Donald Trump, grade level, and your financial writing

TrumpDonald Trump’s appeal has surprised many observers of presidential elections. Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore his presence. Part of his appeal rests on his use of plain language, according to a recent article. That’s something financial professionals should note because of its implications for your writing.

Trump speaks at a fourth-grade level, according to “For presidential hopefuls, simpler language resonates,” which appeared in The Boston Globe. The newspaper calculated the grade level of presidential candidates’ announcement speeches. Lower grade levels use fewer characters and syllables per word, as well as shorter sentence lengths.

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Elections and Financial Stability

When Hillary Clinton unveiled her proposals to assure financial stability earlier this month, few people bothered to notice. Nonetheless, one central piece of legislature Clinton proposed to increase trust of the everyday investor in our financial markets, a “tax on the high-frequency trading that makes our markets less stable and less fair,” has potentially far-reaching consequences. The Clinton proposals elicited 550-something comments on Bloomberg, with criticism coming from the usual suspects. We are all acquainted with a contemporary practice whereby political operatives stuff “comments” sections with their talking points and completely flood the exchange between the readers.

Heretofore, I took notice only when Larry Harris, a highly respected expert on market microstructure and the author of a seminal textbook, Trading and Exchanges: Market Microstructure for Practitioners, suggested that “any tax on high frequency trading firms’ trading activity will increase the cost of trading for retail investors and for pensions that serve retirees.” In the preface to my 2009 book, Microstructure and Noise in Financial Markets: Rigorous and not-so rigorous results in market microstructure, I quoted his testimony to the US Congress as a model explanation of market microstructure to the laypeople.

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Book Review: The Downfall of Money


I still remember a conversation with Pat Hyland, Chairman of Hughes Aircraft, when I was director of their pension fund investments. Pat recalled being in Germany in the early 1920s, seeing people with wheelbarrows filled with paper money. This lasting memory prompted his concern to protect the pension fund from inflation. In Germany to this day, the hyperinflation era continues to influence government fiscal policy and attitude. Frederick Taylor's The Downfall of Money: Germany's Hyperinflation and the Destruction of the Middle Class recalls that financial crisis, and how it affected the public.

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Book Review: The AIG Story


The AIG Story is corporate history, and the first look at confidential company information. Maurice Greenberg's driving force created what became the world's largest insurance company. When he left AIG, it had $ 1 trillion in assets, and $ 11 billion net income. This is one of the most dramatic success stories in American corporate history.

My view of the story is tempered by having read two similar books by CEOs, for whose companies I worked. At times, I reported directly to one of the CEOs. I know enough about both of them to know something of how they operated—the dark side as well as the sunny side. But despite this caveat, The AIG Story is well worth reading, and instructive.

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