How James Grant got into business journalism
James Grant, the editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer and a Barron’s columnist, talked with Eric Wallach of The Yale Politic about how he got into business journalism.
Here is an excerpt:
When you first started working on the financial desk of the Baltimore Sun, you were regarded as having a “dead-end” job. That sounds pretty funny. When you passed down the halls, were you given weird looks?
Working on the financial desk of the Baltimore Sun was so uncool that people did not even bother to look scornfully. This was the age of Woodward and Bernstein, of Watergate, the Nixon impeachment, and the Nixon resignation. The only thing to do at a daily paper was to win the next Pulitzer Prize by exposing the next political scandal. That was the one and only career path.
But it was also the time of the bourgeoning inflation of the 1970s and the time of great monetary drama and financial markets drama. I was not really aware of the portentousness of the 1971 decision by the Nixon administration to abandon the Bretton Woods system, which entailed exchanging dollar bills for gold at a rate of about $35 per ounce of gold. Any central bank in the world could say, “We have enough dollars, thank you. We would like their equivalent in gold from Fort Knox.” That was a constraint on Nixon’s domestic, fiscal policy-making ambitions, so he and his treasury secretary, John Connally, decided to just ditch the American commitment and make that exchange. But this was a little bit in the background. I was only peripherally aware of just how important Nixon’s decision was at the time; I certainly was not as well-read in the things that I’ve become better-read in now.
But my qualification for this dead-end position was having spent exactly 7 months on the bond desk of a New York Stock Exchange-member firm called McDonnell & Co. When I got out of the Navy, it was February of 1967. I was going back to school in September, so I had some time to earn some money. I went to Wall Street and got a job as a clerk at this firm. I sat there in this room helping my bettors transact in large sums of money, in the millions of dollars, and watched others make in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This was quite unexperienced.
I had studied economics in college. So, my economics degree plus, mind you, my career on Wall Street qualified me as the Warren Buffett of the newsroom. People kind of smiled and said, “Yes… that’s a very well-qualified fellow.” I had no idea at the time how little qualified I actually was, and I think my financial editor, Jessie Glasgow, quickly understood my lack of qualification. He was very indulgent with all my foibles and pretenses. I’m very grateful to him.
Read more here.