Lionel Shriver Artsnight


Lionel Shriver

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This programme contains strong language.

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Derivatives, boiler rooms subsidiaries. Zombie banks. It seems

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as if people have been speaking a different language ever since the

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credit crunch, which sounds like a chocolate bar. But it was not sweet.

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Brokers had been gambling with instruments so complex that no one

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seemed to understand them. But this much I got. When you alone and money

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to folks who will never pay it back, -- when you lend money to folks who

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will never pay it back, there is no money. Millions lost their jobs,

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trillions famished from the world economy and the story tyrannised our

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TV screens. But they vanished. Economic had got interesting all

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right. All too. Writers like me had largely ignored matters financial in

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boom times but we now had to find a way to contend with complex fiscal

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theory. That challenge has been taken up across all the arts.

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Villains in the drama our bankers and hedge fund managers. What is the

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point of having that many if you never say at! And plots of novels

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focus on underwater novels and banking regulations. If the price of

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sugar goes back up it is worth something and you can sell it to

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make money. If when younger eyes burned economics for an interest in

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the arts, know the answer interested in economics. We dabble in athletics

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and rip the cover away from a sector that might have preferred to hide

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and reputation of donnas, Mike Burks under a rock -- like bugs. I am

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Lionel Shriver, welcome to my Artsnight.

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For most of my life, economics was a big bore.

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Unemployment, inflation and currency market variations put

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Anyone from the world of money seemed a dreary,

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I used newspaper business sections to clean my

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woodstove and I would have used them to line kitty litter trays

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At 52, I was mobilising my resources to buy my first home.

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But with the global economy under siege,

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I could no longer expect the banks to protect my life savings.

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It was dangerous to trust any bank with a

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deposit that exceeded the amount guaranteed by the government for

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It is being called the worst day for Wall Street since

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Our financial infrastructure had grown unstable,

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like a Chinese high-rise built with low-grade cement.

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Now money matters had my attention all right.

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Money is worth what people feel it is worth.

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They accept it in exchange for goods and

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services because they have faith in it.

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Economics is closer to

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Without millions of individual citizens

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believing in a currency, money is coloured paper.

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I became curious about how other writers have tackled these complex

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matters. Many in the novel, it's an incredibly important theme in the

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19th century, Jane Austen was fascinated by it, Charles Dickens,

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Thackeray, Tolstoy, Balzac you could argue was almost exclusively about

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money and then it all goes away from the novel and in the 20th century it

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is as if there was the division between serious novels, it is almost

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as if they were defined by not being a bad money from Henry James on. It

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is difficult to understand why it has gone away, it is actually almost

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easier to understand it has come back. John Lanchester is one of

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several current authors who explore the themes and play in the of

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finance. -- at play in the world of finance. His novel Capital was

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recently adapted for television. We have seen some strange patterns,

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levels of volatility when we crunch down are not correlated with the

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underlying movement of our assets. It is looking as if we are moving

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away from anything we can simulate using historically -based

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algorithms. And Chester's fiction is informed by his grasp of a complex

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world. He also writes nonfiction like Had His Big-money. My father

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worked for a bank. Somethings who are involved in, like the credit

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crunch, synthetic credit, and things like that, they are just

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complicated, there is no way round it. But I think there is also a

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communication gap and it is useful to some of the people on the inside

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of finance that week, the outsiders, do not necessarily understand. I do

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think that something has gone seriously badly wrong in the way in

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which it doesn't serve society, social utility, what it does for us

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is highly questionable, and a lot of the time actively toxic. Toxic

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indeed. But how can writers hold bankers to account? This is a

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question with which Irish author Paul Murray has grappled in his new

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novel, The Mark And The Void. I felt part of the reason the crash

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happened, it was so destructive, the arts really had not addressed very

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fundamental things that were happening in the Western world. This

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had been in the pipeline for 25 years but the arts had gone, that is

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the banking world, it is boring, just a bunch of suits. And it is

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true, because they had this cloak of boring mess over them, books and

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movies, they kind of ignored this enormous build-up, this collision of

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power that has been happening in the world of finance. Like very, very

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reckless use of other peoples money that has going on. So when I sat

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down to start a new book, I felt, this seems like the most important

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thing to write about. It seems that if you are not writing about this

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huge leap in inequality that is happening, then what are you doing?

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I came to the same conclusion. S instead of writing a novel about the

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recent past I turned to the near future. Far from being deathly dry,

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to my surprise, economics has grown apocalyptic. The Mandibles describes

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not terrifying totalitarian future like George Orwell did but and

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economic dystopia. The USA in 2029 is burdened by unsustainable social

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spending and old people like me. -- on old people. The illusion of

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wealth is that you can buy what you want, he tells them, which it can

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but only if you want, like, a pretty dress. You don't want address. You

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want not to be old. Maybe you want to be still a famous writer and you

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cannot buy that either. There are no more famous writers. You want the

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thicker hair in your old snapshots. You pretend that you don't but you

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want people to like you. You want not to get cancer. What threatens

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everything that is important to you is not currency depreciation or

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economic collapses your own collapse. Other than being able to

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pick up a nice bottle of wine or maybe a chicken, you cannot buy

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anything you want. But it is not only we novelists

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dabbling in the black arts of finance. The dramatists are getting

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in on the act too. Lucy Prebble came to prominence with the award-winning

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2009 play, Enron, which lifted the lid on corporate mismanagement. I

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don't like taking losses right now. She has been looking at how theatre

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has sought to demystify what Thomas Carlyle called the dismal science.

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You know how, in a movie, when the genius starts scribbling

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equations frantically, trying to solve some

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unsolvable problem, he always does it on a window.

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As if he can't possibly find a calculator or even a piece of

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That's not because great mathematical discoveries happen on

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It's because the movie is terrified of boring you.

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But theatre does not need to do any of that

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In Enron, we made finance entertaining using song and dance

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numbers, vaudeville, and even light sabre battles.

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The raptors represented real financial instruments the

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Back in 2009 the stage was taking aim at those who caused the crisis.

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So now it is down to theatre a game to look at the effects of the crash,

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and particularly the effect of austerity. I am at the Almeida

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Theatre in leafy Islington where they are producing a new play called

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Boy about a disenfranchised youth called Liam. The play charts the

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progress of a young boy on a 24-hour odyssey across London. You reckon we

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all look the same! You're right. It was written by Leo Butler. We

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started our careers together at the Royal Court. Hello, Leo. I love Boy,

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I think it is a wonderful play. It made me think of the economy and

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money and this nothingness at the centre that we all ranging ourselves

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around. And everyone in the play is under economic pressure, every

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character you meet and they might be able to deal with it better than us

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that there is one central figure who has slipped through the net and has

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no support whatsoever. Have you a valid ticket! Some of us pay our

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fares. There's no need to be so rough with him. No one is being

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rough. What is your name? It's only a train ticket. It's Liam. What do

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you think, in your play, many represents? We all need money to

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function. And if you don't have it, then you cannot function as a human

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being. And Liam cannot function as what we know as a human being and

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even though we can see him on the outside, just a kid wearing a

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hoodie, or whatever, there is someone there, although he might not

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realise it himself, someone who is being corroded, emotionally,

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spiritually, psychologically, because of the absence of economic

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stability. Social stability. And we do now live in the world, exactly as

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you say, where just having money gives you access to basic things,

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not fancy things, being able to use a lavatory, enter premises, you have

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to pay for something. It is a different environment. Two things

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audiences find surprisingly, two moments, one where Liam finds it so

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hard to get from south-east London to Oxford Street. It is a huge jenny

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because if you don't have the money you cannot get there. He ends up

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accosted at the train station because he doesn't have a ticket and

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the other point is when some body drops a chicken box on the floor and

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he picks it up and it said. You say, you doesn't have any money to even

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buy a little bit of food. I think people found it quite shocking.

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What does it feel like to be in an audience at the Al media when there

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are punters who are millions of miles away from that experience?

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What effect does that have on them? I think it is great, giving them an

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experience of seeing the world through someone else's eyes who is

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from a different financial and social set of circumstances. There

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are always people that come to the play and don't like it for whatever

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reason, but the response we have been getting, Liam's experience,

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even if it is alien to them, they are going into the street, saying

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they are seeing the world differently. They are looking at

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kids like him differently and that is all you can ask and I think that

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is important that the core audience comes to see it. Let me end. Get

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lost. I've always thought theatre is by far the best art form, to look at

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issues of money. Because theatre is based on illusion, it is public,

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social, and it insists that we suspend our disbelief about the

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blatant use of metaphor in front of us, which is not 1 million miles

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away from economics. At the heart of many of these plays, universal

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themes like abuse of power, betrayal and read. The invisible hand opens

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this week at the tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. You have something of

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value, do not throw it away. I joined the Pulitzer prize-winning

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dramatist in rehearsal. We will write to them, to my company, but

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not after you kidnapped me. Nick uses his knowledge of the financial

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markets to connect with his captors. What? That does not mean I'm not

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still worth something. Do you? I have a theory that money is

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interesting in drama, never because of just money, but because of what

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the money represents, which is different from story to story, what

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do you think the money represents in The Invisible Hand? That is a great

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point, money is the ultimate cipher and it can stand in for power and

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sexuality and status. The play begins with the notion of money as

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evil but over the course of the play the corrosion... The corroding power

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of money begins to affect everybody, liberalism capitalism is a religious

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and ology. -- analogy. It has the hallmarks of that, a way of seeing

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the world which is not based on fact, the capacity to move

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individuals and nations to action. And the sort of occasion of this

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grand abstraction which we could call God or the economy where

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individuals performed their daily sacrifice for the well-being of this

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large abstracts in which we follow and we believe it's well-being is

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more important. Just because you can't get what you want one way does

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not mean you can't get it another. I'm listing. -- listening. Just a

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month ago, I had a meeting with emerging markets at UBS. What is

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that? Union Bank of Switzerland. Their operation is ten times bigger

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here in Pakistan than Citibank, I was in talks to go to UBS and they

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began to pay me a lot more money. How much? Seven figures. For what?

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Serin greedy Pakistani 's how to Rob their own people? -- showing. I'm

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worth a lot more to you. I engineered a trade which made $20

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million. Do you have a background in finance? My dad when I first moved

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to New York in my early 20s, he said if you read the Wall Street Journal

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every day I will pay your rent. I did not go into finance, but I ended

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up learning a lot about it. I have been following it ever since. When

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you are dealing with such complex ideas, how do you as a writer

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managed to work in a way which means an audience member who knows nothing

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about the subject will understand it? My approach is a writer is that

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audiences will respond and as long as they understand on a human level

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what they are seeing, two characters, one is trying to take

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something from the other or one is trying to hide something or one is

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trying to enlist the help, as long as the core actions are clear, the

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audience will follow, and if they don't understand certain things,

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they are OK with that. I recognised a difference in the prices of wheat.

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It was pretty drastic, nothing to do with agriculture, just an

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abnormality in the distribution and when I was in understanding of it I

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was able to take advantage of by creating instrument for people to

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use in Pakistan. An instrument? Do you feel a connection with Nick, the

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kidnapped banker, in your play? There is a lot of money concerns at

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the moment, money is not amoral. It is on us to make capital work. It is

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not on capital. Nick is really just a member of that amoral class. He is

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not an immoral person, but he functions in accordance with the

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rules of capital which are not human. I don't like you and I will

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never like you, you are a heartless greedy person and I think the likes

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of you are better off dead. Why are The Invisible Hand and others on

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stage? These plays wrestle with the human themes under the numbers and

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although they can't provide all the answers, theatre is still for me the

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best way of holding money to account.

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It is 8am, and the London stock exchange has added a touch of

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glamour this morning. Damian Lewis is not only opening trading but is

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here to launches new TV series which has been a major success in the USA.

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Billions would have been unimaginable 44 2008, a hit show

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about the regulation of the market. -- unimaginable before 2008. If they

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pull their 1.2 billion, it could go public. We have got to keep it low

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key. Who is more low-key than me? Did you have a very strong reaction

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to the near fiscal collapse in 2008 yourself? Yes, and that is the

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reason I'm doing Billions, directly as a result of that. My investments

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went down 30% in the space of 30 days, that was a concern. I don't

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have as many as people in a building like this, but I had some of my

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children's education in it. I wanted to know what had happened and why

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seemingly these CEOs of the big banks and the FTSE 100 companies did

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not know what had happened and even more worryingly that people did not

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seem to know the names of the instruments which had been developed

:22:33.:22:36.

in order to make these bets. Not even the names, much less what they

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were. What they did, what they were, no one clearly knew what a directive

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was and how far it could be derived from its original source, deep into

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the maze. Infinitely. That is why I think Billions is timely. It is part

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of a trend which includes The Big Short, too big to fail, and of

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course the Walford Wall Street. -- Wolf of Wall Street. This latest

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offering pits a charismatic but on sleepless hedge fund manager against

:23:25.:23:27.

a crusading yet conflicted US attorney. You know about? Your daddy

:23:28.:23:35.

has a little place out there, he must let you use the bedroom some

:23:36.:23:43.

weekends. Walk away. I should. The viewer is likely to be torn? Yes,

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I've already had... Who the viewer wants to win? Yes, to destroy the

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other man, how far will they go? Do you find this world exciting? Yeah,

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I do. Does that surprise you? No, no. I actually think it is

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fascinating. The breadth of knowledge of many of the people that

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work in this world is to be admired. They directly dialled in to what

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makes the world go around as they tap numbers into screens and either

:24:29.:24:35.

make or lose hundreds of millions of pounds each day. This is a show

:24:36.:24:40.

which wants to explore the financial world, the nature of ambition and

:24:41.:24:47.

the nature of regulation or no regulation and I think that is the

:24:48.:24:54.

core at the heart of the story. Drama may rely on fictional heroes

:24:55.:24:58.

but the financial world has produced some real if unlikely heroes, as

:24:59.:25:02.

well. Next month Netflix will launch

:25:03.:25:06.

a new documentary which describes long history of economic crises

:25:07.:25:08.

from which we have never learned. This film is about the Achilles

:25:09.:25:12.

heel of capitalism. How human nature drives the economy

:25:13.:25:15.

to crisis after crisis Presented by Monty

:25:16.:25:17.

Python's Terry Jones, of distinguished economists,

:25:18.:25:28.

one of whom saw it all coming. In the 1960s, 70s and 80s,

:25:29.:25:33.

the economist Hyman Minsky proposed the financial

:25:34.:25:36.

instability hypothesis. For someone to write about financial

:25:37.:25:41.

instability in the late This is a period, at least

:25:42.:25:44.

on the surface, which was the most financially stable period

:25:45.:25:50.

the United States had ever had. And so it did not seem

:25:51.:25:53.

like what he was saying was relevant But the producers have found a novel

:25:54.:25:57.

way to resurrect his voice. So, Hyman, first thing,

:25:58.:26:19.

why do you think your predictions of a financial crisis went

:26:20.:26:21.

unheeded for so long? It is comforting to think

:26:22.:26:27.

that the market will always tend towards equilibrium but it simply

:26:28.:26:31.

is not true. But it is uncomfortable

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for politicians looking to secure votes or placate bankers, to admit

:26:34.:26:44.

that they are on the precipice Hyman Minsky's is a bubbles

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in three stages. The hedge participants

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are first in line. # What they say will make our debt

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pays the interest on their debt # The second stage

:26:59.:27:01.

involves some speculation # Speculators borrow

:27:02.:27:06.

cash to buy more shares # And as long as the market rises

:27:07.:27:11.

there are no nasty surprises # But when it falls it

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takes them unawares #. Hyman, I have to ask,

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what happens next? I can only imagine that the circle

:27:18.:27:26.

of financial instability will start all over again,

:27:27.:27:28.

as the market appears to stabilise, people will become more confident

:27:29.:27:31.

and begin to take bigger risks, no matter what measures

:27:32.:27:34.

are put in place. The neoclassical economics model

:27:35.:27:35.

will eventually trigger another And now I must bid you farewell. I

:27:36.:28:07.

hope you've enjoyed our Artsnight. To play us out, here's a number from

:28:08.:28:11.

Boom Bust Boom. # Where forever blowing Bubbles,

:28:12.:28:17.

pretty bubbles in the air # They fly so high, nearly reached

:28:18.:28:20.

the sky # Then like my dreams they fade and

:28:21.:28:26.

die # Fortune is always hiding, we've

:28:27.:28:32.

looked everywhere # Where forever blowing Bubbles

:28:33.:28:43.

# Pretty bubbles in the air # We are forever blowing Bubbles,

:28:44.:28:52.

pretty bubbles in the air # Pretty bubbles in the air

:28:53.:28:59.

#.

:29:00.:29:03.

After detailing the impact of a financial meltdown in her new novel The Mandibles, Lionel Shriver asks why economics, once seen as a difficult subject for fiction, has become one of the most exciting and apocalyptic subjects for writers, artists and filmmakers.

Lionel speaks to Damian Lewis, star of Sky Atlantic's Billions, about the realities of playing a hedge-fund manager, talks to writers John Lanchester and Paul Murray about the challenges of turning economics into literary fiction, and meets the makers of a new documentary presented by Terry Jones, Boom Bust Boom.

Playwright Lucy Prebble makes the case that theatre is the best medium for exploring the subject, profiling current productions Boy and The Invisible Hand.


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