Last year, I had a bunch of online acquaintances who made a lot of money during the early days of the pandemic by shorting the stock market. For some reason, I had total faith that their very simple strategy—buying puts on SPY—would work, I just didn’t do it myself. Some of the most diligent traders made six figures off like a couple grand.
This year, I have a bunch of online acquaintances who made a lot of money from speculating on NFTs. Same thing: I knew that NFTs were a hot commodity, and had access to the fora where their minutiae were being discussed, but I didn’t take the plunge and do it myself. Again, many people involved made tens of thousands, and a couple became millionaires.
And what occurs to me, thinking back on this, is that one thing about our age is that there’s always some crazy gold rush, and it’s very easy to get access to all of them, in physical terms. This means that if you’re a sufficiently risk-averse person with a degree of general intelligence, you could probably live handsomely on making bizarre one-time-only bets at odd moments in history, with some initial capital. There would be a few specialized skills involved: the ability to cozy up to weird people on Discord, unusual varieties of both credulity and skepticism, and a strong stomach. But lots of people alive could do this job, which would involve mostly lounging in an observational mode, then taking decisive, insane action at the right moment.
I suppose that this is what a ‘trader’ is, sometimes, but I’m thinking of something quite specific—a person who drifts through the world, being one big eyeball, waiting for some pocket of profitable madness to exist, then dropping everything and exploiting it immediately. The phrase that keeps coming to mind for me is ‘neo-prospector’ which is kind of lame and cringe-y as terms go, but maybe just as much as it should be.
As I write this, I realize that there are probably hundreds of people doing this successfully right now. They’re probably pretty secretive; what they do requires some degree of secrecy, or at least illegibility. I’d like to give them a chunk of my money and tell them to invest it, but they’d take one look at my follower count and the words "New York Times" in my biography and never talk to me again.
Maybe I’m doing it. If I were, I wouldn’t tell you.