Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Financier's Manifesto and discussion by Richard Meros

In 2000 I was a very different man. I had moved to East London and was attempting, like so many ex-pat New Zealanders who've committed the folly of completing a BCom, to locate and then clamber up the near mythical career ladder to meet the Gods of higher wages. I traded ten thousand New Zealand dollars for three thousand pounds. Then I converted those monies into three months rent, two well tailored suits, and a healthy supply of single malt scotch.

With a few months of close observation and shrewd ingratiation I learnt that a career ladder is simply a slippery rope, greased by the oils of past climbers keen to maintain their place through nepotism and other sundry misdemeanours. I was glad that the job market was not as open as idealists would claim. You see, while my father, the youngest brother, and his oldest brother are both farmers from a long line of farmers, his two middle brothers have their feet firmly planted in the land of government and finance. My name was not quite as ubiquitous as it would have been had I been a Wakefield, but with some gentle reminding and needling I became the recipient of a low level job with the London branch of a large New Zealand company. I will not name that company as that fact is unessential to the telling of this tale.

Like any curious kiwi expatriate I revelled in London's cheap drugs, especially the prescription only fun that could be had at a quid a pill. Consider it the number eight wire mentality applied to a life that offers few challenges and begs for diversions. Cocaine and speed were good for keeping up with the workload and for keeping interested in the broad range of douche bags who populated the lower rungs of the British civil services. The best mix was codeine, whiskey plus some cough syrup I bought over the counter during my stopover in Bangkok. The codeine, downed an hour before I went to whatever facile function I was to attend, kept me calm. The whiskey gave the impression that I was one of the gents, while providing a cover for my general inebriation. The cough syrup induced sweet deliriums to counter London's oppressive grey. An added bonus, the sum of the parts, was the lucid dreams I would have once I finally made it to bed. The dreams were scenes such as those from the Jehovah's Witness magazine The Watchtower: the same pastels and menagerie of animals and races.

Seven years later, I prefer to ignore my memories of my time in London. The memories from those days are tainted with vivid images that, for my sake, were surely the height of my opiated delirium. Who was lad who called himself Ecuadorian Grey, and who turned up at my parents house in Flaxmere for New Years Eve in 2003? Are the scars selfinflicted, or did the police really act on direct orders from a praying mantis representing the Pakistani High Commision? Some images seem more likely than others, but I can subsume nearly all of them beneath more immediate concerns. The occasion of my current writing is one particular night, a peculiar memory, that I have not been able to bury beneath the urgency of everyday matters.

I was at an event sponsored by the Dairy Board (these were pre Fonterra days). I was present in an official capacity and was to be recording the details of each official speech. Now I'm no racist, but the only entertaining speech was by one Maori guy. All the other esteemed speakers were cadaverous white gents sticking to a monotonous script: "it is an honour... ...thanks to the great work of... ...New Zealand cheese has a very bright future...". At least the Maori guy tried to win us over by connecting his people's respect for the land with a similar affection shown by one or two of the best Pakeha farmers. My report would be based around one of his anecdotes of a fresh Pakeha discretely enquiring as to the viability of farming taniwha.

A short interval was announced after which the final speaker was to address the crowd. It was time to ingest a dose of cough syrup to prep me for later marauding. I had drunk a solo single malt but was well doped up on a new script of codeine. I supped two full caps of the syrup then rinsed my breath with cool water from the handbasin. I checked my pupils in the mirror, applied eye drops, cleared an unidentifiable speck of green vegetable from between my front two teeth and returned to my seat.

In my absence, a singularly intoxicating and utterly transfixing gent had appeared at our table. Before me sat an unshifting wonder, utterly devoid of the traces of ugliness that appear on even the most refined ex pat. The lines of his jaw were as clean as his stubbleless cheeks. This kind of human must exist as a rare fluke. Eugenicists could not be pushed to such limits. He was the possible wonder of mutation that all errors promised. I was like a stupefied boy, crouched in the trenches and finally aware of all that the 'war' signified. But before me, instead of mud and Germans, was the fulfilment that words like 'royalty' promise. He was more. He was vigorous youth, a dandy, an in the flesh Epicurean delight.

He inhaled, exhaled and casually made his way to the empty lectern. He opened supple lips and I fumbled for a pen. Before I could recover he remarked that he did not believe in fleecing out speeches with clichés, metaphors or anything else that covered the bare rump of pure idiom. He asked for silence and said that if there was to be any discussion, "might it take place after the thrust of my brief remarks?"

I recorded his speech in its entirety. It is listed below. It went by in a perfectly timed flash, with pauses after every statement. I have chosen not to italicise the speech and the notes are presented here just as jotted.

The financial speculator is the creator of beautiful profits.

To create wealth and hide the speculator is finance's aim.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful profits are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful profits are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elected to whom beautiful profits mean only Beauty.
There is no such thing as a moral or immoral speculation. Speculations are well conducted, or badly conducted. That is all.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject matter of the financial speculator, but the morality of financial speculation consists in the perfect use of imperfect markets.

No financial speculator has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in a financier is an unpardonable mannerism of style.
No financier is never morbid. The financial speculator can trade everything.

Thought and language are to the financial speculator instruments of profit making.
Vice and virtue are to the financial speculator materials for profit making.

All financial speculation is at once surface and symbol
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.

It is the common man, and not life, that finance really mirrors.

We can forgive a man for making a large profit as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a small profit is that one admires it intensely.

All financial speculation is quite useless.

He grasped the podium, and in doing so confirmed his hold over the agog audience. We were chartered and charted, chained and chosen to be his dominion. He scanned for dissent yet was met with no rebuke. The young man, like a wise general with his new empire before him, stood down, abandoned the podium and retired.

I was rattled by his contrite statements on the foundations of the financial aesthetic. I tried to make his speech the keystone of my report, but there was no way to place it with the rest of the evening. In my final report, I merely added that a stunning and charismatic speech was made by a brilliant young speculator, who was sure to go far. The cliché, in it's rasping manner, hid all that could not be claimed.

That was but one extraordinary occasion in my long northern winter. Once the report was filed, my memories of that night began to fade. By spring the evening was just another fancy entry in my diary, unremarkable except for my poor recollection of presence made the evening more tolerable than most of the other nights.

I have held something back. I have not suggested the identity of that man. I need to make some apologies, or admissions, or simply state my minor position. I have already said that I was a habitual drug user, and that these drugs had not only dulled my senses, but has also caused hallucinations that even today I am unable to reconcile with perceived reality. Drug use has ruined my pristine sense of solid life. Today I veer away from all imbibed evils, including caffeine. If I had been as wise when the Financier addressed the crowd as I am today then I might be able to conclude with conviction.

I also wish to state that what follows is at best gossip, and any conclusions drawn from my research remain innuendo. I would even go so far as to call the following reminiscence a dream if it were not for the stark detail in which the manifesto appears within my notes. That said, since I have been commissioned by the Hue and the Cry Journal, I will progress.

The man who sat before me may have been John Key, leader of the National Party and Prime Minister of New Zealand. I deduce this hypothesis from three observations: a, b, and c. Observation (a): the man who addressed the trade seminar, if he had egregiously aged, bears a striking resemblance to John Key as he appeared on both television and in print as leader of the National Party around the time of the 2008 general erection.

I am not a man who pays much attention to the trivialities of politics. I consider politics to be an ebb and flow sort of sport, akin to the tides. I take no interest in matters that undulate upon fixed factors which are entirely out of the control of an individual. Thus, I ignore petty politics as I ignore the convexes and concaves of the moon. In election years my ignorance can not hold; faces appear on billboards like sewerage in the ocean. They are ubiquitous. That is how I, perhaps again, saw Mr Key's face. I say: if it is him, he has aged! He has aged as if he had broken a Faustian pact that would keep him soft, sweet and beautiful as long as he retained the position of financial speculator, or curator of such deals.

Observation (b): in an article in the Sunday Star Times from the third of February 2008, John Key makes comments which bear striking similarity to those of the young London financier. The paragraph reads:

Key says he does not believe a moral issue arises for the traders who make these speculative attacks on currencies, or for the dealing rooms that carry out their orders. "I don't really see it as a judgemental business. You're simply executing orders for people."

While other sections of the same story point to Key's living in a family friendly suburb in London and avoiding the ritzier locales, this piece of evidence is of weight. If Key was once our dandy financier then the evolution of his logic has become worse than retarded: it has devolved. Or to speak in the frank language of economics, the growth in his thought has neither halted nor slowed, but has become negative and is likely still retreating . Where a daring young financier routed his audience with a list of epigrams, a populist now councils with ruddy provincial tones. The content of the quote fits exactly with the sentiment expressed by the young man from 2000. The tone, however, is barbarous and must never find its way into the Financiers Manifesto.

Observation (c): at the head of the notepad on which I recorded the manifesto I had doodled the title "John Quixote de la Mansion". While I am wary of the dredging up of false memories, I now recall how, amongst the din and dive of that grim winter, the financier's title appeared. The ruckus from the young financier's exit had abated, and as I was reassessing my evening's plans, I simply overheard my tablemate's inane punning. I heard the greatest minds of my generation punning, when they really ought to have been concentrating on their own ills. Shit sticks, I thought, but scribbled down the pun anyway.

I have resolved nothing, but I my time and ideas have finished. If it is acceptable to talk of probabilities then I will estimate, based on observations (a), (b), and (c), the likelihood that the man who delivered a rousing address (I do believe the address occurred) was the same man who is now John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Not one of my observations are clinchers: (a) some of the men's physical similarities are striking, but much time has passed: add 15% probability; (b) the manifesto is radical and very modern, but there is no causal link between it and Mr Keys later statement. There is an equal possibility that Mr Key learnt the : add 10% probability; (c) the most compelling evidence is the pun on this young man's name: add 20% of probability.

Computing these figures suggests there is a 45% chance that the young man of the Financier's Manifesto is John Key. Statistically there is a greater likelihood that they are not the same man. However, it is now accepted that the realms of statistical probability cannot take into account extrasensory evidence such as gut feelings and hunches. Even if we allow the entire 4% margin of error allotted for these extrasensory factors (as pioneered in the paper delivered by Carrier& Meros at the the University of Auckland's Politics, Statistics and Truth conference in 2006) it still seems more likely than not that the man from London in 2000 is not John Key. We can be quite sure nevertheless, given Mr Key's discussions of financial trading in the Sunday Star Times, that the beliefs of the young financier are beliefs held dearly by our esteemed Prime Minister.

This discussion first appeared in Hue and Cry issue 3 in 2009.