Once Upon a Time

The power of narrative should never be underestimated. Humans it would appear have been story tellers and story listeners since time in memoriam. Myths have a deep role in our societies with a function in maintaining the structures of the society from which they emanate. It is important not to erroneously assume, when we look at the technological advancement that surrounds us, that our current era is too sophisticated for, or susceptible to contemporary myth.

The tumult of the retail investor rebellion is a case in point. There was market volatility and pain a plenty, as the short squeeze took hold in the last week of January. That said, it is perhaps an appropriate moment to distill the myth, if possible.

Let us go back in time to the hero of Sherwood Forest, whose namesake platform has been front-and-center of the retail-investor rebellion. The first thing to note is that the very myth itself has been shaped and molded over time to meet societal needs. In the more mature versions of the story that advanced into literature from the spoken word, the original English folkloric hero morphed from a dispossessed landed commoner to a dispossessed nobleman: Sir Robin of Locksley—aka Robin Hood (due to the mediaeval Machiavellian politics of the day). Such a dramatic elevation in social status alone should illustrate the need for caution when subscribing to belief in myth. Skipping past all the tales of chivalrous, do-goodery (robbing from the rich and giving to the poor), the message of the Sir Robin of Locksley version was very clear—maintain the status quo. There was nothing “wrong” with brutal feudal inequality per say, but rather that brutal inequality could be administered without additional excess cruelty. Furthermore, the myth contains a restorative element of returning the “good” nobility to their rightful place to replace the “bad” nobility who had usurped them. This was not—to be clear—a proto-Marxist revolution for peasant self-determination. After all, there was nothing wrong with the deep systemic inequality of feudalism—just in how it was administered.

Few appear able to analyze the myth and look at what the democratization of knowledge and media has meant in real terms.

So what of our contemporary myth now-dubbed the retail investor rebellion? Much has been heralded of the little guy who takes on Wall Street, representing the democratization of finance. With much of the same verve of the disruptor’s credo, we have democratized knowledge with the internet era, we have democratized media with the social media era, now onward ho! Let’s democratize finance!

Few appear able to analyze the myth and look at what the democratization of knowledge and media has meant in real terms—feudal levels of inequality achieved under the banner of “societal good”—to which Sir Robin of Locksley might say, “Bravo!”

There is nothing to indicate that the democratization of finance should be any different. The armies and casualties of every rebellion are made up of the cohorts of little guys. In our contemporary myth we can supplant the “evil” King John for the “evil Wall Street” (the shorting hedge-fund managers) and the “good” Richard the Lion Heart with the “good Wall Street” (the hedge-fund managers and investment banks financing the democratizing trading apps and platforms, along with some billionaire pundits).

The result of the rebellion in a way is academic, as it will be “The King is dead, long live the King.” In the meantime, it will be necessary to feed the myth with heroic tales of rags-to-riches retail traders. This will in turn be accompanied by tales of the wholesale slaughtering of the retail traders who mistimed their arrival on the battlefield. To support itself, the status quo needs its myth, and the myth needs its heroes.

Perhaps those who are ignorantly peddling and believing in the revolution theme should pause for a moment with some further English story telling and recall a line from John Lennon’s icily cynical “Working Class Hero:”

“But you’re still f***ing peasants as far as I can see.”

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