Monday, 24 October 2011

On the steps of St Paul's

Sitting on the steps of occupied St Paul's Cathedral. There's a funky brass band playing. Tents everywhere. Posters from anarchists, communists, loons of various descriptions. A couple of people in those masks from V. (Terrible, self-indulgent film.) There's one or two TV cameras, and a lot of tourists like me milling around.
The mood is unfocused and idealistic. The closest thing to a set of demands is posted up on the corner of the information tent. No to cuts, we won't pay for your crisis, the system is unjust and must be replaced. A lot of references to 19th-century protest. A strong non-violent vibe. Apparently all decisions are taken by a General Assembly. (By consensus, if you hadn't guessed.)
My favourite poster

Yesterday I bought The Big Short. It's a great story. If you spend a lot of time reading theorists' explanations of what caused the Global Financial Crisis – the GFC, as the jargon of my economic policy class would put it – it's good to compare them with a journalist's description of what actually happened. The Big Short focuses on the “heroes” of the GFC, if they deserve that name: the people who figured out early that the boom in house prices was unsustainable. They took large bets on this. Normally, in a market, if somebody bets against something, its price goes down. One of the puzzles in the book is that this doesn't happen. There seem to be two markets: one in which a small but growing number of smart people figure out that many US mortgage loans will not come good, and another official market in which these loans are expected, right until the end, to pay out. So, where did the buyers for the second market come from? The book never answers this very clearly except to say “idiots in Germany”.

A tent where you can meditate or pray. A notice up asking people not to drink on site, as requested by the London Fire Brigade. Inevitably, a sign offering FREE HUGS.

I'm sympathetic with these people's anger, and it's nice to see somebody in London doing something other than shopping. I think they need some coherent analysis. I'll leave them The Big Short for a start.