As a teenager, I hoped to enter the liberal professions through passing exams, but what if I didn’t pass the exams? I could end up in a no hope job like my Dad’s. I needed to find a way of making money without working for wages. The answer was betting on the horses. At Cambridge I had capital for the first time (grant/scholarship) and developed a statistical method for betting. I doubled my income that way and never took money from my parents or had a paid job as a student. In Ghana for doctoral research I found a reliable way of winning on the horses, but adapted to the slum economy by receiving stolen goods, money lending and the drugs trade. I made so much money it was embarrassing. I had always been a socialist, but this experience taught me that I knew more about money and markets than my new neighbours. The informal economy came out of that.
I have since worked in 24 countries, always combining academic jobs with journalism, development consultancy, publishing and gambling. The last evolved into global financial markets, including today. My work in economic anthropology was shaped indelibly by betting. Life can be a positive sum game, not just a zero sum game that we are bound to lose. I learned that we have to take markets, but also can make them. Being a player in the money game means more than whether you are a net winner or loser and unites financial traders and street gamblers at different scales. In 2007, at a conference, I was asked why I became an economic anthropologist; I replied “I want to save my family from the financial holocaust that is
building under your noses if you only knew how to look”.
As in my youth, I only bet on things I know very well, mainly money exchanged for money. Did you know that daily turnover in world FX markets is $6 trillion? I made a Faustian contract that if I could learn about money, I didn’t mind if don’t make much. My biggest challenge has been to navigate the collapse of the neoliberal credit boomnow. I can’t be sure that my family will survive what I call “The Greater Depression”. I read a lot, but hazarding my own money in financial markets is how I learn about the world economy. I hope I don’t lose my shirt in the process, but I have been practising since I was 12 and my wife and daughters are well cared for.