Today has been exciting. I’ve been listening to Radio 4 for most of my life and today I got a few of my 15 minutes of fame, thanks to Ira Lightman, with whom I had the pleasure of reading poems in Durham earlier this year with the Quiet Compere tour.
Ira heard me ranting on Facebook about politics and economics, and the banking system, and commissioned me to write a poem for his programme “Pound on Pounds” which was an exploration of the Cantos of Ezra Pound (where Pound rails against “Usura”) and their relevance to today’s economic situation. So there was Ira, two eminent professors… and me. The programme is available for a little while on i-player. My only qualification for this gig was that around the turn of the millennium I did an MBA at London Business School, and they tried to teach me macro-economics, company finance, and something about how the stock markets and banks work. A little bit of it has stuck, but probably not enough.
So Ira asked for a poem that sort of explained why we have money, and banks, and what happened with the Credit Crunch. It’s not my usual style, I have to say, it’s a bit didactic and flippant and rhymey, but I’m putting it here for a couple of people who said they would like a copy.
Imagine I’ve a cow I just don’t need
and what I really want is a kitchen table
what are the chances that I will be able
to find a carpenter who wants a cow?
And, anyway, how could I make him feel
that he’s getting a good deal?
Let’s mint some silver coins, and some in gold –
we value these, though really they’re just cold
inedible and shiny. Split the transaction;
sell the cow at the livestock auction
take payment in some coins, and later, drop
these in the till at the furniture shop.
But now, I must deposit all my cash
elsewhere than in my pocket. Here’s a bank,
to issue me an I.O.U. on paper
promising to pay the bearer whatever.
But soon we find we can dispense with notes
and bank managers in suits and overcoats,
and let electronic data fly
server to server, so everything we buy
or sell, earn, owe, invest, inherit
flits instantly around as credit, debit
on trading screens. And who dares, wins!
And here is where the credit crunch begins.
Casino bankers, playing vast roulette
where securities are bundled, traded, bet
buy sub-prime mortgages without a clue
who’s funding them, give credit where none’s due
and suddenly the balance sheet is holed.
Flimsy as fivers, the banks could fold
and customers queue up to take their cash
until the notes run out. To stop the crash
the government steps in, and buys the banks
or we’d be back to barter. All this, thanks
to risk, reckless and unregulated
and a housing market, bloated and inflated.
The Bank of England, clearly in despair
conjures money up from empty air
to help the flat economy increase
but banks need more reserves, so won’t release
new loans – and all liquidity dries up.
O Lord, now let this bitter cup
pass from the bankers to the wretched fools
who trusted the financial system’s rules,
and paid their mortgages, however hard,
stumped up for their loans and credit cards
and only wish that they were able now
to swap their kitchen table for a cow.