A telling conversation with ghost of Christmas present
Christmas Eve at St Andrew’s Square, in the centre of Edinburgh’s financial district.
Wet snow falls on the scattering of tents housing the Occupy protesters. Jake Rice sweeps the slush out of the mess tent … and onto the £300 hand-made shoes of Andrew Duncan, an investment banker.
AD: Jesus Christ!
JC: Oh, sorry. Didn’t see you.
AD: Aye, well. You can now. And I’m bloody soaked.
JC: Um, but who … what d’you want.
AD: Well, I was going to give you these bottles, but I’m tempted to drink them myself now.
JC: Why? You look like one of the people who’ve stolen 1% of the wealth. You’re not from the tabloids again are you?
AD: No, and I’ve stolen a damn sight less of the wealth this year, I can tell you. Bonuses have been trashed by the crash.
(Sound of child crying.)
AD: Christ! you got kids here? In this?
JC: Only during the day.
AD: Yes I forgot, you lot all go home at night don’t you – back to your warm middle-class beds.
JC: Actually we don’t. I’ve been here for two months. Before that I was at St Paul’s.
AD: Hear they’ve given up.
JC: No they haven’t. They’ve agreed to move on rather than be forcibly removed in the New Year. We aren’t going anywhere.
AD: OK, sorry. Look, I’ve been watching you here every day since you pitched up. Never believed you’d last. Which is why I’m bringing this crate. Just thought you deserved a bit of a winter warmer.
JC: That’s kind of you, but I’m not sure we should really be taking donations from the people who’ve been wrecking the financial system, destroying public services and throwing people out of their homes.
AD: Ha, ha, ha! What school did you go to?
JC: That isn’t the point. It’s not where you come from that matters; it’s what you do.
AD: Aye, well. I went to one of the worst schools in Edinburgh. We used to throw stones at people like you in your poncy blazers.
JC: Now it’s my turn to tell you where to go … If you don’t understand why that doesn’t matter then you can’t possibly understand why we’re here.
AD: Actually, I understand a lot better than you might think. Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t come here for an argument or to jeer at you. As I say, in a curious way I respect what you are doing here. I’m glad someone’s doing it.
JC: Why don’t you join us then?
AD: Nah, I’m just not into that. I’m not a demo kind of person, never have been. Can’t take it seriously.
JC: What do you actually do?
AD: I work in financial derivatives – currency mainly, and a bit of securitisation – but that’s all frozen up at the moment.
JC: So you’re a speculator then.
AD: Not really. I try to predict what various currencies will be worth, then we short on exchange traded funds valued in euros. At any rate, that was what we did.
JC: What possible value can there be to society in speculating on currencies? Don’t you realise how people like you have driven commodity prices so high that people in Africa are having to sell their bodies to eat?
AD: Look, I never made the system. Really, it’s just a job. Actually, I’m one of the people who agree about a Tobin tax, you know a tax on currency transactions – like George Soros says.
JC: A Robin Hood tax? You?
AD: I hate that phrase, but yeah. Why not? You have stamp duty on houses. Currency is just a market, it’s just like selling anything – clothes or food. You make a profit on the sale. If you didn’t have markets you’d not have this tent.
JC: Actually, this came from Blacks which has just gone bust thanks to people like you.
AD: I’m not to blame for high-street shops being hit by the internet. That’s you lot with your MacBook Pros. You don’t realise how you are changing everything with those things.
JC: OK. But if you look at the crisis as a whole, it’s got a lot to do with greed, lax regulation, inequality, tax avoidance …
AD: Well, actually. I agree with a lot of what you say. It’s been appalling. Those financial scandals: endowment mortgages, payment protection insurance, private pensions, precipice bonds … It’s an utter disgrace. Trouble is ordinary people just don’t understand the financial system. The politicians don’t either. Next year, this Government is going to introduce a new semi-compulsory pensions system for the low paid which has been designed entirely to protect the profits of the pension providers. Bet you’d never heard of the National Employment Saving Trust?
JC: I don’t have a pension.
AD: Course not. People like you don’t work at all.
JC: The people are kept in ignorance by a compliant media, by the lies of the banks, and by corrupt politicians.
AD: Tell me about it. I couldn’t agree more. People are completely defenceless. They should be taught about finance at school. They don’t know how much they’re being robbed because they’re blind.
JC: But you make a living out of it. How can you stand there and say that?
AD: Actually, we’re not so smart either. Look around this square at these grand bank buildings. There’s absolutely nothing behind them. Empty shells. The money has all gone. They’ve killed themselves by their own greed.
JC: What about the trillion in public money that the Government gave you people to pay for your mistakes?
AD: Got me there, friend. Madness. Rewarding failure. Government handed a trillion to us, no strings. So what were we going to do? Go bust? That would have meant an economic depression.
JC: We’re in an economic depression, or hadn’t you noticed?
AD: (Turns to go) Actually I had kind of … I’ve just been made redundant. Happy Christmas.