A Preview of Alpha Status: A Non-fiction Novel
0: Preface: Your Premises
This story is unlike anything you’ve read before. It doesn’t conform to the usual archetypes of a character-driven saga or a prettily flowing novel. Neither does it bore you with a string of soporific facts or dry historical anecdotes found in typical nonfiction prose. Instead, it exists somewhere in the nebulous realm between reality and fiction, borrowing the best bits of both to weave a narrative that reflects a grander truth about the world in which we live. And the topic of this book is one with which we are all intimately familiar, yet often tragically ignorant: money.
But before we dive into the heart of the story, let’s establish the premises of this journey you’re about to embark upon. The first thing to note is that I’m your protagonist in this sordid and salacious tale. I am a wildly successful hedge fund manager who also happens to be ridiculously handsome. Still on the fun side of forty, I have a spectacular penthouse in New York, a bespoke private jet, and a never-ending gaggle of drop-dead gorgeous women nearby to keep me company. I’m suave, smart, and successful, and I know it. I also know there’s no sense in denying those truths or attempting humility because life is too short for such prevarication. I make a metric crapton of money for my clients, my employees, and for myself, and then I spend that money on whatever pleases me. I’m one of the highest-performing moneymen in a ruthlessly competitive world, and I do what it takes to defend the turf that I’ve carved out for myself. I have everything I want and then some, but I possess none of the guilt that plagues other wealthy elites because I’ve earned every penny of my success. I’ve studied hard, learned from the best, worked my ass off, and I have no qualms about reaping the success that I’ve sowed.
In short, I am the billionaire playboy that other billionaire playboys wish they could be.
Much of this story is, therefore, about sharing with you how I became so magnificently successful. It’s about passing along my knowledge and recruiting an eager pupil in this wild journey that I’ve enjoyed thus far. I’ve plunged into the murkiest depths of capitalism and emerged from the other side as a master of the universe, which, in turn, has led me to some of the most unbelievably fantastic experiences a person can fathom.
But there’s a tradeoff to be made. In return for sharing with you some of my deepest thoughts, my most intimate moments, and the treasure trove of secrets I’ve learned about the world, I must take away something else to keep the balance. In exchange, there are things that you must not know, and will never know. That is my bargain.
First and foremost, you will never know my name. It’s not that I don’t have a name; I do. It’s just that it will never be revealed to you. For our purposes, I am merely your anonymous narrator, a private partner in this splendid recollection. My company has a name, too, but you will never know that either. Moreover, you will never know the exact location of my home, my office, or various other facts about my identity. And that’s the point: we hedge fund managers may be masters of the universe, but we prefer to perform our financial wizardry in the shadows. In our business, trade secrets and informational edges are what keep us alive and ahead of the curve. It’s in our nature to be cagey.
It should also be noted that I’m a fictitious character, which should go without saying, given that this is a novel. For better and worse, I am but a mere figment of my author’s imagination. Or so he would have you believe anyway. Perhaps I am an amalgamation of real people who are too shy, too secretive, and too private to have their real names attached to something as incipient as a modern fairy tale. Perhaps my journey is the creative reembodiment of actual events, actual people, and actual examples from the dizzying world of high finance and uber-wealth. Perhaps there are things in this story which parallel reality a little too closely, and it’s best for everyone’s privacy to have the events depicted herein swept under the rug of blissfully anonymous memories, and then chalk them up to the fanciful imagination of my author, an unassuming nobody, who has never worked in finance or written a book before. Perhaps there is more truth to this tale than reality would like to admit.
The next premise which you must understand is that, even though this is an ostensibly fictitious novel, there are many facets of it which are decidedly factual. Even though the plotline and the characters may be figments of imagination, the underpinnings of the story are based on a reality that is sometimes stranger than fiction could ever be. Anything that appears cited in the rest of this text is a legitimate citation. The bibliography of citations at the end is all genuine—just as they would be in any well-researched nonfiction text—and I encourage you to follow up on any and all of them, to judge their veracity, and to learn more about the wild world in which we live. They include eye-opening news articles, books, academic studies, and other informative resources on the worlds of capitalism, money, hedge funds, and everything else I choose to share with you.
Ultimately though, I suppose it doesn’t matter what the ratio of fact to fiction is, or how the two are blended together in the ensuing pages. And it doesn’t matter whether I’m a fictitious character or not, because the other way to read this book is to acknowledge that I’m merely the vessel to deliver a message. I might be the protagonist and narrator of this story, but I cannot rightfully claim the main role. The main character is money, that ethereal substance which we all vaguely know yet fail to understand.
Money shapes us, defines us, and controls us, even someone as rich as me. Each and every one of us is limited by how much money we possess. It simultaneously shackles us and liberates us. It exhibits the extraordinary quality of being able to transmute itself seamlessly between its incarnations as physical matter, digital electrons, and—perhaps most importantly—metaphysical notions inside the flighty heads of the people who wield it. Money is a complex and paradoxical topic, and understanding it isn’t always intuitive.
Money is also a taboo topic for many people. And that is unfortunate, as it seems that a greater transparency and willingness to discuss something so vital to modern life would necessitate more open discussion. Rest assured that this taboo—and others—will be ignored.
The early parts of this story will touch upon my status as a billionaire, followed by a brief history of money, and a lesson in how we came to be where we all are today. And as we progress toward the end, and as your understanding of money becomes more complex, I’ll share with you the more specific ways in which I’ve made my fortune and created my charmed life of undeniable envy.
There are two more premises which you’ll need to adopt before we can dive further into the story. The first is that capitalism is the savior of modern civilization. And the second is that most people are idiots with their money.
The former shouldn’t really be up for debate, as it’s closer to historical fact than opinion. Capitalism is the greatest invention of the modern era, and it provides the ideological bedrock upon which our civilization has thrived. But that’s not to say that the tenets of capitalism haven’t been tested. The latter half of the twentieth century saw the world engaged in a global Cold War that threatened to extinguish all life on Earth with nuclear Armageddon. At its core was a conflict between communism and capitalism, an ideological battle between the adherents of Karl Marx and the disciples of Adam Smith. The war was fought by the two major victors of the Second World War and their respective allies, and it lasted from the enactment of the Truman Doctrine in 1947 until its eventual end in 1991.The communists, led by the former Soviet Union, fought for global superpower dominance against the American-led capitalists, with each side holding their proverbial fingers on the buttons of thousands of nuclear warheads that threatened to wipe out all of life on Earth. And even though the most vivid memories of the Cold War were flashpoint proxy conflicts, such as the Vietnam War, the Korean War, or the Cuban Missile Crisis, the root cause of the entire multi-decade, blood-soaked, civilization-threatening debacle was the fact that people couldn’t decide how they should earn and spend money.
Of course, we all know that the good guys won. Capitalism, and its sibling “democracy,” emerged victorious from the Cold War and ushered in the era of global prosperity and widespread peace that we all enjoy today.
And what a wonderful world it is. Despite so many of the world’s sensationalized news agencies espousing their Malthusian reports of doom and gloom, the world has made tremendous progress in the last half century. A quick look at some global statistics reveals this greater truth. The number of nuclear weapons peaked in 1986 with approximately 70,000 warheads, and has steadily fallen to around 14,000 by 2020.The share of hungry people in the world has also declined precipitously, with 28% of the world’s population facing malnourishment in 1970, a number which has decreased by more than half to 11% in 2015. The rate of HIV infections has also been on a steady decline, with a peak of 549 new infections per million people in 1996, and less than half of that—241 per million—in 2016. Solar panels have seen a scarcely believable price drop, from an average of $66 per watt-peak in 1976 to less than $0.60 in 2017, and they continue to fall. And the list goes on, from the percentage of children dying before their fifth birthday, to life-saving advances in medical care, to the number of people dying from natural disasters, to plane crash deaths, the world is improving in beautiful and incredible ways.
And in some form or fashion, all of these glorious improvements can trace their roots to capitalism—or, more specifically, to certain incentive structures created by a world that embraces a competitive free-market capitalist operating system. Capitalism is ruthlessly efficient, highly meritocratic, and gives the world the empirically verified ideological platform to prosper in myriad ways. So please remember that fact, as it is the most important premise of this book.
The final premise is one that flies in the face of the previous one with a certain degree of laughable irony: most people are moronic fools with their money. In an age when capitalism has been adopted by more countries around the world than ever before, and has created unprecedented wealth for billions of people, the average person is remarkably clueless when it comes to matters of finance. Let’s look at some of my fellow Americans, the citizens of the last remaining global superpower and the historical leader in free markets and capitalist enterprises. According to the National Capability Study by the quasi-governmental institution FINRA, (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority,) in 2016, nearly two-thirds of Americans could not calculate a simple interest payment question, such as, “If you take out a $1,000 loan with a 15% interest rate, how much will you owe per year in interest?”And nearly one-third openly admitted that they didn’t know how to calculate a problem like that. In total, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic financial literacy test. And, as one might expect, the least educated are the ones who are the most financially illiterate, with only 19% of high school grads possessing basic financial knowledge, compared to nearly 65% of Americans with graduate degrees. And the fallout rippled through society, with more than 800,000 Americans having declared bankruptcy in federal courts during the bull market year of 2016. That worked out to more than 2,000 people per day—or more than 91 people per hour—becoming financially insolvent.
But the phenomenon also extends to wealthy people who could, and should, pay someone else—a financial planner, a fiduciary, or a hedge fund manager like myself—to manage their millions. I’m compelled to point out that many professional athletes are about as financially intelligent as a bag of rusted hammers. For instance, 78% of former NFL players go bankrupt or find themselves under severe financial stress within two years of their retirement.NBA players aren’t much better, with 60% of them ending up broke within five years of retirement. Or more broadly, about 70% of people who suddenly come into wealth—either through lottery winnings, inheritance, pension payouts, business sales, or some other fortuitous windfall—end up broke within a few years. It’s mindboggling to me how irresponsible people are with money. Everyone loves money, so why not learn how to manage it correctly? Why not learn how to make money grow rather than squander it all away? If I can teach you, at minimum, how to reconceptualize money, and manage it a little more responsibly than what you’re currently doing, then I will have done my job.
In addition to the educational imperative, the other half of this book represents a slice of the life that money can buy you. Palatial penthouses, private jets, fine art, and the company of the most beautiful people in the world are but a sampling of what one can expect to receive as a billionaire. Salaciously entertaining adventures, interpersonal drama, and other conflicts along the way are bonuses.
This book is, therefore, a mix of fact and fiction, education and entertainment, sage financial wisdom, and unapologetic playboy fun-time, all over the course of a year. Importantly, however, the pacing of the story is non-linear. By necessity, the story starts slowly, as you are gradually acquainted with basic financial literacy and pertinent background facts of my life. Once an adequate foundation of knowledge is built, the story’s timeline moves more quickly.
Each chapter is written to you, dear reader, as if it were a letter to a close friend. And, as a close friend, you will be exposed to equal doses of high-finance wisdom and lowly locker-room talk. So, for those who are overly sensitive snowflakes with an irrational fear of the written word, this is your warning: turn back now.
But for those who dare venture into the pages that follow, you will receive rare and envied insights into the brave new world of contemporary uber-wealth. I hope you enjoy the journey.
Your Anonymous Narrator
Steadfast Champion of Capitalism
Chapter 1: Goodbye, Hello
Money and hot pussy. Those are the two things I love most in life, and I am inundated with both. Like most people on this precious Earth, I can’t in good conscience deny what I’m naturally predisposed to enjoy. It would be a great disservice to my inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness to reject the things which give me the most joy. That’s my prerogative as a free and law-abiding citizen of the United States of America. And I would encourage anyone to follow his own heart, to get as much of whatever it is that one desires, so long as it doesn’t break the law or explicitly harm other people. This is one of the basic codes by which I’ve lived my life, and one that has served me well.
The pursuit of wealth and women has given me a life of envy, pleasure, and unparalleled happiness. And, as such, I possess a galaxy of memories which I recall with a certain retrospective fondness. For instance, there was the threesome I had with two Sports Illustrated swimsuit models in the shallow turquoise waters of Turks and Caicos, our bodies entwined in weightless bliss and rocking each other with each successive wave crash. Or there was this one particularly tantalizing session in the sex dungeon of a Dutch dominatrix, which still sends a shiver down my spine just thinking about it. Or one of the many trips to the mile-high club in my private jet, lost in ecstasy more than 35,000 feet above the ground.
But on that particular day in which I remembered my good fortune, the experience had been comparatively vanilla. But that’s not to say it wasn’t a most pleasurable affair. After all, who can complain when waking up to see a gorgeous Brazilian model sleeping beside you? Her name was Natalia, and she was a fine specimen. I recall the faint scent of her perfume lingering in the air while her slow, quiet breaths emanated from her lush, perfect lips. I had just woken up and glanced across to the other side of the bed, where she was lying prone, naked, and with her head resting peacefully on one of my Eliasa Eiderdown pillows. My pearl white top sheet rose to the small of her back, while a ray of early morning light snuck through a gap in the curtains to illuminate her bronze body and flowing chestnut hair.
The previous night had been our first time together, and it had been a masterpiece of sexual artistry. I was Picasso, my bed was the canvas, and she was my brush. I can still recall how her endless legs wrapped themselves around me and squeezed with a desperate intensity, while her moans echoed throughout my penthouse. It was the inaugural session of a blissful congress that I suspected would be repeated many times in the future.
But this was a new day. It was 7:14 a.m., which meant I had already slept in and I needed to start my routine. And that meant Natalia had to go.
“You need to leave, my dear,” I whispered into her ear. It was a shame to part ways with such a beautiful specimen, but there was something special on my agenda that day. And while making money is special in its own right, that wasn’t what I had in mind. It was a Saturday, and most of the markets were closed. I still needed to check the after-hours positions on a number of active trading strategies that were in play, but that wasn’t what gnawed at the back of my mind.
“Mmmmm, why can’t we sleep in? It’s the weekend,” Natalia complained, with her eyes still shut in protest. She had an adorable accent. It was slight yet distinctive, and a perfect reflection of her exotic nature.
“Because I have shit to do.” I gave her naked back a gentle stroke with my finger, reminiscing in the memory of her divine physicality.
She rolled over onto her side and righted herself in my bed, now awake, and with her sprightly breasts exposed and facing me.
Goddamn, she’s stunning, I thought.
“Are you sure?” she asked, coyly. She shot me a seductive glance, inviting me closer with her emerald green eyes. “I’m sure we could think of something to do together before we leave this bed.” It was a tempting offer, and for a second, I considered it.
“On any other day I would. But not today,” I reluctantly admitted. “My driver is waiting for you downstairs with a hot coffee and some breakfast. He’ll take you wherever you need to go.”
I stood up and walked over to the chair where I had flung her dress last night. It was a pretty little thing, with sparkling gold sequins. I fetched the dress, unfurled it, and tried to smooth out some of the creases with my hand.
I offered her the dress, ushering her out of my bed with my eyes. She accepted with grace and shot me one more seductive smile before slinking out of bed. She stood up and gave me one last visual souvenir of her toned, naked body before slipping into her dress with a quick shimmy of her hips.
“Can you do the zip for me, please? It’s a bit awkward to reach,” she said, as she turned to show me her back.
“Of course,” I replied, having just donned one of my cashmere robes. I approached her and enjoyed one more whiff of her perfume before gently zipping her up. It was a perfect fit on her, hugging her body from top to bottom before stopping just below her mid-thigh. A provocative slit down the left side teased my gaze, and for a split second, I felt tempted to rip it off of her and throw her back on my bed for another round.
“Thank you,” she said, before walking to the west side of the bedroom to fetch her shoes. I walked to the east side to retrieve her bra, which was hanging from a painting.
“Didn’t you forget to put something on before I zipped you up?” I asked, as I held up the black, lightly lined, lace bra on one finger.
She walked over to me and grabbed the bra, which she then casually wrapped around the high heels in her other hand before swinging the trio of articles over her shoulder like a rucksack. “Nope. I’m Brazilian, and we never wear more clothes than we need to.”
“‘Leave as little to the imagination as possible’ is the Brazilian national motto, right?”
“Of course. If you’re young and beautiful and have a great body, why not show it off?”
“I couldn’t agree more,” I said.
I opened the bedroom door and gestured her out. Out of habit, I pulled out my phone and started checking the latest market positions as we walked downstairs toward my private elevator. Along the way we picked up her purse, which she had left on one of the kitchen counters next to a half-finished glass of vodka soda, and her jacket, which had been folded neatly on one of the barstools.
Natalia turned to me and asked, “So will I see you again? I had a rather good time,” she admitted, with just the faintest blush appearing on her cheeks.
I took my eyes off my phone and looked at her. “I imagine so,” I said with confidence. “I have your number, and my assistant will be in touch.”
And, as if on cue, my elevator arrived with a ding and opened its doors to welcome Natalia into its embrace, and out of my penthouse. I gave her a quick kiss goodbye and waited for the doors to close before beginning my day in earnest.
It was, after all, a special day.
Links to Purchase:
1 The end of the Cold War is defined either by the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November of 1991, or dissolution of the USSR a month later. Details on Wikipedia’s entry for the Cold War: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_War
3 Gapminder.org. “32 Improvements.” https://www.gapminder.org/factfulness-book/32-improvements/ The data are also presented in the book Factfulness by Hans Rosling on pages 60 to 63 of the English version.
7 FINRA. “National Financial Capability Study.” 2016 version of the study. http://www.usfinancialcapability.org/results.php?region=US
8 Mitchell, Olivia S. and Lusardi, Annamaria. “Financial Literacy and Economic Outcomes: Evidence and Policy Implications.” 21 May, 2019. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2568732
9 National Bankruptcy Forum. “How many people filed for bankruptcy in 2016?” 14 December, 2017. http://www.natlbankruptcy.com/how-many-people-filed-for-bankruptcy-in-2016-2/
10 Torre, Pablo S. Sports Illustrated. “How (And Why) Athletes go Broke. 23 March, 2009. https://www.si.com/vault/2009/03/23/105789480/how-and-why-athletes-go-broke
12 National Endowment for Financial Education, as reported by Ilana Polyak for CNBC. “Sudden wealth can leave you broke.” 1 October, 2014. https://www.cnbc.com/2014/10/01/sudden-wealth-can-leave-you-broke.html