ALCHEMY AND BANKROBBING: Applied Magic(k) column by the Center for Tactical Magic (Arthur, 2013)

Alchemy and Bankrobbing

Applied Magic(k) column by the Center for Tactical Magic, illustration by Aaron Gach

Originally published in Arthur No. 33 (January, 2013)

“Money always fascinates people, and magic with money is doubly fascinating.”

—J.B. Bobo, Master Magician and author of Modern Coin Magic

You don’t have to be psychic to know that many people who want their fortunes told have concerns about money matters. Indeed, even the name ‘fortuneteller’ implies a talent for making economic predictions. However, the fortunetellers most in demand these days are a different sort of financial forecaster. Bankers, financiers, and investment brokers gaze not into crystal balls but into multiple LCD screens showing real-time and projected financial data used for profitable prophesy. To the unanointed, the machinations of Wall Street mages are masked in a mysterious lexicon; indeed, it takes a bit of translation to understand the esoteric formulas behind high-frequency trading, an investment strategy based on proprietary computer algorithms devised to exploit minute fluctuations in the markets to make numerous trades at lightning speed throughout the day.  

High-frequency trading is a bit like a magician’s performance of “The Miser’s Dream” in which the performer makes coins appear out of thin air and drops them into a bucket—except there’s no show; only money and a bucket. Oh, and also market instability that directly impacts the livelihoods of those of us who don’t even want a seat at the show in the first place. One doesn’t need an economics degree to see the Faustian bind produced through the financial industry’s flash crashes, credit default swaps, commodities speculations, scandals, fraudulent practices and whatever other demons are yet to be unleashed by undisciplined and unscrupulous dabblers.

But, dealing with devils isn’t unique to Wall Street, and ultimately, there’s nothing new about the any-means-necessary path to wealth. Through the ages, numerous grimoires have detailed spells and rituals for gaining riches.

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