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Communications of the ACM

Letters to the Editor

Contribute More Than Algorithmic Speculation

Letters to the Editor


Jacob Loveless et al.'s article "Online Algorithms in High-Frequency Trading" (Oct. 2013) is an example of potentially valuable research misdirected. Ask any proponent of free-enterprise economics to explain its merits, and you will likely hear two themes: Profit motivates, and profit accrues by producing and selling valuable goods and services. The first buys the producer a bigger piece of the pie; the second increases the total size of the pie, thus raising, at least on average, the economic status of all. It works, most of the time, quite well.

Unfortunately, there are also many ways to profit while producing grossly inadequate, zero, or even negative economic value. Some of us are drawn to such schemes, so much so they work much more diligently at them than at a productive enterprise. To the extent this happens, free enterprise is undermined. Like printing counterfeit money, it works only if a minority does it, and even then, at the expense of everyone else.


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