Zombie Banks by Margie Orford

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The world is pissed off and rightly so. The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that have swept the world in the past couple of weeks are testament to exactly how pissed off, how desperate ordinary people are. Jobs have been lost, savings have been wiped out, homes have been lost. The robber barons that run the speculative and morally bankrupt banks that are condensed into the moniker ‘Wall Street’ have knowingly perpetrated this economic pillage.  Zombie banks is what the Pulitzer prize-winning author and journalist, Chris Hedges, calls them.

Many of them have made money hand over fist during the prolonged fiscal crisis of the last couple of years. They have been bailed out by the American treasury and now European governments are trying to stave off defaults amongst the poorer members of the EU. It looks to me like the money-emperors are stark naked. And it looks like they don’t give a toss.

How to right this situation? How to write it?

My money is on John le Carre. He is able to hold together tales of corporate greed, think The Constant Gardner, as deftly as he held together the moral ambiguity of the Cold War in Smiley’s People.

I even have a title for him – The Men Who Crashed the World. Nicked, I confess, from Al Jazeera. They have run a brilliant series of analytical pieces on the wave of indignation that has swept protesters from every walk of life into their city squares.

The Armani-clad villains are easy to spot. There is an array to choose from. There are the politicians who roll over and show their bellies each time less regulation is asked for. Not an attractive prospect; a villain has to have some steel in his spine. Politicians will steal anything that isn’t nailed down, but none of the ones I know can be accused of having a backbone. Pulp fiction, maybe, but politicians are not worth a thriller.

Then there are the war-profiteers, done to a duplicitous turn in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. The contemporary incarnation have made billions out of the unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the US they are needling about Iran right now – so next election, next war. We know how it will start, we know how it will end. We know who will make money, we know who will die. So hardly something to keep you turning the pages.

There are the bankers, though. Chris Hedges calls them a ‘criminal class’, and organised mobsters are right on crime trend. Hubris has a special glow in a recession; in a double dip recession it is incandescent. These are men whose emotional range is, shall we say, limited. Le Carre, I believe, could make them interesting. In good crime fiction, in Le Carre thrillers, the hearts of the heroes are straightforward.

It was the simplicity of the rage that silenced the mainstream US media coverage of the protests. The New York Times still seems to be floundering for a response, as do many of the news channels. Chris Hedges put one snarky little commentator in his place so fast that the man did not have time to say Hedge Fund. The man – his name escapes me, he looks like a cheap knock-off of the bankers he seems to venerate – said that the demonstrators were formless, leaderless and clueless about what they wanted.

‘They know precisely what they want,’ responded Hedges. ‘They want to reverse the corporate coup that has taken place in the United States and rendered the citizenry impotent. They won’t stop until that happens. Frankly, if we don’t break the backs of the corporations we are all finished anyway, since they are rapidly trashing the eco-system on which the human life depends for survival. This is literally a fight for life. It is that grave, it is that serious… The financial institutions like Goldman Sachs… they should be prosecuted.’

I can picture the final chapters of my imaginary Le Carre novel. An International Criminal Court at The Hague. After a long and dangerous hunt, those bankers on trial for financial crimes against humanity along with the politicians who were too greedy and too supine to stop them. The jury is made up of global citizens whose mortgages were foreclosed, or who lost their jobs, or whose kids died because healthcare was priced beyond them.

Come to think of it, maybe I’ll write this book myself. Where I will invest the royalties once I’ve knocked out the bankers, I cannot yet tell you.

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