I am not the only one who wondered if the stock market “jitterations” Thursday were caused by an act of computer terrorism. Like a lot of people apparently, I pondered whether the theoretical fat-fingered trader sitting at his desk deliberately applied a fat finger to the wrong key to cause mayhem in the markets.
But it doesn’t matter really whether fat fingers, clumsy or deliberate, were or were not the cause of the 1,000-point stock plunge. The threat to capitalism is upon us, and it doesn’t have much to do with a typo. When the anomaly occurred, some of the super-fast computer systems that pounce on such deviations of the norm whirred into action, impervious to electronic checks and balances. Billions of dollars were lost and made in a matter of a minutes.
The Obama administration is investigating the “unusual market activity” with a focus on the disparate rules of the various trading platforms. Congress also wants a review of the selloff. The event may hasten action on financial reforms. The government powers investigating the event might find out that the computer trading systems were in fact tricked into responding by a big bank or hedge fund or some other financial terrorist looking to make a killing.
But whatever the discovery — or remediation — that comes about as a result of the May 6 stock crash will pale beside what could be in store. At some point, it will occur to many people that the super-fast computer systems that pounce on anomalies, whether governed by effective or ineffective rules, are in the hands of a few. The means of production of very big profits are controlled by a very rich few. And when that reality sinks in, Marx my words, many middle-class working schmoes like me who pay taxes, keep up with mortgage payments and invest a portion of their bonusless salaries to fund their precarious retirements will decide that this capitalist game has run its course.