The echoes of antiquity tell us that Nimrod built the world's first great city. In postmodern times, trillions of dollars can appear as electrons on a computer screen and be sent halfway around the world, or all the way around the world, with simply the click of a button. Ushering in this new paradigm is "fintech" or "financial technology." Fintech is already changing the face of global finance.
As one might expect, fintech has a lexis all its own. If you're doing invoicing, help is available to navigate those uncharted waters, such as this great invoicing tool. Gold, silver, opium, cattle, slaves, dowries, concubines, timber, salt and fresh water were all probably commodities that Nimrod would have traded in. Now entire nations and their economies are at the mercy of the transnational capital class. The entrepreneurs and geniuses behind fintech are the new Nimrods. Transnational financiers can raise up or destroy nations without firing a single shot.
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Back in 1999, becoming a day trader seemed like a viable career or at least a hobby for many Americans. Those were the early days of the Internet, of course. The interconnectedness of the world's economies began to become readily apparent even to casual observers of global finance.
Today, there's binary trading where you can trade options. This is a fast, fun way to become a trader without the necessity of learning for months or years about the markets.
Binary trading is a revolutionary financial innovation. One might recall it was the Knights Templar who invented draft banking. During the Crusades, someone came up with the idea of making a deposit at a bank in let's say, London, and then withdrawing your money in Jerusalem. This would prevent your gold or silver from being stolen from you while traveling.
Recall the breathtaking unraveling of the Asian Financial Meltdown of 1997. Nations like South Korea were shaken to the core when Pin Charapak's "Finance One" in Thailand took a massive hit from foreign currency raiders. The Korean won took a tremendous nosedive. Everything South Koreans worked so hard to build between the end of the Korean War in 1953 and the Seoul Olympic Games of 1988 suddenly was shaken loose from its moorings. How could such an event have happened seemingly out of thin air and without warning? The Asian Financial Meltdown was a real wake-up call for observers of international economics.
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I was working in South Korea between 1995 and 1997. During this time, I changed my money every single month into American Express traveler's checks. Sure, I lost out on very generous interest from flush South Korean banks. I, like so many others, worried about a North Korean invasion. Yet when the 1997 Asian Financial Meltdown hit, I escaped without the loss of a single won. My late mother, Viola, often said, "Make hay while the sun is shining." She also said, having grown up during the Great Depression and World War II, as well as sending her husband off to fight in the Korean War, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
That was almost 20 years ago, and financial technology has undergone a makeover. Wall Street uses Ph.D.s from MIT and NASA to help create "financial formulas" that can beat the system. Micro-trading on Wall Street involves super computing power. These computers are busy trading stocks back and forth every few seconds. There's no way ordinary mortals can compete with these computers. Like the astronauts in "2001: A Space Odyssey," we are at the mercy of these computers – and the men and women who program them. Films like "Margin Call" starring Kevin Spacey explain this new way of doing business.
Credit default swaps, derivatives and the ATM have been Wall Street's major innovations over the past generation. As noted, the financial modus operandi is changing rapidly, and is sure to continue to evolve as the millennial generation's elites working in Silicon Valley, China, Europe and New York come up with major innovations that will shape and change the way we shop, buy, play and pay.
One can only wonder if these de facto elites understand the toil and sweat and blood and risk of ordinary Americans and others around the world. Do they know what it is like for a fireman to run into a burning building, a peace officer responding to a riot, a construction worker digging out 7,000 pounds of heavy rock and mud every single day — all alone — for earthquake retrofitting, builders of cell phone towers or soldiers parachuting into the nether reaches of Afghanistan? The answer is a resounding "no." By and large, the financial elites do not know by experience the very real struggles of everyday people. That said, our collective futures will be greatly shaped and enhanced by the future of digital money and heady Fintech pioneers.
For those understandably leery of entrusting their futures to electrons on a computer screen, consider the "Carrington Event." In 1859, while the looming American Civil War and plans for the transcontinental railroad were on the minds of America's elite, a "coronal mass ejection," or CME, from our sun practically wiped out the nation's telegraph system. If and when another "Carrington Event" strikes the Earth, what would happen to our nation's ATMs, gasoline pumps and military satellites? Virtually overnight, we could all be sent back to 1859.
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Folks who are interested in financial technology might note that MIT offers a distance learning course. There's even an MIT business plan competition promising $20,000 in prize money. You might want to consider such a course for yourself or for your children. The future has surely arrived for Big Data, peer-to-peer lending, micro-lending, crowdfunding and other 21st-century business models. Artificial Intelligence, or AI, and machine learning are also a part of the new dynamic.
There were visionaries who foresaw the technological changes that would come to America after World War II. One might cite GPS satellite navigation, radar, frozen foods, the Internet, organ transplants, robotics, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, the cracking of the human genome, transhumanism (H+) and GMO foods as the cornerstones of a very long list.
For example, the "communicator" used by Capt. James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock in the original "Star Trek" series arrived years ago via the cell phone. So have that show's visionary "talking computers" and weapons that merely "stun" you. The "Back to the Future" film series also hit on a number of strikingly prophetic futuristic scenarios. Another film, "Looper," starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt of "Angels in the Outfield" and "Third Rock from the Sun" fame, depicts a future world where the Chinese national currency has replaced the United States dollar and the Saudi-linked petrodollar as the world's reserve currency. Will this also become a reality?
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Just as the globalization of sports beyond the Olympic Games might one day include Major League Baseball teams based in Tokyo, Japan and Havana, Cuba, so too will financial technology realign the world in new, very different, sometimes scary, yet often exciting and transformative ways. As noted, the new Nimrods are the nerds, armed with neutrinos, electrons, subatomic particles and mathematical financial formulas too brilliant to be simply scribbled on cocktail napkins in smoke-filled rooms. Talent for the development and management of fintech – access to capital, government regulation and oversight, as well as demand – will be the key issues this newest area of human-computer endeavor will focus upon.
The Jericho option
All of this sounds heady and exciting. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from London to Sunnyvale are busy creating the broad architecture for a new paradigm of financial services. Will this become a reality? Or will another "Carrington Event" or a "Jericho option" take root and tip over the apple cart at some point in the future? What exactly is the "Jericho option"?
Not since they sold the New York Yankees to George Steinbrenner for a relative pittance has CBS made a blunder equal to canceling the TV series "Jericho." Indeed, "Jericho" became a cultural phenomenon that inspired the imagination and brought tears of joy in more than a few episodes. Almost single-handedly, the writers and producers of "Jericho" restored at least a small measure of confidence in what network TV actually could be – moral, intelligent, family oriented and visionary.
What's truly amazing is that (as hard as this is to believe) CBS (as noted) actually canceled "Jericho" – wanting instead to air more racy programs – only to bring it back after a massive viewer protest. That protest included the sending of 40,000 pounds of nuts to the corporate offices of the network. The nuts related to a line of dialogue on the show quoting a World War II American general who replied with the word "Nuts!" to a Nazi general requesting he and his troops surrender.
There can be no doubt the filth on network TV has driven many viewers into the media wilderness. Yet like the United Nations and Hollywood, network TV isn't a monolithic block. As such, "Jericho" is a show that should be embraced by every thinking American no matter what race, color, culture, politics or religion they might hold dear to their heart.
"Jericho" features an army of good-looking characters so flawed, yet so heroic, kind and decent that you can't help but stand up and cheer for them. It's "The Day After" meets "The Stand," with the best elements from "The X-Files," "The Equalizer," "M*A*S*H" and "The Sopranos" all thrown in for good measure.
"Jericho" is everything we secretly fear yet perhaps yearn for on a subconscious level. More to the point, the show offers the chance to start history again, free from the ball and chains of postmodern life. For the remnant in "Jericho," it means embracing a sense of community as the great themes of life and history are brought back from theme parks to their rightful place in the day-to-day reality within the story arc.
"Jericho" features a plot that goes something like this: Nuclear war/terrorism has destroyed a plethora of cities in the U.S. At least two missiles have been launched in retaliation. America has been broken up into six countries with (count them) six different leaders. There's no Internet. No Paris Hilton. No professional wrestling. No NFL. No eBay. No more "Saturday Night Live." The Northeast of the U.S. has become its own country. Salt has become a priceless commodity. The kids aren't obese because there isn't much food to go around in the wintertime.
In the world of "Jericho," Blackwater archetype mercenaries roam the land. (Remember post-Katrina?) Fake Marines abound, along with the social distemper of the survivors who have crawled out of the radioactive cities. Everyone is off the grid and on their own. What happens when you have to take care of not only yourself but also your neighbor and even strangers?
Mainland China drops in food aid after the nuclear fiasco with flyers reading, "China is your friend. Do not fight (us)." In fact, the only TV news available to the residents of "Jericho" comes from a satellite beaming information from China.
"Jericho" itself is a small town in Kansas, aptly named along the biblical story about the walls of a fortified city tumbling down. The people of Jericho are just like you and me. As Don Henley sang in his hit song, "The End of the Innocence," "Somewhere back there in the dust, that same old town in each of us."
Of course, no mention of "Jericho" would be complete without my favorite character, Robert Hawkins. (He is played adroitly by the talented Lennie James, who in real life was born in South London and raised in various foster homes.) He's a good man with a nice family that includes his pretty wife, Darcy, and two wonderful children, "Baby Girl" and "Sam."
"There's no such thing as a good man or a bad man," Hawkins tells his daughter while standing in the middle of a Jericho cornfield. It is a microcosm of the spiritual battle awaiting the residents of Jericho, and perhaps awaiting the rest of us as well.
Hawkins' love for his children, along with the love the mother of "Jake" shows for everyone in the town, are elements of the rarest of commodities – TV that inspires the viewer to become a better person.
Finding out the truth about the "real Hawkins" as a character on the show is almost as interesting as his own search for his true, moral self. It is Hawkins who ultimately makes the show work. And it is no surprise that his secret past comes to dwarf that of the town's prodigal mercenary bad boy, "Jake" (played by Skeet Ulrich), nor the fact that the two of them become fast friends, fellow soldiers, saviors of the town and patriots of a new nation.
If you want to find out who Hawkins really is, and why Jericho was chosen by the federal government as the most vital town in the entire United States to set up a post-apocalyptic rally point – you'll have to watch the show for yourself to find out.
As the words on Hawkins' EMP-hardened laptop say, "See You Soon." Perhaps you, the reader, will choose to become yet another fan of the show millions of Americans fought so hard to save. It is a show that somehow, despite the odds, became a part of definitive Americana. Would-be fans can watch all of the episodes online at the show's website.
While we boldly seek out the best possible future, "Jericho" offers pause to prepare for a world where unforeseen events could one day topple our nation's and the world's financial architecture.