Join John Lanchester to talk about Whoops! - our book of the month - Tues 2 Nov, 8pm

(83 Posts)
GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 12-Oct-10 11:37:07

Hi everyone, Tilly is in outer circles of internet hell so am posting on her behalf.

We've chosen Whoops! by John Lanchester as our October book of the month.

It's highly topical given child benefit cuts and the impending comprehensive spending review (ie even more cuts) because it succinctly and wittily explains why the credit crunch happened and what led to the current dire financial mess.

We're really pleased that John can join us for our next book club discussion on Tues 2 Nov at 8pm.

Whoops! is out now in paperback (a manageable 200 pages). Read more about it and John's other books, plus glittering reviews of Whoops! by many book club authors we've already discussed.

Hope you can join us, should be a great discussion.

MayorNaze Tue 12-Oct-10 13:52:19

interesting...

UrsulaUndress Tue 12-Oct-10 21:18:24

A good guest. Haven't read Whoops! yet but I do read him in the LRB. And loved his memoir. So if I can get my hands on Whoops I'll be along...

HobbitMama Tue 12-Oct-10 22:09:44

cool - will try and get hold of that and be there for the chat this time!

poppyknot Tue 12-Oct-10 22:53:23

I knew little of economics and had to mug up quickly a couple of months ago. This book was a godsend and a very good read to boot.

Looking forward to this.........

bran Wed 13-Oct-10 22:17:53

I've just downloaded it to my iPhone. It will hopefully be good for reading in tiny chunks, eg while waiting for the DC to come out of school.

poppyknot Thu 14-Oct-10 11:37:21

I found this Guardian podcast with the man himself... How the Financial Crisis has effected Culture.

MayorNaze Sat 16-Oct-10 08:02:11

i'm sorry, i have got to p50 and am no clearer

i need diagrams i think...confused

mollythetortoise Wed 20-Oct-10 10:00:08

I read Whoops about 5 months ago. It was the first time I felt I had a much better understanding of what went wrong with the worlds finances.
It is a brilliant book, easy to understand for non economists and full of real world examples to show how this does effect the ordinary man on the street.

Although I accept that the banks needed to be bailed out at the time (Oct 08) as the result of not doing this would have been chaos, I am now very very angry that the banks having taken billions of tax payer funded support are now lobbying to carry on exactly as before and seem to have won the argument - bonuses are back and corporation tax has been reduced and banks are being allowed to carry forward the losses of 08/09 to offset the tax due on their profits in the future.

Plus the blame has been laid at the door of the public sector and the public sector workers rather than then bankers and the banks.

John, did you think when you wrote the book that by Oct 2010 the bankers would be back in charge again or does this not surprise you?

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 21-Oct-10 11:13:57

Hi everyone, thought you might like to see this vid with John Lanchester discussing the bankers' attempts to pass off the financial meltdown as a stroke of bad luck hmm

Looking forward to tomorrow evening's chat, we are ready to send advance questions to John so please post them here and we'll kick off with those at 8pm tomorrow...

poppyknot Mon 01-Nov-10 13:34:19

I am reading through it again (and enjoying it although it does make you cross!)

Does he think that our understanding of the financial situation is hindered by the fact that the reporting of it seems to boil down to one or two buzz words or situations. In the middle of 2008 (or so) we had a lot on sub prime mortagages in America. And then it was short selling (which I still don't really get). And then 'too big to fail'. And then there was RBS and Sir Fred's pension. And now with the cuts it is 'the bankers' but no one can actually say why other than the fact that they seem to be very well paid and get huge bonuses and were bailed out by us 'the tax payer'. And now the public sector seems to be in the firing line.

I know that John was initially intending to write a novel based around this time but that there would have to be too many explanatatory breaks in it. (I'll tell you why.....). Is the novel writeable now?

I think that maybe Alan Johnson could have this as one of his economic primers. Has John had any feedback from those in power (or wanting to be)?

personanongrata Mon 01-Nov-10 20:25:56

John, hope this doesn't sound critical, but I didn't find the book funny (as some reviewers suggested it would be) but more savage (Modest Proposal incredulity type of thing).

Is your faith in human nature still intact after writing it (if it was before)? You're careful not to demonise all bankers, but they're not exactly clamouring to put their own house in order, are they? And CEOs pay up by an average of more than 50%? Same old, same old, it seems.

(Oh, and can you please put me and my DD out of our misery and explain the army selection test you mention in the bit about false predictions of how people will behave - pole, wall etc. We couldn't figure out how you'd get everyone over. Clearly not officer material!)

Thank you.

grandmabet Tue 02-Nov-10 14:33:56

Hi John

I found it very interesting but agree that it wasn't very funny. But there are still two things puzzling me: 1) Did the bank that made a $16.8B profit pay back the $10B owing to the taxpayer before paying bonueses, and 2) If you had some spare cash would you put it into property or some other investment?

And, not really a question, but a nudge. Did you read Sebastian Faulkes' novel A Day in December which touched on the banking crisis and does I think suggest that there is room for another novel on this theme?

Bye

AsterixNotTintin Tue 02-Nov-10 19:02:19

Hi John
Thank you for writing this book. My mind still boggles at the financial world, but I'm a whole lot closer to understanding it than before.

I can't quite remember if this quote came from the book or not, but there was an American senator who said the bankers should apologise or commit hari-kiri - or preferably both. What do you think the bankers could do to atone?

Could there be any way that an independent body assess the culpability of each person in charge of deals, from CEO downwards, in every British bank and demand an amount to be paid back by that person to the taxpayer over a number of years?

I can't help but feel there has to be some personal attachment of blame - if you are intent on making yourself a packet, then you should be prepared to lose yourself a packet too. None of them have lost anything.

LeninGuido Tue 02-Nov-10 19:24:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

AttilatheHen Tue 02-Nov-10 19:29:17

John,

I don't think you're being quite honest, or clear, or perhaps you don't know, about the banking crisis. You've pin-pointed a lot of greed and nasty doings, but that doesn't explain why they were allowed to happen in the first place, and it doesn't explain what will happen now.

Allow me to challenge you: all of our money (98%) is created by banks from nothing, literally the tapping of a keyboard, and issued as loans (debt).

This means that no matter how much money we have in the economy, there is always money leaking out in terms of debt repayments, and the value of that money is eroded by inflation. So, more money has to be brought into the economy so that there's money to pay the debts, keep things going and deal with the inflation.i.e there has to be more borrowing; people have to be given every opportunity to borrow.

We get ourselves into a cycle. However, finding people/companies to keep on getting into debt so this upward spiral can continue is difficult. The fact that banks were lending to the very poor is a sign not only of greed and stupidity, but that nearly everyone else had had enough debt as they were prepared to take on. And the system needs more and more people to take on debt. So the banks looked for a group that would take on debt - the poor.

When the subprime market started to collapse it was a sign that the money supply was going to start shrinking. This means that we'd be poorer and we'd still have debt round our necks, so banks started to hoarde and wait for the bad news - who had made so many bad loans they'd go bust. (Truth is, when the money supply starts to shrink good loans turn to bad loans, so the banks, by freezing credit just accelerated the process of crisis and recession.)

As you know, as the money supply falls, people, lose jobs, debts can't be paid and we go into a Depression. The only thing that has prevented that so far is unprecedented government action. In the UK almost 1/3 of tax receipts have disappeared! So, we're borrowing (180 billion a year) just to standstill.

We will pay higher taxes, have less services and have poorer jobs to pay for debts created by the banking system; we have to borrow to have money in the economy (That's the way it works, even if you personally haven't borrowed yourself). We'll be debt slaves ultimately, and as things stand, the vast majority of us will be in that category, and our children. All for the banking system and who it benefits.

Your book doesn't tackle this. Are you worried you'll be called a Marxist?

poppyknot Tue 02-Nov-10 19:34:42

Hi John

Sorry my questions were addressed in a rather stilted third person. I'm not usually that formal......

poppyknot

AttilatheHen Tue 02-Nov-10 19:42:28

Sorry, I didn't mean 'honest'. I mean in sufficent depth. I apologise.

bran Tue 02-Nov-10 19:55:50

Damn, I haven't finished yet. I've still got one child to force get to bed and there's no sign of DH who was definitely going to be home by 6.46 today. hmm

Can I just say John that I'm hugely impressed that you managed to hold on to all that info long enough to write it down in book form. I have a degree in Maths and Economics (from a long long time ago) and I still found that things that I understood as I read had slipped out of my mind by the next time I picked up the book. Of course the memory loss could have been caused by only reading the book in 5-10 min chunks on an iPhone while waiting in the school car park, with a toddler in the back seat screaming "Me play with iPhone mummy". grin

LeninGuido Tue 02-Nov-10 19:56:04

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Evening all

I'm thrilled to introduce our Author of the Month, John Lanchester.

John, thank you very much indeed for joining us tonight. I thought we might kick off with the advance questions above, and then the floor is open...

And a quick reminder to everyone, including those who haven't read WHOOPS!: all questions (about the financial crisis, previous books, writing life, etc) are welcome, don't hold back.

And finally my question:

I was intrigued by your analysis of the breakdown of communism leading to the trigger-happy Anglo-Saxon financial culture that we believed to be the only true path. Now that our model has failed too, what do you think is the right path to create a fair society (or making everyone have 'enough' as you put it in the last chapter)? If our economy isn't based on financial services, what do you think it could be based on?

And have you read the Will Hutton book (I think called The Fair Society)?

(sorry, make that three questions)

JohnLanchester Tue 02-Nov-10 20:03:10

Hello everybody, and thank you very much for inviting me to do this. It’s my first ever live webchat so forgive me if I’m slow and/or useless.

Mollythetortoise, I did think the bankers would stage a fightback but I’ve been uttely amazed by how successful they’ve been and how completely the politicians have allowed themselves to be steamrollered. The opportunity to start getting to grips with the banks, which was strongly present in the aftermath of the bailout, was allowed to slip past and things seem to have gone straight back to the way they were, except with dramatically less lending to businesses and individuals. As for the bonuses they’ve gone back to paying themselves, well. I’m at a loss for words. 2008: we bail out the financial sector. 2009: they go back to paying themselves record bonuses. And apparently 2010’s bonus pools will be even bigger. That really is beyond shameless. I certainly didn’t foresee that and if you’d told me that was what was going to happen I don’t think I’d have believed you.

mollythetortoise

I read Whoops about 5 months ago. It was the first time I felt I had a much better understanding of what went wrong with the worlds finances.
It is a brilliant book, easy to understand for non economists and full of real world examples to show how this does effect the ordinary man on the street.

Although I accept that the banks needed to be bailed out at the time (Oct 08) as the result of not doing this would have been chaos, I am now very very angry that the banks having taken billions of tax payer funded support are now lobbying to carry on exactly as before and seem to have won the argument - bonuses are back and corporation tax has been reduced and banks are being allowed to carry forward the losses of 08/09 to offset the tax due on their profits in the future.

Plus the blame has been laid at the door of the public sector and the public sector workers rather than then bankers and the banks.

John, did you think when you wrote the book that by Oct 2010 the bankers would be back in charge again or does this not surprise you?

JohnLanchester Tue 02-Nov-10 20:03:58

Poppyknot, yes, buzzwords do dominate and there’s something almost comic about the way there is an official issue of the day which keeps changing. The trouble I think is that this stuff is hard to summarise in the soundbitey way that all news media prefer.

As for the novel, it’s not just writeable but written, in draft form anyway, but it’s not about the crisis per se. (I feel shifty giving more details about it—please excuse me.)

I’ve not had so much as a squeak from anyone in power but I’ve had much more positive feedback than I was expecting from people in the world of business and finance. The interesting thing is how many of them are completely furious with the banks, based on many years of negative experience. I’ve been really surprised by that.

poppyknot

I am reading through it again (and enjoying it although it does make you cross!)

Does he think that our understanding of the financial situation is hindered by the fact that the reporting of it seems to boil down to one or two buzz words or situations. In the middle of 2008 (or so) we had a lot on sub prime mortagages in America. And then it was short selling (which I still don't really get). And then 'too big to fail'. And then there was RBS and Sir Fred's pension. And now with the cuts it is 'the bankers' but no one can actually say why other than the fact that they seem to be very well paid and get huge bonuses and were bailed out by us 'the tax payer'. And now the public sector seems to be in the firing line.

I know that John was initially intending to write a novel based around this time but that there would have to be too many explanatatory breaks in it. (I'll tell you why.....). Is the novel writeable now?

I think that maybe Alan Johnson could have this as one of his economic primers. Has John had any feedback from those in power (or wanting to be)?

JohnLanchester Tue 02-Nov-10 20:04:27

Personannongrata, I know what you mean—it’s a question of tone and these things strike one differently. I did get steadily crosser as I was working on the book. My faith in human nature is about where it was. Our capacity for greed is nothing new, I think, but we have acquired some new ways of indulging that greed. Also: some social norms have perhaps slipped to make open greed seem normal, even admirable, in a way which wasn’t once the case.

As for the army selection test, the wall and the pole and all that, I’ve had it explained to me but I have no idea how it works in practise. (I think the modern version involves bodging together a temporary bridge to cross a small river.) I know a couple of people who went through it who said it was easier to work out in practise than it was to explain—but maybe, as you suggest, it’s just a question of the difference between officer material and the rest of us...

personanongrata

John, hope this doesn't sound critical, but I didn't find the book funny (as some reviewers suggested it would be) but more savage (Modest Proposal incredulity type of thing).

Is your faith in human nature still intact after writing it (if it was before)? You're careful not to demonise all bankers, but they're not exactly clamouring to put their own house in order, are they? And CEOs pay up by an average of more than 50%? Same old, same old, it seems.

(Oh, and can you please put me and my DD out of our misery and explain the army selection test you mention in the bit about false predictions of how people will behave - pole, wall etc. We couldn't figure out how you'd get everyone over. Clearly not officer material!)

Thank you.

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