How To Speak Money by John Lanchester

81ktD70D5kL ‘The City of London is a robber baron’s castle. Its glory comes at the cost of the desolation it causes.’

How To Speak Money is a companion piece to the same author’s Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone And No-One Can Pay, an illuminating look at the credit crunch which explained how – and this was almost never heard in any of the debates during the disaster – capitalism worked just fine right up until the point that it didn’t. Once the free market ceased to function, state intervention on an unprecedented scale was required just to ensure that we could get money out of cash points and there weren’t riots on the streets. However, once taxpayers worldwide had propped the system up, the attitude of financiers was: ‘Well, just let us carry on, we know best.’ Communism for the super-rich. Now, for fun and instruction, John Lanchester offers us a Devil’s Dictionary of terms from Abenomics to Zombie bank. For example, Mortgage: ‘Literally, “dead pledge”, and if it were called that maybe more people would think twice about getting one.’ Here he is on Deregulation: ‘The idea behind deregulation was that markets could do a better job of regulating themselves than regulations ever could. It has been comprehensively disproved by the events of the credit crunch.’ Presenting a top 10 league table of the world’s kleptocracies – Haiti (number 6) Indonesia (number 1), etc – based on how much, say, the Duvalier or Suharto regime expropriated from their country’s collective wealth ($300-800 million and $15-35 billion, respectively, since you’re asking), he suggests the British royal family could be included for its historic non-payment of taxes. ‘If we accept that line of argument, then the number 8 spot on the list belongs to “UK, Windsor, $500 million”. Just saying.’ And how about this one? All the gold in the universe comes from the inside of exploding supernovas. Cool. Gold is also not as good a bet as it’s cracked up to be, by the way. Lanchester is, however. In an afterword, he provides grounds for financial optimism and points to alternatives to our current neo-liberal economics, low taxes, erosion of the state and so on. He’s really not keen on the City. His novels are good too. Worth investing.


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