07/07/2014 08:40 am ET Updated Sep 06, 2014

Jack and the Bean Stocks

Once upon a time, there was a poor little boy named Jack who lived with his poor little mother in a poor little cottage on a poor little farm. (Boy, were they poor!) Their only possession was a poor little cow that had stopped giving milk.

One day, Jack's mother said to him, "You'll have to take the cow to the livestock market and sell her, so we can have money to buy food."

On the way to the market with the cow, Jack met a livestock broker. "Nice little cow you have there," he said. "I can invest it for you and make you rich."

Getting rich sounded good to Jack, so he gave the cow to the broker, who led it away and returned half an hour later without the cow. "I have good news for you," he told Jack. "Your cow has increased in value. I kept the cow as my commission and here is your profit," whereupon he handed Jack five beans.

On the way home, Jack showed the beans proudly to his friends, saying they were the profits from his investments in the livestock market. As the word spread, all the village's farmers began to invest their spare animals in the market, hoping that they would increase in value and that after all commissions and taxes--and after the animal-industry CEOs had deducted their private jets as business expenses and paid themselves enormous salaries and bonuses--there might be a few beans left over for the stockholders.

That's how the market used to work. The brokers and CEOs got rich and the Jacks of the world either lost their animals or made a few beans. Nevertheless, this whole process was pretty much on the up-and-up and at least as reliable as roulette. But times have changed. Computers have replaced the roulette wheels.

Jack's poor little mother was furious when he came home with five beans and no cow. She hurled the beans out the poor little cottage's poor little window where, to the bafflement of her poor little wits, the beans germinated, took root, and grew overnight into a huge, twisted beanstalk that seemed to reach the sky. Jack, being a boy, just had to climb it.

At the top, he stepped off onto a wide path paved with gold bricks and lined on both sides with beautiful primroses. He followed the primrose path until he came upon a huge, magnificent golden castle. As he approached, he heard a thundering voice from within, booming, "Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum! I made a killing in plat-in-um!"

Sneaking in through a missing gold brick in the wall, Jack saw a giant who was, well, gigantic, not only in height but in corpulence. (Boy, was he big!) He was sitting at a gigantic table smoking a gigantic cigar the size of a submarine, while counting what appeared to be billions of gigantic beans, but which on closer observation proved to be eggs. Solid-gold eggs. (Boy, was he rich!)

Jack summoned all his courage and shouted up to the giant, "How did you get so gigantic?" and with a glance at the eggs, added "And so rich?"

Taken off guard, the giant automatically replied, "Well, I've got this here hen, ya see? She lays a golden egg whenever I say "Buy!" or "Sell!" depending on what the derivatives algorithm in my computer tells me to do. I can move a million shares of stock in a microsecond, causing the entire stock market to rise or fall while all the little people are still trying to reach their brokers. Why, I caused the biggest crash in market history by pressing a single button. I remember it was on May 6, 2010 and . . ."

Suddenly, the giant realized that he was talking to an apparently empty room. He fell silent and began looking around for the source of that impertinent voice.

Meanwhile, intrigued by the prospect of selling a million cows in a microsecond, Jack decided that he must have that hen. He crowed like a horny rooster and the hen flew down to him excitedly. Jack grabbed her and ran to the golden path, with the giant's 3,500-bean Louis Vuitton crocodile loafers pounding close behind him. At the end of the path he jumped onto the beanstalk and began climbing down with the hen tucked under one arm. The giant tried to follow, but he was festooned with so much heavy gold jewelry that he lost his balance, whereupon the Feds deemed him too big to fall and propped him up with a no-interest loan of 7.77 trillion beans.

Back on the ground, Jack told his mother about the giant and the golden eggs. But as many times as he said "Buy!" or "Sell!" to the hen, she just would not lay. Without the giant's derivatives algorithm and his sources of insider information, Jack couldn't make a single bean.

Jack and his mother now had no milk, no cow, and no beans with which to pay the mortgage. Their poor little farm with its poor little cottage were foreclosed upon by one of the banks owned by the giant.
But before packing up for the poorhouse, Jack and his mother enjoyed a sumptuous chicken dinner.