Extract from Waiting for the Etonians

Published in today’s Observer

Two years after the Great Crash of 1929, the American journalist Frederick Lewis Allen looked back on the Jazz Age of the 20s as if remembering a dream. The daring flappers, abandoning their corsets and lifting their skirts “far beyond any modest limitation” and the swaggering investors, who “expected the Big Bull Market to go on and on”, ought to have been fresh in his readers’ minds. But Lewis knew that the bank failures and mass redundancies of the Great Depression had made the recent past utterly foreign. The optimism brought by prosperity was now as far away as a distant star. Wondering what to call his book, Allen hit on a title which was also a reminder, Only Yesterday

After a deluge, nothing seems as remote as the day before it came. The 30s and the 80s have more to say to us now than the Britain of 18 months ago. For this generation to think about what it was like before the Great Crash of 2008 will take the same mental wrench as the 30s generation needed to see back before the Great Crash of 1929. Only yesterday, level-headed young couples took mortgages of four or five times their joint incomes to buy hutch-like apartments in streets estate agents described as “up-and-coming” and their friends described as “scary at night”. Only yesterday, City dealers in nightclubs threw handfuls of notes in the air for giggling girls to catch as waitresses marching to the theme tune from Rocky brought £500 bottles of vodka and methuselahs of champagne to their tables. Only yesterday, Her Majesty’s Government encouraged speculators from every part of the globe to settle in London by so under-regulating finance capital that NatWest bankers and media moguls involved in scandals as notorious as the Enron affair of 2001 and the collapse of Conrad Black’s empire in 2003 could not be brought before British courts. American prosecutors took the alleged fraudsters to the US for trial, and confessed that Britain’s lenient treatment of serious crimes baffled them. They did not understand that only yesterday politicians and civil servants had boasted that the City’s economy was booming because of their “light-touch regulation” of speculators whose number included potential swindlers. As a few of us noticed at the time, the politicians and civil servants never went on to argue that the inner-city economy might boom if the authorities applied a similarly light touch to the policing of the slums whose inhabitants included potential drug barons.

After the crash, Americans trying to find their bearings could at least hold onto the thought that George W Bush’s right-wing government presided over the bubble. As was to be expected, it did not intervene when sharks more interested in pocketing commissions than the principles of reputable lending sold millions of Americans mortgages they could not hope to repay. The Bush administration, like Herbert Hoover’s Republican administration in 1929, believed that the market knew best and did not worry when financiers offered derivatives of such obscurity no one understood their risks. The conservatives’ neglect made ideological sense. All of the great crashes occurred under politicians who accepted laissez-faire, such as Hoover, or politicians the moneymen corrupted, such as the Georgian oligarchs of 1720 who took the bribes of the South Sea Company.

Until yesterday, that is, when Britain broke the mould. When the bubble reached its peak in the summer of 2007, Texan oilmen and former investment bankers did not govern this country. Nor were our leaders enriching themselves with bribes from the City. The British dreamed their dream under a relatively honest, social democratic government, many of whose members had been fiercely sceptical of finance capital.

Read the whole thing here

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6 Responses to “Extract from Waiting for the Etonians”

  1. How I Almost Single-handedly Topsy-turvied the
    European Banking System
    and Grew to be the Most Hated Individual at Bahnhofstrasse 45
    in Zürich, Switzerland…

    Jean-Paul Sartre, my “spiritual” father and one of my most appreciated philosophical mentors, once speculated that Life is absurd. The more I advance in age, the more I find myself chuckling at the ridiculousness of human nature and the members of this species which never fail to provide me with oodles to laugh at and even cry for. And my twenty-one years in the north of Northamerica, my one year in the south of Southeast Asia, my eight years in the south of Northamerica, my eight years in the north of Southamerica, and now my twenty-five years in the south of Europe, have altogether given me an astonishing perspective of my favourite object of learning.

    Remember the early months of 2001 when the DotComBubble was hissing its eventual demise, and thousands upon thousands of pensioners, investors, stockholders, and whomever were being apportioned a trauma that could somehow be contrasted with the heinous aerial attacks that were to come in September? Remember the panicking? Was there some sort of association between these two devastating occurrences? Had the DotComBubble been fed a bunch of funny money/laundered money/dirty money to such an enormous extent that stock exchanges all over the world had no choice but to halt the 1929-like insanity which was threatening the very survival of the Capitalistic System? Were the assaults in New York and Washington some kind of fluke vendetta and not the workings of a well-entrenched “terrorist organization” bent on conquering the world?

    Very shortly after the horrendous acts of violence perpetrated on 11 September 2001 on one of the most prestigious pillars of the Capitalistic System and the biggest bunker in the world, Bush I, ex-Skull & Boner, ex-Congressman, ex-ambassador to China, ex-CIA director, ex-ambassador to the United Nations, ex-President of the United States, appeared on one of right-wing Italian Silvio Berlusconi’s television news programs (telegiornale), and hugging the diehard demagogue, let us know that SB was Bush I’s friend, quod erat demonstrandum, a chum of the United States of America. SB gloated and bloated. Bush I, the first stupid one and father of the second stupid one, Bush II, strained his smiles. After that, off he went.

    The next day, the Corriere della Sera reported that the night before Bush I, on a private jet, had flown from Milano to—you guessed it!—Lugano, Switzerland, one of the most-visited pirates’ coves for secret banking in Europe and that pet place of moneyed, naughty Italian business people.

    Miraculously inspired, I put 2 + 2 together and came up with 4. I did not, as thousands upon thousands of untrustworthy Italian businessmen and businesswomen did, put 2 + 2 together to come up with 7 or 11! The United States’ government realized from the start that it had to trace the sources of this shattering paroxysm in the Capitalistic System, and Swiss bankers were “softened” to be “persuaded” to empty their bags with the goods (secret bank account numbers and figures)—and all of them! Not only would a huge investigation begin to smoke out the executors of the 9-11 tragedy, a more considerable attempt was to be made in order to stall a possible collapse of Milton Friedman’s most prized fantasy. Much was at stake, and we all know that no holds were barred. The United States’ reaction was so vulgar, one had to construe that something more dangerous was going on—even more perilous than the causes and effects of the heartbreaking deaths of three thousand people in The Big Apple. The post-9/11 vocalizations by Bush II were filled with venom and revenge, and partially revealed to the whole world the spiteful instincts of the once somewhat respected nation. Later, actions would speak louder than words.

    Italy, as usual, laid silent, almost asleep. No one picked up on the connection between the Bush I squeeze on SB and the minutely-printed blurb about the air travelling of Bush I to Schweiz. In fact, at the time I reminded myself that Italians read less newspapers than the citizens of any other country in Europe, and fifty percent of the homes in The Boot, the focolare domestico of Dante Alighieri, possesses not one book! How could Italian businessmen and businesswomen be hip to the extraordinary shakings up in process at the time? Someone had to tell them. Somebody had to reveal to them the sudden enlightenment that had befallen me from out of the blue. I volunteered.

    I try to be noble. It is not easy. I have performed many acts of nobility in my life, and I am as proud as punch about them. It would not be thorny for me to be dignified at the drop of a hat. I am used to being so. My idea was simply this: To inform the off guard Italian business moguls, sono furbi, of the threat to their patrimonies, and rather than become a “co-conspirator” to their acts of profound stupidity, I would impress them with the fact that in returning their moolah to the Republic of Italy they would enjoy sleepy nights, contribute to the efficacy of their nation’s economic reputation, and help to instil in their fellow countrymen the sense that—as JFK (Ted Sorensen!) would have said—they should ask not what their country could do for them, but what they could do for their country. Wishful thinking. (When I told this story to chief accountant Giuseppe Rovelli, on trial for his alleged participation in Italy’s infamous PARMALAT scandal, his eyes bulged and, before he had changed the subject, GR flashed a very wry smile my way!) One day I feel like Robin Hood! Another day I feel like Zorro! I have never had so much fun! My dear reader, don’t you envy me?

    As they say in the Suisse Alps, a “snowball effect” ensued and rather than following my advice, the characters who had indicated to me that they had secret accounts in Svizzera and those that I had suspected had, started transferring their goodies not to Italian depositories, but shifted them to other furtive bays located both in Europe and around the world. I was truly disappointed. The billions and billions of these thousands and thousands of unlawful hoarders were to remain ex patria and would never see the light of their just beginnings. What is worse, the connivers passed the word to their compatriots in the four corners of the globe—birds of a feather flock together!—and an enormous “transmission hemorrhage,” a “run” as they used to say, afflicted banks, mostly Swiss, throughout Europe and the world. (Have you ever seen the Alka-Seltzer complexion of Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank?) All of this…Enough! Enough!! Enough!!! Stop! Stop!! Stop!!!

    Will someone please nominate me for
    the “£$%&/^ Nobel Prize for Economics
    and get it over with!

    Authored by Anthony St. John in Calenzano, Italy
    The Ides of March
    MMVIII

    * * *

  2. Let’s see- potters’, srocptuls’, printmaker’s studios; galleries and other venues with paintings, stained glass, handspinning/weaving; handcrafted chocolates and wine; museum special events/exhibits like Brazos Valley Natural History Museum’s Booneville Days and George Bush Library and Museum’s The Heart Truth Red Dress Collection .And don’t forget about Downtown Bryan’s Art Step on Friday- it’s just the beginning of a fun weekend exploring the arts in this area!

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