The 2015 Perth Writers’ Festival – and John Lanchester’s ‘How to Speak Money’

The program for the 2015 Perth Writers Festival was released last weekend with star authors including John Lanchester, Hilary Mantel (via satellite), Elizabeth Gilbert, DBC Pierre, Bob Brown and Joan London. I’m going to be in Perth speaking about my new book and I’m extremely excited to be interviewing John Lanchester as well. Lanchester is one of my favourite writers on economics and finance. He’s the author of the best book about the 2008 global financial collapse – IOU: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, as it was called in the USA (its UK title was Whoops) – and the novel Capital, among several others.

UnknownI’ve just started his new book How to Speak Money: What the money people say – and what they really mean, which will be the focus of our conversation. Lanchester is a compelling writer with a gift for simplifying economic doublespeak and untangling financial obfuscation – and he’s very funny. He’s also wrestling with one of the most important subjects of our times: money. As his book says, ‘Money is our global language. Yet so few of us speak it.’

One of the book’s two epigraphs is a brilliant quote from one of my favourite economists, John Maynard Keynes (in a classic Lanchester move, the other is from Some Like it Hot). Here’s part of the Keynes quote:

‘The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.’

Indeed. And here’s how Lanchester introduces his subject:

‘When the economic currents running through all our lives were mild and benign, it was easy not to think about them, in the way that it’s easy not to think about a current when it’s drifting you gently down a river – and that, more or less, is what we were all doing, without realising it, until 2008. Then it turned out that these currents were much more powerful than we knew, and that instead of cosseting us and helping us along, they were sweeping us far out to sea, where we’d have no choice but to fight against them, fight hard, and without any certain sense that our best efforts would be enough to get us back to shore and safety.

‘That, in essence, is why I’ve written this book. There’s a huge gap between the people who understand money and economics and the rest of us. Some of the gap was created deliberately, with the use of secrecy and obfuscation; but more of it, I think, is to do with the fact that it was just easier this way, easier for both sides. The money people didn’t have to explain what they were up to, and got to write their own rules, and did very well out of the arrangement; and as for the rest of us, the brilliant thing was we never had to think about economics.’

As well as my interview with John Lanchester (Money Money Money, 4-5pm on Sunday 22 February), I’m talking about my new book Six Capitals in two sessions at the Perth Writers Festival: The New Super Heroes (2.30-3.30pm on Saturday 21 February) and Gripping Truths (10-11am on Sunday 22 February). I hope to see you there.

And in other news, apart from this Perth festival and other talk fests, I’m back in serious writing mode until the spring, so I’ll be blogging here somewhat sporadically.

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