As Andrew Haldane, director of stability at the Bank of England, put it in a historical overview a few years ago, ‘there is one key difference between the situation today and that in the Middle Ages. Then, the biggest risk to the banks was from the sovereign. Today, perhaps the biggest risk to the sovereign comes from the banks. Causality has reversed.’ Yes, it has: and the sovereign at risk is us. The reason for that is that in the UK bank assets are 492 per cent of GDP. In plain English, our banks are five times bigger than our entire economy. (When the Icelandic and Cypriot banking systems collapsed the respective figures were 880 and 700 per cent.) We know from the events of 2008 and subsequently that the financial sector, indeed the whole world economy, is in an inherently unstable condition. Put the size together with the instability, and we are facing a danger that is no less real for not being on the front page this exact second. This has to be fixed, and it has to be fixed soon, and nothing about fixing it is easy.- "Let's Consider Kate," John Lanchester, London Review of Books (via)
The first District line train out of Upminster in the morning is the first train anywhere on the underground network. It leaves the depot at 4.53, the only train anywhere in the system to set out from its base before 5am ... if you catch that train, you might be tempted to say ta-dah!—except you probably wouldn't, because nobody is thinking ta-dah! at seven minutes to five in the morning; certainly nobody on this train. People look barely awake, barely even alive. They feel the same way they look; I know because, this morning, I'm one of them.John Lanchester on the experience, at once aversive and hypnotic, of catching the London Underground. Lanchester's article is an extract from his forthcoming entry in the new Penguin Lines series of tube-reading-friendly books released to commemorate the Underground's 150th anniversary. Meanwhile, the Guardian have compiled a collaborative Spotify playlist of songs that mention Tube stations, for those so inclined.
It's Finished is a witty and erudite essay by MeFi lurker John Lanchester in The London Review of Books on how completely and utterly screwed the British economy is. In the process of laying out his case Lanchester touches on varied issues, such Scottish banknotes, why Alan Hollinghurst's phrase "tremendous, Basil Fawltyish lengths" is applicable to the reaction by the US and UK governments to the banking meltdown, the value destruction of corporate mergers, the invention of modern accounting, and why no one really knows how large a share of the failed banks is owned by governments.
Bond: Bored and Boozy James Bond. John Lanchester, in an insightful essay for the (beautifully redesigned) London Review of Books, counts (and staggers at) the amount of booze Ian Fleming's alter ego got through in a single day. He needn't have bothered: there's a delightful, knowledgeable and fanatical website, called Make Mine An 007 that does little else but tally up every drink that passes Agent 007's (or his enemys') lips, in his novels and in his films; listing the brands, the recipes and even totting up the glorious, final statistics.[More inside]