All most amusing

The growth of modern capitalism is being charted at the National Theatre in London in the swashbuckling, immigrant-entrepreneurial tale of the Lehman brothers. They sold overalls in 1850s Alabama, bought farmers’ raw cotton to sell to factories, diversified into coffee, rail and oil, and finally gave up on solid objects to deal only money.

In the final moments of the play the last family board member (40 years before the financial crash) prophesies that the next stage in banking is to exploit credit, “break the barrier of need” and make buying as routine as breathing: “Anyone can buy anything, and everything is a bargain!”

And so the mass-consumption society was born, and skidded all the way to the modern subprime mortgage crisis.

Well, no. Actually, entirely the wrong way around. Lehman went bust – truly, properly, bust – as a result of investments in real assets. Property in the Inland Empire if memory serves, but it might not. The bank run, the subprime mortgage crisis, these were to denouement, not the cause.

So this stuff that everyone knows about what happened is entirely, wholly, wrong. Which is going to cause certain problems when people try to apply the lessons, isn’t it?

19 comments on “All most amusing

  1. The growth of modern capitalism is being charted at the National Theatre in London

    I’m sure it will be fair and balanced.

  2. Anyway, this is what happens when you have State-subsidised culture. The ‘artists’ put on what they want, not what the public wants.

  3. What does it matter? No-one but no-one will be heading down to the National Theatre for a night of entertainment at Lehman Bros the Musical. It’ll play to half empty seats & some “concerned” Guardian types. And the RockyHorrorShow wasn’t big on historical accuracy either. The annoyance is, as Rob says. The taxpayer will be paying for it. Look at it as another nail in the coffin of the subsidised arts. Tolerance for this sort of shit is becoming thinner & thinner.

  4. Incidentally, going on your link, the article was written by fat ageing BBC bint Libby Purvis. It’s been a fairly reliable guide for more decades than can be counted that anything’s caught the attention of Libby Purvis is best ignored

  5. ‘So this stuff that everyone knows about what happened is entirely, wholly, wrong. Which is going to cause certain problems when people try to apply the lessons, isn’t it?’

    It’s not really about Lehmans. The lesson is that capitalism is bad. Yes, when that is applied, millions will die.

  6. The rocky horror show doesn’t need historical accuracy it needs to be amusing. And it is. Still popular decades on from when it first came out.

  7. Just looked at the headline which is just *so* stupid.
    It isn’t a question of poverty, but of credit risk.
    If you are high-risk of defaulting, like Argentina, you have to pay more than a poor but honest country like Latvia (more than ten times as much).
    I should rate (always have rated) any bond issued by a Trump company as D- but I was quite happy to make an advance payment at 0.00% discount rate to the builder/landscape gardener fixing my garden wall.

  8. @ Tim
    I think that Lehman went bust by investing in monetary instruments *secured on* “real assets”, to wit houses in California, Colorado and other states that were, due to state legislatures, non-recourse.
    The crunch could be attributed to state lawmakers interfering with capitalism permitting chancers to buy a house with 100% mortgages and use “jingle mail” to dump their liabilities if house prices went down. Alternatively it could be attributed to MASSIVE stupidity by the oh-so-clever guys on Wall street who never bothered to check whether mortgages in California were non-recourse.
    Apologies to Edward Lud’s heart condition, but that’s the lawyers who screwed up.

  9. It is not that socialists know nothing, it is that they know so much that isn’t so.

    Ronald Reagan.

  10. ‘Modern capitalism’ is where fascists direct it.

    So it’s not really capitalism – free enterprise – at all.

  11. The point she is trying to make is best summed up by this line from the article: “The engine of modern life depends on us buying — and borrowing to do so.”

    There is truth in this, but the people who use lending to stretch their finances to breaking point and beyond do not do so because of the evils of capitalism, but because of publications like the Times, telling them they must have a new car and exotic holidays and (from today’s paper) £38 soap.

  12. Dear Mr Worstall

    The Times today also seem to think it would be a spiffing idea if we had another referendum on leaving that wonderful EU, beloved of totalitarians everywhere, including, one assumes, Justine Greening, former education secretary.

    I wonder how many of these folk realise that ‘modern capitalism’ manages to achieve so much despite the efforts of government?

    Think where we could be without all that government help.

    On the moon, perhaps, with personal spaceships common place?

    DP

  13. “no-one will be heading down to the National Theatre for a night of entertainment at Lehman Bros the Musical”

    Some of the films on the financial crash were very entertaining – The Big Short, Margin Call, etc. There’s no reason why a play couldn’t be good too. It’s ten years too late though!

  14. ‘That case was dismissed last January. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to draw clear links between themselves and the companies named.’

    But what if they had? JP Morgan is liable for activity 200 years ago, that was legal at the time?

    Blacks are for ex post facto laws?

  15. @ Jonathan
    Someone sues you because someone else was engaged in a perfectly legal transaction 200 years ago?
    AND they lose because they have no cause of action.
    Why don’t they sue every southern state in its own law courts? Answers, please, on a postage stamp

  16. It was pretty clear immediately after the 2008 crash that the real culprits were never going to get the blame. I remember watching the narrative being built before my eyes and thinking, “Everyone is going to remember this incorrectly. How many lies about historical events have I been taught?” Terrifying.

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