How close we came

Very, very, very long-term readers of HouseGoesHome might remember an infamous blog post I wrote in 2011 called “OMG there was a GFC”.

It went like this:

I just found out about the Global Financial Crisis. And I kind of wish I didn’t know. I’m all freaked out now. It was really, really bad. The entire world economy could have collapsed. And then what would have happened? Husband brought home a movie called Too Big To Fail – which chronicles the US treasury’s fight to stop the US banking system going under. We watched it last night and I was glued to the TV. (I think it helped that it had lots of big-name celebs in it – I have this weird crush on Bill Pullman – but the subject matter was pretty gripping too.) Halfway through, Husband asked if I was tired and wanted to go to bed. I replied, “No! I need to see what happens next …” He was a bit offended, because apparently he’s written lots of insightful features on the subject in his capacity as a business journalist. I try reading his insightful features, I do, but my brain freezes up and all I see is “blargle largle largle”. Give me a story about the state of Brad and Ange’s carefully crafted, media-savvy relationship and my brain starts working again. Sad but true. What makes my complete non-awareness of the GFC particularly stunning is that I was living in New York when it all went down. And Husband was studying the whole shebang at business school (while I went slightly mad taking care of two small children in a teeny-tiny apartment). Still, I somehow remained blithely unaware. I must have blocked my ears and gone “lah, lah, lah” every time he said the words “stock market” and “trouble”. Also, we didn’t have a TV or radio at the time. I occasionally bought the New York Post, but mainly for its sensationalist crime stories (or the excellent ones about people keeping five panthers and six pythons in their one-bedroom apartments in the Bronx). We eventually returned to Australia – where things weren’t quite so bad – and I cheerily got on with my life … not knowing how close we all came to losing everything. And how close we could come again. My chest is getting all tight, I must stop thinking about it … too late … take deep breaths … it was three years ago … things will be fine … won’t they?

I also noted a year later that “Husband forwarded the original blog to all his business journalist mates and their faces went all Munch’s The Scream-looking as they read it. They wanted to know if it was a joke. No, Husband said, it wasn’t a joke. It was his life.”

And people wonder why we broke up.

Anyways, I just watched something of a companion movie on Sunday afternoon and my mind is blown all over again. It was called “The Big Short”. I found it in a sale bin at JB Hi-Fi. I had no idea what it was about, but it had a great cast, including Brad Pitt, Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling.

It’s based on a non-fiction book by Michael Lewis that came out in 2010 and it details the collapse of the US housing market immediately prior to the US treasury having to save the US banking system. It focusses on a stock market investor, hedge fund manager and bond salesman who discovered the market was going to crash and made millions by betting it would fail by taking out things called “credit default swaps” with the banks. When it did, millions of people lost their houses and their jobs. And the blokes who saw it coming made a fortune.

It sounds really boring, but I was transfixed. I also found the greed and fraudulence and its consequences really sad. I was even teary a few times. The story is also a bit unusual in that there are no heroes in it.

As the director, Adam McKay, said: “The studio was like, ‘Shouldn’t they be more likable?’ “It’s like, ‘No, heroes are dirty. Martin Luther King had affairs. Gandhi was a bit of a horndog. We’re all dicks. Let them be dicks.’ …These are the kind of heroes you get when you are part of a society that is awash in money.”

I sat there thinking “What has the world come to?” As the movie was made pre-COVID, the world has stumbled quite a lot further since then.

It was quite shocking to see everyone put their heads in the sand and blindly focus on making money at any cost.

And it ended with a really disturbing message about how the banking community in 2015 was doing it all over again, just using different names for the dodgy crap it was peddling.

Few lessons were learned. Few warnings were heeded.

Jaysus.

Anyways, I found the financial stuff a little hard to follow, but McKay got celebrities to do cameos to explain it. For example, Selena Gomez gives the lowdown on what “synthetic collateralised debt obligations” are. Don’t ask me to repeat what she said because it’s already been deleted from my brain, but it was very helpful at the time.

Anyways, if it pops up on your streaming service, it’s worth a look.

Song of the day: ABBA “Money, money, money”

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