Trolling for Business


ATHENS, 9 March 2017. The Trump campaign team and its affiliated media groups are thought to be considering a major expansion of their operations in the Balkans as part of their coverage of upcoming national elections in several key European countries. The move follows the success of their early stage investment in so-called “troll farms” in the region on eve of the November 2016 US presidential elections. A cluster of tech firms run by young entrepreneurs based in the small town of Veles in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are known to have been behind the mass production of “fake news”, believed to be instrumental to the securing the Trump victory. Now, neighbouring Greece is believed to the location for the next phase of growth in the region.

It is believed that a recent poll of Greek attitudes has been doing the rounds in President Trump’s “war room” after strategic advisor and Breibart news boss Steve Bannon flagged it up as his favourite bedtime reading. A campaign insider refused to give details of the plans, but spoke extensively of the competitive advantages offered by Greece: “You leaf through this report and you start to form a picture of the typical Greek, he is your typical Trump voter. The women too. All our core values are there, and we value that bigly.”

The survey (summarised here) highlights great unease in Greece over the scale and effects of migration: over 80 percent of Greeks believe that the number of migrants in Greece over the past decade is excessive, 64.4 percent said migrants contribute to rising crime rates and 58 percent hold them responsible for growing unemployment. Less than 20 percent of Greeks surveyed would like to see undocumented migrants integrated into Greek society, with the remainder disagreeing only as to the means and speed of deportation. Although it is understood to be technically challenging to build a wall around the country’s predominantly maritime borders, campaign insiders have been keen to acknowledge that Greece was the first country in Europe to erect a fence along its land border with Turkey as early as 2011, and local leaders have made “all the right noises” in response to the recent refugee crisis. A sceptical attitude towards foreigners extends to many nationalities and ethnic groups, with the exception of Russians who score a whopping 77.4 percent approval rating.

The survey shows further evidence of alignment between the values of the Trump campaign and the attitudes of “Joe Greek”. “These guys are seriously smart,” remarked our source. “Over 80 percent have figured out that secret organisations are pulling the strings, even though three in four apparently still don’t believe chemtrails.” The enormous potential of the Greek conspiracy industry has been hinted at in many earlier studies, and has even begun to make its mark through promising local tourism and hospitality initiatives, as well as becoming increasingly influential in national politics. “Greeks have really shown the way in terms of recruiting their political talent from outside the mainstream, we learned a lot from them.”

“Initially we had some misgivings,” admitted our source, “because we had been led to believe that Greeks were fans of Big Government. But here they tell us that they are crying out for low tax, a smaller welfare state and less government meddling. They are pro-capitalism but anti-globalisation, and are coming around to the idea that the EU is an instrument of German domination. We couldn’t agree more.” Moreover, it was noted that 71.3 percent agreed with the statement that “contemporary Greek culture can influence the Western world in ways that many other countries can not.” Confidence in their brand’s global outreach is seen as a great selling point within the campaign, according to our source.

There are also more pragmatic reasons for seeking to establish a base of operations in Greece. Among the country’s competitive advantages are large and well-established informal economy sector dominated by cash and cash-like transactions, offering obvious advantages in terms of traceability of funds. In addition, experts point to an enormous untapped talent pool, in the form of idle computer-literate millennials, a product of the mass youth unemployment which has been one of the deepest effects of the financial crisis now entering its eighth year. “These kids are flying. Not only are they addicted to social networking, hate the mainstream media, they also have an inventive way with profanity which makes them ideal trolls – I mean, passionate advocates for alternative truth.”

Talent scouts are already believed to scouring the Greek internet for recruits to the new venture. A lot of excitement was generated by a youtube video released in recent days. The video features a young “troll” at work, generating a stream of personal invective on social media (“they’re on the take, the f*gg*ts, the liberals, foreign tools, slaves of the system”).

Many in Greece hastened to interpret the clip as part of a desperate political campaign by shrinking centre-left party “To Potami”, while others took it to be a clumsy ad hominem attack on actual social media activists. However, the Trump representatives on the ground have read it as a very effective pitch for business and are actively seeking to recruit the team behind it.

The internet is seen as a key battleground in upcoming electoral contests in Europe, where Eurosceptic candidates like the Front National’s Marine Le Pen in France are already being accused of recruiting Russian-inspired “internet armies” as a platform for negative campaigning and disinformation. Meanwhile, cyber experts and intelligence agencies are on the alert for Russian hacking interference in the French and German elections, as well as the upcoming Dutch polls, “as practice.” At the time of writing, Breibart News has yet to establish a base in continental Europe, in part because of robust competition from native far-right media.

IMAGE via Businesswire

DISCLAIMER: All external links are genuine, the story is entirely fabricated. If it appears on any fake news sites like last time, the joke’s on you.



Trolling for Business

Stories about the Olive, part III: Thales on Wall Street


The olive, as we have seen, can be a blessing and a curse. The decades spent investing and waiting for the trees to mature can reward you with liquid gold, precious and civilising, or they can render you hostage to a protection racket. Uncertainty is heaped on uncertainty: the trees cannot be counted to produce a good harvest every year, and when they do, you have to join the queue with your neighbours for a slot at an olive press before they start to rot.

Where there is uncertainty, there is room for speculation, and in this unlikely but culturally rich nexus, the classicist meets the financial engineer.

In his Politics, Aristotle wrote what is believed to be the first description of a financial derivative. Describing a number of “methods that have brought success in business to certain individuals”,  he wrote of a scheme devised by the philosopher Thales of Miletus (c. 624-546 BC):

Thales, so the story goes, because of his poverty was taunted with the uselessness of philosophy; but from his knowledge of astronomy he had observed while it was still winter that there was going to be a large crop of olives, so he raised a small sum of money and paid round deposits for the whole of the olive-presses in Miletus and Chios, which he hired at a low rent as nobody was running him up; and when the season arrived, there was a sudden demand for a number of presses at the same time, and by letting them out on what terms he liked he realized a large sum of money, so proving that it is easy for philosophers to be rich if they choose, but this is not what they care about.

In other words, Thales made a small downpayment to secure the use of the presses when demand was low, and cashed in during peak season. He capitalised on his unique insight on the weather to corner the market in olive presses. Aristotle’s telling has the quality of an archetypal moral fable – “it is easy for philosophers to be rich if the choose, but this is not what they care about” – that readers can easily recognise in modern popular narratives of the financial crisis, like Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, the story of the oddball traders who saw the credit crunch coming.

The economy of Aristotle’s description does not allow us to determine whether Thales invented the future or the option, a technical distinction which would have made the difference between him losing his shirt or just his deposit, had he been proven wrong in his prediction. But that distinction is not essential to the story as it is told. Thales, the philosopher speculator, the first hedge fund manager, driven by the intellectual challenge rather than by the profit motive, may have invented the fruit of good or evil: an instrument for managing the risk of unpredictable harvests, or a tool for the enrichment of the ‘enlightened’ few at the expense of the many. A tale as old as the olive groves.

Stories about the Olive, part III: Thales on Wall Street

Aunt Cassandra’s tough love: How not to pitch for business


Dear Alexander,

I hope you don’t mind that I drop the “Che” nonsense now that you’re a grown man with responsibilities. I know you didn’t come to me for advice, but I feel the need to tell you a few unvarnished truths. Your aunt Gianna came and told me she pulled some strings with her friend Mr Clinton at the Lions Club and arranged for you to pitch to him and his friends for business, and I understand it wasn’t the greatest success*. There I go, being diplomatic again! She is so embarrassed, she doesn’t know if she’ll have the nerve to attend their fundraiser tonight.

First of all, let me tell you, I’m amazed he gave you the time of day, especially given your friends’ tradition of having a loud party outside his house in Athens on an annual basis and calling his friends imperialist murderers (if he was a few eggs at Halloween he would understand, but mid-November?). It must say something about your aunt’s skills of persuasion, or maybe Mr Clinton remembers he was once a charming young rascal himself, who knows? What matters is, he didn’t owe you an invitation, you didn’t earn it, and yet by the sounds of it you managed to squander it. Not saying you should tug your forelock, but opportunities like this don’t grow on trees.

Let’s start from the basics. I know you are going to say that English isn’t your first language. You’re very good at excuses but that is not a real one. Your Italian friend Matteo is also deficient in his language skills, but somehow he manages to make it sound charming because he actually has something to say. He doesn’t just sit there fidgeting with his notes, looking shifty. He gives them a run for their money.

Did anyone tell you you were there to pitch for an investment? I’m sure your auntie will have mentioned this, she’s no fool. More to the point, do you actually know the difference between an investment and a loan, or (heaven forbid) a handout? Doesn’t sound like it, to hear your aunt describe it. Now I may just be a housewife but I watched your uncle Aristos build his used car dealership from scratch, so I think I can say I have more experience in business than you do. When the customer looks you in the eye and asks you “will this car still be running in a year?” you don’t giggle nervously and look at your shifty associates. You don’t say “that is a good question” to buy time to think up an answer, oh no. If you can’t answer that question straigthaway you have lost the customer.

Now, to the more advanced stuff. When an investor asks you if your business is sound, you don’t into a long spiel about how your cousins are crooks and layabouts and left the books in a mess, or how the bank manager is on your back for a bad loan. The man gave you an out, he said he knew the business had seen better days, he even gave a wink that the previous management (your cousins) weren’t to be trusted. Now he wants to hear what you are going to do about it. He wants you to look him in they eye and give him a straight story. So, when he asks you what the business is good at, you don’t say “this and that”, you don’t say your employees are talented and deserving. Do you even know what a business plan is? Mr Clinton sounds like he knows the business better than you do, because he actually did his homework. And he’s a proper grown-up. Imagine. I know you were able to wing it at school, but this is for real. Read my lips. He knows it’s a mess, he doesn’t want to hear excuses, he is giving you a chance to redeem yourself.

By the way, I don’t know if you realised what you were saying, but Mr Clinton got you to commit in front of his friends to put some of your own money in the business**. They don’t call him Slick Willy for nothing.

What can I say, my boy? The only blessing is there weren’t more people there to see. You are young, you will have more opportunities, that’s why I’m giving you the tough love. But I would hate to see your father’s business go under because you weren’t man enough to face up to your responsibilities.

One last thing, Alexander. I understand that these days not wearing a tie is OK (Koula says her son who has a fancy job at JP Morgan is allowed to unbutton his shirt on Fridays) but for goodness’ sake remember your upbringing and please don’t slouch!

Much love,

Your aunt Cassandra.

* On the 27th September 2015 Greek PM Alexis Tsipras participated in a Q&A with former President Bill Clinton as part of the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. The full 30 minute video is available here and is recommended viewing as a companion to this post.

** In the course of the Q&A, Clinton prompted Tsipras to commit to creating a public investment fund for startup businesses. This did not get widely reported, but was clearly intended to be on record.

More synoptic reports can be found here and here.

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Aunt Cassandra’s tough love: How not to pitch for business