Day: November 4, 2014

Ephahs, Hins, and Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys

“You must have accurate scales and accurate weights, an accurate ephah and an accurate hin (1 gallon)” (Leviticus 19:36).

If you read that verse carefully, you should have a couple of questions. Here are mine:

1) What’s an ephah and a hin? 

2) Why does God care so much about accuracy (4 times in 1 verse)?  

3) What do ephahs and hins have to do with the book Flash Boys?  

Great questions.  In order,

1) An ephah is about 20 quarts. A hin is about a gallon. That knowledge should help you sleep better tonight. You can probably forget those numbers. I can’t remember them and I teach the Old Testament.

2) God values accuracy in scales, weights, and measurements because he wants his people to trade fairly. God is concerned about justice.  Let’s say you’re doing the milk run, looking to buy a hin of milk for your family.  But if the person you buy from has an inaccurate measurement and only gives you 3/4 of a hin, then a member of your family may go without milk on their Honey-Nut Cheerios tomorrow.  The milk seller profits from an unfair market mechanism.

3) While the complexities of the US stock market and high frequency trading are a bit more complicated than a barter system involving hins and ephahs, the same principles apply.  God is concerned about justice. In Flash Boys (2014), bestselling author Michael Lewis tells the story of a group of Wall Street traders and technicians who are attempting to create a fair exchange (kind of like an accurate hin).  Their exchange (IEX) is designed to prevent predatory high frequency traders (HFT) from skimming profits from investors who are simply looking for a fair price on a commodity, whether selling or buying.

You are probably familiar with Michael Lewis, and have probably seen a film or two based on one of his books.  I’ve read and would highly recommend Liar’s PokerThe Blind Side, Moneyball (he’s written a bunch of other bestselling books, but I haven’t read them).

Lewis is a great writer and story-teller. Here is what Malcolm Gladwell (see my review of David and Goliath here) says, “I read Michael Lewis for the same reason I watch Tiger Woods.  I’ll never play like that.  But it’s good to be reminded every now and again what genius looks like.”

If you’re turned off by f-bombs, don’t read this book. I don’t think the title is particularly interesting, engaging or provocative, but I guess if you’re Michael Lewis you probably don’t need to worry too much about catching people’s attention with a title. The book gets a bit too technical at times, but I still found it hard to put down. If you are interested in fair markets, you’ve got to read this book.

If you like Goldman Sachs, be warned that they start out looking like the villains, but you’ll be relieved to know they repent by the end.

Hopefully, we will hear more about IEX Group, the “Flash Boys” who revolted on Wall Street, as more trades get directed to their exchange.  To watch the visually fascinating 3.5 minute animated video about the exchange they created, click here.  This book should be made into a movie.