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The financial sector’s “salaries and bonuses” attract “many of our country’s best young mathematicians and physicists”—these talented graduates’ education “has been paid for mostly by either government funds or university endowments”, but activity related to what securities prices are doing “within a nanosecond time frame” adds “little to the financial system’s ability to perform any of its economic functions”.

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Hi, Andrew,

The financial sector’s “salaries and bonuses” attract “many of our country’s best young mathematicians and physicists”—these talented graduates’ education “has been paid for mostly by either government funds or university endowments”, but activity related to what securities prices are doing “within a nanosecond time frame” adds “little to the financial system’s ability to perform any of its economic functions”.

I don't understand the connection between the first and the second part of your sentence, but I'll focus on what comes after "but." I'd say the activity because it is restricted by a reduced relative clause (that is related to ...) and the prices of securities. Plural nouns are not good attributive modifiers.

1: Which "connection" are you referring to? And what's the confusion?

I don't understand the connection between the funding of graduates' education and the scarce economic use of certain financial gains, if I get it right.

2: Is the bold grammatical, would you say?

No. My impression is that you need to make the changes I suggested.

Andrew, I have read the article and now that I've reread the sentence in question, what I find really awkward is the use of "doing." I think you should rewrite the subject, that is, whatever comes before "adds":

[...] activity related to what securities prices are doing “within a nanosecond time frame” adds “little to the financial system’s ability to perform any of its economic functions”.

What do you mean by "activity related to what securities prices are doing "within a nanosecond time frame"?

Last edited by Gustavo, Co-Moderator

The financial sector’s “salaries and bonuses” attract “many of our country’s best young mathematicians and physicists”—these talented graduates’ education “has been paid for mostly by either government funds or university endowments”, but activity related to what securities prices are doing “within a nanosecond time frame” adds “little to the financial system’s ability to perform any of its economic functions”.

Hi, Andrew—Like Gustavo, I had trouble understanding your sentence. I couldn't even make sense of it when I read the part of your blog with the sentence. I had to read the part of Friedman's article to which your sentence relates. Then things started to make sense. I think the sentence needs revision.

As I see it, the main problem is that the central contrast in the second sentence, which lurches out of the first with an erroneous em dash, does not lie in contrast to the first independent clause of the second sentence, despite its being connected to it with "but."

That is, security-price activity has nothing whatsoever to do with the funding of talented graduates' education; so it makes no sense to speak of how their education was funded and follow that with (paraphrasing) "but security-price activity contributes little to the financial system's economic performance."

Why not delete the part about how their education was funded, since it's irrelevant to the contrast that is central to your paragraph? Also, why not mention the types of firms attracting these young whizzes? Perhaps you could say something like this:

  • Friedman points out that firms' use of the labor of recent graduates in mathematics and physics to create computer technologies that exploit micro-departures in security prices contributes little to the health of the economy; they lure these great minds in with financial perks and effectively waste their talents.
Last edited by David, Moderator

I have to confess that I have a mild case of OCD; it's not THAT bad or anything, but it's to blame for this whole issue with this sentence, since I only created this awkward sentence to avoid the word "micro-departures", since the hyphen in that word appears at a line break, which means that I can't tell whether Friedman intended a hyphen or not. I know that that's irrational; OCD is an irrational phenomenon.

But that's the genesis of this awkward sentence, so I'm just explaining why I'm in this mess in the first place.

Last edited by Andrew Van Wagner

I think that the bolded contrast is supposed to make the point that the US taxpayer pays for people to be educated in order to do nothing of social value:

The financial sector’s “salaries and bonuses” attract “many of our country’s best young mathematicians and physicists”—these talented graduates’ education “has been paid for mostly by either government funds or university endowments”, but activity related to what securities prices are doing “within a nanosecond time frame” adds “little to the financial system’s ability to perform any of its economic functions”.

What if I just did the bold?

The financial sector’s “salaries and bonuses” attract “many of our country’s best young mathematicians and physicists”. These talented graduates’ education “has been paid for mostly by either government funds or university endowments”, but these talented minds—who have been educated on the taxpayer dime—engage in financial-sector activity that adds “little to the financial system’s ability to perform any of its economic functions”.

And I might've made an error; is the bold taxpayer-funded or am I wrong about that?

The financial sector’s “salaries and bonuses” attract “many of our country’s best young mathematicians and physicists”. These talented graduates’ education “has been paid for mostly by either government funds or university endowments”, but these talented minds—who have been educated on the taxpayer dime—engage in financial-sector activity that adds “little to the financial system’s ability to perform any of its economic functions”.

Another issue; saying "engage in financial-sector activity" is a nebulous phrasing that clouds the meaning, since Friedman merely gave one narrow example of such activity, whereas referring to "activity" could mean that it's 100% of what they do.

I'm not sure what Friedman mean on the % front; what % of the activity that these smart people do is useless? Friedman gives one narrow example about "micro-departures".

I have to confess that I have a mild case of OCD; it's not THAT bad or anything, but it's to blame for this whole issue with this sentence, since I only created this awkward sentence to avoid the word "micro-departures", since the hyphen in that word appears at a line break, which means that I can't tell whether Friedman intended a hyphen or not. I know that that's irrational; OCD is an irrational phenomenon.

But that's the genesis of this awkward sentence, so I'm just explaining why I'm in this mess in the first place.

The problem with the sentence lies in its imprecision, in its not expressing the thought that you are trying to express with it.

I think that the bolded contrast is supposed to make the point that the US taxpayer pays for people to be educated in order to do nothing of social value:

The financial sector’s “salaries and bonuses” attract “many of our country’s best young mathematicians and physicists”—these talented graduates’ education “has been paid for mostly by either government funds or university endowments”, but activity related to what securities prices are doing “within a nanosecond time frame” adds “little to the financial system’s ability to perform any of its economic functions”.

The "but"-clause would make sense if it expressed that idea. Unfortunately, as you have written it, it does not express that idea at all. The second sentence says, "That's how their education was funded, but this security-price activity does little good." There is no clear relationship between the two clauses.

What if I just did the bold?

The financial sector’s “salaries and bonuses” attract “many of our country’s best young mathematicians and physicists”. These talented graduates’ education “has been paid for mostly by either government funds or university endowments”, but these talented minds—who have been educated on the taxpayer dime—engage in financial-sector activity that adds “little to the financial system’s ability to perform any of its economic functions”.

That's much clearer.

Last edited by David, Moderator

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