The last seduction
The Financial Times renewal popped up on my Visa bill the other day. ¤300. I started subscribing to it when the crash came so that I could understand the global economy, now that it was affecting my life. That's ¤300 down the jacks. Don't get me wrong. The FT is a great newspaper. There's plenty of graphs and they seem to know loads about China. In the past five years, it has taught me everything I know about international finance and economics. That still isn't very much, but you should have seen where I started. So I probably know enough about credit default swaps and quantitative easing to be dangerous. To myself.
But knowing this has made no difference to my life. I'm still doing more work for less money. I'm in negative equity up to the wazoo. As for my pension, I'll probably have to take a half-day so I can stagger off and die.
I should have listened to my father. (What middle-aged man doesn't say that once or twice a day?) Dad was a fairly philosophical man who distilled a lifetime of thinking about the nature of knowledge and understanding into three words — Bullshit Batters Brains. It's good enough to warrant capital letters.
Followers of Bullshit Batters Brains appreciate there is no point in trying to know or understand anything — you will always lose out to bullshit in the end. If you want an example of BBB in action, then look no further than the so-called property boom. Our brains understood that house prices couldn't keep rising. It didn't make any difference. They were no match for our bullshit.
The same thing applies when a politician says he is more interested in public service than getting elected. Even the smallest brain knows this is not true. And yet the politician tops the poll. Bullshit batters brains. Every time.
It's been a harsh journey of discovery for me to accept the truth of BBB. Things were different when the crash got going back in 2008. Back then, I reckoned I could steer clear of the recession as long as I understood what was going on. Knowledge is the key here, says I to myself, like a big eejit.
I didn't just read the Financial Times. I also started watching Bloomberg television in the afternoon. The beauty about watching Bloomberg is that you can get the lowdown on Chinese growth while perving the hot blondie lady they have reading out the latest set of figures from Shanghai. I'm not being sexist here — the men on Bloomberg are pretty hot, too. It's just that I learned more from the women. Seriously, if my commerce teacher looked like that back in school, I might have got into finance much earlier.
I read the book Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis and reckoned I could be one of the big swinging dicks on Wall Street. I started fantasising about being picked up by my chauffeur, Lionel, and driven from my Park Avenue apartment down to Wall Street, where I would be rude to everybody. I would be known the length of Manhattan for my rudeness. As you can well imagine, the women were all over me. I was rude to them, too. No more mister nice guy when I'm a Master of the Universe. What's the point?
Global finance had another attraction. Here's the thing. I was a Lefty back in the Eighties. Back then, any interest in global finance would be seen as a sin against that legendary figure, the working man. I'm over that now that I'm a working man myself.
Anyway, being an ex-Lefty means that tuning into Bloomberg is a bit like watching porn in confession. It's not just that the hot blondie ones are a bit naughty — the whole thing has the frisson of forbidden pleasures. That's definitely part of the reason I was so easily seduced in to that world.
My fantasy fizzled out over time. It took me a while to realise that a lot of what passes for knowledge on Bloomberg is one American with perfect teeth contradicting another American with perfect teeth. It was a peculiar mix of bullshit and brains. And we know there is only one winner in that game.
And then came the Anglo tapes. It was pretty obvious that the former Anglo bankers weren't masters of the universe; they were just the masters of disaster. Who in their right minds would want to live like that?
Not me. Sorry about this, Financial Times, but that's the last 300 quid you'll get out of me. I'm thinking of writing a book that summarises everything you need to know about the modern world. You've probably guessed the name — Bullshit Batters Brains.