the noisy language of conquest and pluck

William Stanley Jevons, a nineteenth-century British economist and logician who seems otherwise to have been a reasonable man, noticed that recent panics in England’s markets occurred every eleven years or so, which prompted him to attribute the panics to sunspots; he predicted the next panic would take place in 1879, and a crash in October 1878 convinced him that he was on to something. Since his death in 1882, the timetable he left behind has been proven wrong. In the burgeoning western European markets of the sixteenth century, an Antwerp trader named Christoph Kurz consulted astrological charts for future prices. (He later abandoned market forecasting for political astrology; one of his predictions was that the papacy was on the verge of extinction.) Apparently some speculators still find astrology to be as useful a guide to markets as any. The bare-bones website for the Astrologers Fund in Manhattan promises “a stellar performance.”
Admittedly, the Astrologers Fund comes across as a curio, a superstitious remnant of a time before people knew any better. Recall Peter Bernstein on the triumph of risk: he argues that we’ve long since abandoned any naive beliefs that the future is determined by stars in the sky or gods on a mountaintop, and it is this process of demystification that has allowed the financial sector to become as central and as powerful as it is. It should surprise no one that the powers of quantification which the Chevalier de Méré brought to the gambling table were put in the service of finance, which was constantly on the lookout for methods that would render the future fit for immediate consumption.

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