets — a vast, neural spaghetti of wires, Web sites and trading platforms — the N.Y.S.E. is clearly no longer the epicenter. Nor is New York. The largest mutual-fund complexes are in Valley Forge, Pa., Los Angeles and Boston, while trading and money management are spreading globally. Since the end of the cold war, vast pools of capital have been forming overseas, in the Swiss bank accounts of Russian oligarchs, in the Shanghai vaults of Chinese manufacturing magnates and in the coffers of funds controlled by governments in Singapore, Russia, Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia that may amount to some $2.5 trillion, according to Stephen Jen, a Morgan Stanley economist.

However, as financial markets become more distributed, we should re-evaluate the connections between geographical location and capital.

One potential direction that is hinted in the NY Times story is the preferred location for IPOs (initial public offering). The article refers to the fact that nine out the ten largest out-of-country IPOs (IPOs done outside the country where the company is incorporated) in the last year were held outside the US. IPOs, of course, are the fundamental building blocks of financial markets as through them new stocks enter the market. Knowing that NY is the traditional location for IPOs, we can pretty much equate US with NY. The meaning of this figure is that NY does not attract to the same degree it used to the types of people and institutions that perform IPOs. Instead, the story tells us, new urban ‘financial-attraction’ centres are rising (at least as far as IPOs go). Hong Kong seems to be one of New York’s major rivals, as are some European cities.    

So, what are the conditions that attract IPOs to a particular urban centre? The immediate conceptual candidates are human capital (experienced underwriters, for example), institutions, liquid capital and, inevitably, a social network that binds these ingredients together effectively. All of this may sound fairly basic to a sociologist, but in spite of the fact that there is considerable research about urban financial centres, to best of my knowledge the crucial element of IPOs has not been studied empirically from a sociological perspective. Having said that, a paper by Richard Florida analyses the demographic conditions that induce creativity among urban populations and thus may help to conceptualise the question of where IPOs are likely to take place. It can be that one of the reasons for this relative lack of academic attention is the fact that to understand what makes IPOs happen, one needs to witness the inner mechanisms of the process and these are not easily accessible, as this classic ethnography-like Fortune magazine story about Microsoft’s IPO shows.

A timely photo essay has just landed on the newsstands of New York City. Portfolio magazine, the glossiest newcomer to American business publications, features a striking photograph of Kuwait’s Financial Market: men in white Arab robes lounging about a carpeted room with red bench seats, all of it surrounded by electronic price boards. A strange crossover between airport and trading pit.

The photograph is followed by a terrific photo essay. Dramatic photographs of exchanges around the world, taken by artist-photographer Robert Polidori. The piece is a very timely addition to our discussion on the rapidly-shrinking NYSE. From Chicago to Sao Paulo, Tokyo to Nairobi, Polidori’s shots provide a window into the tremendous multiplicity of exchange assemblages. In Nepal, prices are still written on the board like they used to in New YOrk eighty years ago. London’s exchange has added activity to its static computers by planting a four-story high art installation in its lobby. Kuwait looks like an airport lounge. Nairobi and Tehran both look like Internet cafes… brokers sitting on chairs, staring at a PC screen… and separated by mysterious partitions for confidentiality. Hong Kong is organized as concentric circles of benches. Chicago’s pit traders wear colorful jackets, whereas Sao Paulo’s counterparts show up to the pit in white shirt and dark tie.