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Opinion
Matt Levine

NYSE Needed Some Pretend Traders

Also Robinhood, 1MDB and Saudi Arabia.

The New York Stock Exchange is a big building in New Jersey where computers trade stocks with each other. In this it is like all other modern U.S. stock exchanges, which are also big buildings in New Jersey where computers trade stocks with each other.  

But unlike the other exchanges, NYSE is a data center with a keen sense of its history. There are six buttonwood trees planted outside its big building in New Jersey, a subtle callback to NYSE’s 1792 founding under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street. And NYSE still owns its big fancy classical temple at 11 Wall Street in lower Manhattan, and it still has human floor traders who show up to work every day to mill around on the trading floor and provide pleasing background footage for business television shows. Oh fine, fine, fine, the floor traders also trade stocks, but really the computers could do that themselves; the real purpose of the Corinthian columns and the trading floor and the traders in their jackets is mostly to create a simulacrum of a stock exchange that is legible to humans watching stock-market shows on TV. “The company touts the 30 media outlets on its trading floor, and the building’s iconic neo-classical facade, as reasons to list there.” You wouldn’t want to film a markets show from the data center in New Jersey. The computers would just hum quietly, and you’d never get them to cheer at anything you say.