The last se­duc­tion

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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