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The worlds of finance and the humanities seem distant. The cold calculus and material emphasis of finance seems about as far removed as one can imagine from the inquiring, open-ended approach of the humanities and its emphasis on meaning. As I researched my book, The Wisdom of Finance, I was surprised to uncover a close correspondence between the central ideas of finance and the questions that preoccupy many humanists.
I was also struck by how many great writers and artists were tied to finance vocationally. Here’s a list of the most striking connections — in quiz form. (Answers are below).
1) This musical pioneer founded the largest insurance agency of his time and his book, Life Insurance with Relation to Inheritance Tax, became a foundational work in the field of estate planning.
2) In order to fund the purchase of supplies early in his career, this American artist worked as a cotton futures trader. Subsequently, he applied the lesson of futures trading – the act of selling goods one has yet to procure – in his artistic career.
3) This pioneer of the English novel railed against The Villainy of Stock Jobbers and considered trading stocks a “trade founded in Fraud, born of Deceit, and nourished by Trick, Cheat, Wheedle, Forgeries, Falshoods, and all sorts of Delusions.” Regardless, he managed a few financial shenanigans himself as a trader and went bankrupt from transactions that included the purchase of 70 prized civet cats and the imprudent writing of shipping insurance. Ultimately, he led the campaign for changing bankruptcy laws that resulted in the first modern bankruptcy law that allowed for relief for debtors.
4) This Greek philosopher is credited with creating the first options contract by paying deposits that gave him the right to rent out olive presses. During the subsequent olive growing season, he profited handsomely from acquiring these rights.
5) This poet spent eight years at Lloyds Bank during a critical phase of his life. Ezra Pound viewed the ultimate success of this poet’s masterpiece as “clear proof of restriction of output, due to enforced waste of his time and energy in banking.” But, the poet considered banking “very interesting and important” and his wife claimed that “he is extremely interested in finance, and I believe he has a good deal of hitherto unexpected ability in that direction.”
6) This philosopher repeatedly employed insurance in his work to emphasize the importance of experience and declared “we are all insurance companies”?
7) This poet saw no disconnect between his day job in insurance and poetry declaring: “Poetry and surety claims aren’t as unlikely a combination as they might seem.”
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8) This musician ridiculed those who think artists shouldn’t be interested in business and finance: “There’s this sick fascination with the dead artist, the broke artist, the drugged-up artist, the artist who blows all his money on drugs …This is a game people sometimes play with musicians: that to be real, to be authentic, you have to hate having money or that success has to feel like such a burden you want to kill yourself. But whoever said that artists shouldn’t pay attention to their business was probably someone with their hand in some artist’s pocket.”
9) This author drew upon his own experience selling funeral insurance when he depicted insurer Erskine Fowler in Savage Holiday.
10) After joining Assicurazioni Generali, this novelist wrote “The whole world of insurance interests me greatly.” He was viewed as “an excellent drafting clerk,” was promoted repeatedly and authored various industry pieces, including “Fixed-Rate Insurance Premiums for Small Farms Using Machinery.”
- Charles Ives
- Jeff Koons
- Daniel Defoe
- T.S. Eliot
- C.S. Peirce
- Wallace Stevens
- Richard Wright
- Franz Kafka