Sixteen Shares

Posted on 28 February 2011 by


Violins at the ready. Bernie Madoff has wailed in a weepy confessional to New York Magazine that he’s not such a bad egg after all. “I’m not the kind of person I’m being portrayed as,” he told Steve Fishman. “I’m a good person.”

Bernie is one of a bold band of browbeaten brigadiers who have stuck their heads above the parapet to plead amnesty for the casualties of the cultural war on finance. His sentiments echo those of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan & Chase Co., who’s got a bone to pick with banker-bashing and recently flooded Davos with a shower of tears lamenting the egregious vilification of his kind. “Not all bankers are the same. And I just think this constant refrain – bankers, bankers, bankers….it’s really an unproductive and unfair way of treating people.” He’s been joined in this courageous counter-chorus by improbably-named Barclay’s boss and prospective £9m bonus beneficiary Bob Diamond, who testified before a panel of his BFFs in Parliament that “There was a period of remorse and apology for banks and I think that period needs to be over.”

Dimon’s intervention, however, went down like a cup of cold sick with French President (and former homeboy on the Grubstake Crew as Minister of Finance) Nicolas Sarkozy, who retorted that “The world has paid with tens of millions of unemployed, who were in no way to blame and who paid for everything….too much is too much,” in a stark indication that the bankers’ best buddies are deserting them. Even Mayor of London Boris Johnson, once lauded as “the last politician in the country willing to stick up for the bankers,” has slated the bonus bonanza and yesterday implored Bob Diamond to take one for the team by renouncing his hard-earned 2010 windfall. BoJo aide Anthony Browne has thrown a small crust of comfort to the City, warning Chancellor George Osborne that the threat by bankers, stock brokers and all manner of maligned money-men to make tracks for some fictional country where ordinary people don’t hate their guts, could cost Britain dearly in tax terms. This is less an expression of profound comradely solidarity than a pragmatic endorsement of geopolitical extortion but still, every little helps.

Other quarters have climbed aboard the halfhearted hug-a-banker bandwagon in a similar spirit of blunt self-interest, not least academia. Officials at Cass Business School, part of the City University of London, warned last year that applications for their undergraduate degree in banking and finance had dropped precipitously due to “The relentless nastiness about bankers and how horrible they are.” The finance-friendly press has also piped up with lukewarm support, the Telegraph arguing that bankers “need to know the current hostile environment is not the new status quo” in order to “allow London to remain competitive long-term.” More compassionately, James Sleater of Savile Row tailors Cad and the Dandy – recent sponsors of Britain’s in-no-way-crass-or-inappropriate Best Dressed Banker Award of 2010 – has gone a step further in calling time on the withering and relentless disparagement of his favourite customers, opining that “bankers work some of the longest hours and in one the most stressful of environments in the country.”

It’s a start. But it’s not enough. I’m moved by Mr. Madoff’s plea for mercy, and I’m disgusted that the best manifesto we can muster in defense of the fraught financial firmament boils down to mere expedience. It’s high time we started celebrating our hardworking, salt-of-the-earth, undersung usurers. To that end, I’ve revised an old classic from the American labour movement. This is somewhat London-biased; please feel free to adapt to your own downtrodden district of depressed debt dealers. With apologies to Merle Travis.

Sixteen Shares

I was born one mornin’ down in old Mayfair
Picked up a briefcase, walked to Paternoster Square
I sold sixteen shares of telecom stocks
And the CEO said, “Well bless my socks!”

You sell sixteen shares, and what do you get?
You get another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to Savile Row

Born one morning it was capital gains
Buyin’ and sellin’ are my middle name
I was raised in a co-op by a French au pair
And no high-toned treasury gonna make me declare

You sell sixteen shares, and what do you get?
You get another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to Savile Row

See me comin’ better step aside
A lot of men didn’t and a lot of men died
I got one fist of bonds and the other of bills
And if the right don’t get ya, then the left one will

You sell sixteen shares, and what do you get?
You get another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to Savile Row

Some people say a man is made outta mud
A rich man’s made outta pure cold-blood
Pure cold-blood, no sense of right or wrong
A soul that’s a-weak and a fund that’s strong

You sell sixteen shares, and what do you get?
You get another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to Savile Row

Posted in: CAPITALISM