Volume 33, Number 2

Birds in Flight

In paneled offices and basement rooms,
investors hunch over keyboards
clicking mice and tapping keys.
Markets plummet surge back up
then plummet again. The VIX soars.
They labor in fear beneath the shadow
of the black swan flying.
Or so they think.

In tiered rooms all over the world,
racks of servers click and whir
at near light speed computing the demands
of mainframes set to run by algorithms.
Constantly building out of thin air
nanosecond by nanosecond
structures of the mind
called quantitative models.

They are not swans, either black or white.
But a vast murmuration of starlings
swerving, swooping, trapped in feedback loops
of groupthink driven by similar goals:
turning zeroes and ones into dollars.
Theirs is the power to cripple companies,
bankrupt funds, turn pensioners into paupers.
Starve children in Africa and the Middle East.
Their shadow turns day into night.
Their excrement burns leaves off trees.

And in the end times, they prepare the way
for their dark brothers, the vultures,
waiting in the wings
to inherit the earth.

—Steven Beauchamp