The National Theatre kindly invited Mrs MSE and me to see David Hare’s new play, The Power of Yes. It’s a first person narrative tale of his meeting with the big players in the financial collapse as they explain what went wrong.
A meeting that ran on meant we arrived a few minutes late, but thanks to the NT’s TV screens outside showing the play, we didn’t miss too much until we were allowed in the theatre.
As we sat down the entire crisis was blamed, only somewhat tongue in cheek, on people who worked at Goldman Sachs or went to the London School of Economics (LSE).
As a proud LSE graduate and Governor of the Uni, my eyebrow raised each time that line was repeated and I wanted to jump to the institution’s defence. Then again, as a huge proportion of LSE graduates end up in the City, there’s probably a grain of truth in it.
An anti-City polemic or expose of the system?
The tone of the play did feel like an anti-City political polemic, and perhaps at some times was over complex.
Either it, or I, got a wee bit confused at one point. I’m not quite sure whether it was trying to blame those involved because they thought they could beat the market’s risk when of course they couldn’t – or because they couldn’t control the market’s risk.
Yet it did expose the deep underbelly of misunderstanding. The feeling you get is no one truly understood what was happening, but as long as they kept making money during the fifteen year record bull run no one really wanted to ask questions, not regulators, Governments, or even bankers themselves.
My favourite lines….
”In politics spending that you approve of is called investing.”
Definiton of a bubble, “intelligent people invest first, stupid people follow” (quite similar to the greater fool theory)
Where it packs a punch…
The play could be summarised in one line… ‘we geared up the world due to slicing and dicing, and split the debt so everyone feels the pain’. The whole crisis was laid firmly at the foot of the debt markets.
In the old days if you borrowed money, it was the cash someone else had saved in the bank. The profit came from the difference between what the interest depositors were paid and what borrowers were charged.
Yet here, debts were sliced up and sold to many different institutions who in turn sliced and diced again and again and again. In the end every debt was a TV screen of pixels each owned by someone else – yet with no real substance. And of course when the crunch came the whole thing went kaput.
The play was a brave attempt to turn a terse, complex subject into an obtainable piece of theatre art. Overall it succeeded, it was entertaining if a bit complex in parts, but told the story well so as, I suspect, to keep both those in the City and interested generalists happy.
So if you’ve an evening free and like high brow theatre, it’s worth a trip. And if you’ve seen it I’d love to know what you thought.