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Book review: The Trading Game: A confession by Gary Stevenson

21 June 2024

This confession seeks change, not absolution, Eve Poole discovers

THIS was a real page-turner, and I read it in one sitting. It is a classic of the genre, complete with dysfunctional traders smashing phones, high-end dining and dubious clubs, ubiquitous drunkenness and drugs, and presents an intimate window on a world that few of us will ever experience. It has screenplay written all over it, because it is also a rags-to-riches story of a boy from Ilford who wins his job at Citibank through a trading game.

As we find out, his particular professional triumph was a single trade of $700 million, subsequently securitised for a further profit, betting on the collapse of the economies of Europe. This was while he was living in a bare concrete flat with just a TV, a mattress, and a red corduroy sofa from Freecycle, having just taken home a bonus of $2.45 million.

The book paints a very telling picture of what happens to men when they live and breathe each other in such an intense setting. There are no women involved, of course, except at evenings and weekends for the purposes of leisure and support (there was one who appeared briefly at one point, but she didn’t survive the page). Another ex-trader, John Coates, has done the research on this kind of male hothouse, finding that its testosterone is literally contagious: so much is endlessly produced by the stress of the job that it magnifies risk across the whole team. Perhaps this is useful to the banks, of course; but it seems to destroy those involved.

The book is styled “a confession”. In a Church Times context, we might assume that a pricked conscience precipitated the sort of confession that seeks absolution. But this is more like a detailed but unapologetic police confession. Unlike most other books of this kind, there was no Damascene conversion on the trading floor.

Indeed, it is clear from the book that he didn’t pack it in because he thought that it was wrong: he packed it in because his investment strategy stopped working. He had figured out early that the economy was broken, but betting on a broken market stops being profitable as soon as everyone else figures it out, too, and he got bored trying to make money the hard way.

He signs off his acknowledgements with a cryptic line: “Finally I would like to thank God, or whoever it was who made it so easy to bet on terrible things, but so hard to stop them.” The good news is that he is now using his wealth and position to argue for economic change, running a popular YouTube channel, GarysEconomics, about how to reduce the inequality that is inherent in our current economic system.

Dr Eve Poole writes on theology, economics, and leadership.

The Trading Game: A confession
Gary Stevenson
Allen Lane £25
Church Times Bookshop £22.50

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