I talk to you today from Lehman Brothers in New York. The 158 year old bank, once the fourth largest in The United States, has been put to the sword by Hank Paulson The US Treasury Secretary. This was a case of the bank who liked to say ‘Yes’ to pretty well everything going – a bank whose time on Wall Street ended when the US Government said ‘No’. This was a bank with a taste for sub-prime debt, a bank which, seemingly, failed to anticipate the US housing crash, whose complex mathematical models now stand as dust in a landscape strewn with bankers filing out of the building carrying their possessions, not in Louis Vuitton cases, but in austerity carboard boxes – perhaps a metaphor for what faces them as they complete with 25,000 others for jobs in a rapidly contracting banking sector.
Others far better qualified than me will bring you news of the reasons for this catastrophic failure of investment banking crushed on the wheel of the ultimate principle of capitalism: “You can’t buck the market.”
I’m in New York to improve my carbon footprint... it was just looking too good, too ‘Green’ and almost verging on idealogically pure. My completely pointless trip over here, to report on something I could easily have done from a caff in Hoxton, is a metaphor for excess, to contrast the fortunes of a 158 year old US bank with the soaring fortune and fortunes of the greatest living Englishman, artist Damien Hirst, who has just flogged off two years of work for over £70 million quid; trousering most of that because Sotheby’s, perhaps bizarrely, waived their commission fee and Hirst decided not to line the pockets of rapacious art dealers and galleries as is the custom in the art world, by selling to the people of the world direct.
It was Hirst’s attempt to ‘democratise the sale of his artwork…. a rather peculiar claim given the truly astonishing price tags flying around at the auction last night…. a pickled tiger shark, estimated at £6m, went under the hammer in a feeding frenzy of telephone bidding for £9m. While on the flight over here, drinking a bit of medium paced Rioja and inspired by a cartoon in The Independent, I knocked up an idea in Photoshop for an artwork as a ‘homage’ to the greatest living englishman…. a banker pickled in formaldehyde… I shall call it “Run Banker, Run Monday 15th September 2008”. The only difficulties I foresee are finding a shed to build it and finding a banker willing to be pickled for posterity.
Legal news is still a bit thin on the ground – although it is only two weeks to go before the start of the legal year and it is all change for the judiciary. The big question is… will they be parading for their annual walk in public in the robes and full wigs of a bygone era or will they be sporting their new Star Trek style robes sans wigs, so capably modelled by the Lord Chief Justice earlier in the year? We shall see…. I may have to make a phonecall to the Ministry of Justice to see if Jack “The Lad” Chancellor can shed any light on the matter.
This is Charon, reporting from New York.