Lionel Shriver Artsnight

Lionel Shriver

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This programme contains strong language.


Derivatives, boiler rooms subsidiaries. Zombie banks. It seems


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


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


Brokers had been gambling with instruments so complex that no one


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


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


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


trillions famished from the world economy and the story tyrannised our


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Lionel Shriver, welcome to my Artsnight.


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


Unemployment, inflation and currency market variations put


Anyone from the world of money seemed a dreary,


I used newspaper business sections to clean my


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


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


But with the global economy under siege,


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


It was dangerous to trust any bank with a


deposit that exceeded the amount guaranteed by the government for


It is being called the worst day for Wall Street since


Our financial infrastructure had grown unstable,


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


Now money matters had my attention all right.


Money is worth what people feel it is worth.


They accept it in exchange for goods and


services because they have faith in it.


Economics is closer to


Without millions of individual citizens


believing in a currency, money is coloured paper.


I became curious about how other writers have tackled these complex


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


away from anything we can simulate using historically -based


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


fundamental things that were happening in the Western world. This


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


not terrifying totalitarian future like George Orwell did but and


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


everything that is important to you is not currency depreciation or


economic collapses your own collapse. Other than being able to


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


anything you want. But it is not only we novelists


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


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


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


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


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


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


equations frantically, trying to solve some


unsolvable problem, he always does it on a window.


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


That's not because great mathematical discoveries happen on


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


But theatre does not need to do any of that


In Enron, we made finance entertaining using song and dance


numbers, vaudeville, and even light sabre battles.


The raptors represented real financial instruments the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


spiritually, psychologically, because of the absence of economic


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


from a different financial and social set of circumstances. There


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


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


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


they are seeing the world differently. They are looking at


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


grand abstraction which we could call God or the economy where


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


best way of holding money to account.


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


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


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


Billions would have been unimaginable 44 2008, a hit show


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


offering pits a charismatic but on sleepless hedge fund manager against


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


well. Next month Netflix will launch


a new documentary which describes long history of economic crises


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


heel of capitalism. How human nature drives the economy


to crisis after crisis Presented by Monty


Python's Terry Jones, of distinguished economists,


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


the economist Hyman Minsky proposed the financial


instability hypothesis. For someone to write about financial


instability in the late This is a period, at least


on the surface, which was the most financially stable period


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


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


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


why do you think your predictions of a financial crisis went


unheeded for so long? It is comforting to think


that the market will always tend towards equilibrium but it simply


is not true. But it is uncomfortable


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


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


in three stages. The hedge participants


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


pays the interest on their debt # The second stage


involves some speculation # Speculators borrow


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


there are no nasty surprises # But when it falls it


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


what happens next? I can only imagine that the circle


of financial instability will start all over again,


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


and begin to take bigger risks, no matter what measures


are put in place. The neoclassical economics model


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


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


Boom Bust Boom. # Where forever blowing Bubbles,


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


the sky # Then like my dreams they fade and


die # Fortune is always hiding, we've


looked everywhere # Where forever blowing Bubbles


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


pretty bubbles in the air # Pretty bubbles in the air




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