Matthew Parris

Another Voice | 11 October 2008

Sit back and enjoy the world economic crisis in three minutes

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Dramatis personae:

Joe Citizen                    (a citizen)

Jack and Jill Jones        (Joe’s neighbours)
Mr Whatam-Ibid            (a surveyor)
Mr Ballpark-Estimate    (a valuer)
Ms Dreamhomes            (an estate agent)
Mr Moneybags                (a small banker)
Mr Dollarsacks                (a global fund manager)
Mr Brown                        (a prime minister)
(voices off)                    (depositors; taxpayers)
Stage props:                 two bricks: one large, one small

The stage is empty against the backdrop of a blue sky and scudding clouds. ENTER: Joe Citizen carrying a small brick, and Jack and Jill Jones carrying a large one...

Joe Citizen (to the Joneses): That’s a nice big brick you own.

The Joneses: It’s for sale. The kids have flown the nest and we’re downsizing. We’d take £10 for our brick. What are you asking for your smaller one?

Joe Citizen (to himself): £10? Pricey for a brick, but I guess mine must be worth more than I realised too. The market’s obviously on the up. (To the Joneses) I’d sell mine for £8.

The Joneses (conferring): Brick prices must be rising faster than we thought. If his is worth £8, ours must be worth more than £10. (To Joe) We’ve raised our asking price to £20.

Joe Citizen (to himself): Then mine must be worth at least £12. (To the Joneses) I’m asking £15 for mine now.

Joe and the Joneses continue bidding up the price of each other’s bricks until they close the deal at £100 for Joe’s small brick and £200 for the Joneses’ big one.

Jill Jones (to her husband): We’re buying for £100 and selling for £200 so we’ve got £100 to spend. Let’s invest in bricks — buy-to-let, maybe? We’re in a rising market here. EXEUNT the Joneses.

Joe Citizen (alone): As I’m selling for £100 and buying for £200, I’m short of £100. I’ll need a mortgage...

ENTER Mr Moneybags

Mr Moneybags: A mortgage, did you say? What’s your security?

Joe Citizen: The brick I’m buying from Mr and Mrs Jones.

Moneybags: What’s it worth?

Joe Citizen: About £200.

Moneybags: Surely not. Let’s ask. (Calls) Ms Dreamhomes! Can you do us a valuation?

ENTER: Ms Dreamhomes, accompanied by Messrs Ballpark-Estimate and Whatam-Ibid.

Ms Dreamhomes: Delighted. (Announces) What do you say, chaps?

Mr Ballpark-Estimate (inspects brick): I’m pleased to confirm that on the basis of an external examination alone this does appear to be a brick of the larger sort, brick-shaped, of reddish colour, and apparently made of baked clay; though as I am unable to gain access to its interior I cannot guarantee its composition. Worth I’d say about £180. Errors and omissions excepted. My invoice for an astonishingly large sum follows by post.

Mr Whatam-Ibid: £180? No, loads of people are getting on to the brick ladder. I’d say £200.

Ms Dreamhomes: Well ...(mobile phone rings; she answers) Hello? Mr Jones? How can I help? You’re looking to buy a second small brick for a buy-to-let? You can pay about £100? Excellent. I’m sure we can sort you out. I’ll get back to you. (To the others) The market’s shooting up. I reckon £200 must be about right for Mr Citizen’s big brick. My invoice follows by post.

Mr Whatam-Ibid: We’re agreed then. It looks like the market valuation for a big brick is about £200. My invoice follows by post.

EXEUNT Dreamhomes, Ballpark-Estimate and Whatam-Ibid.

Mr Moneybags: Well, Joe Citizen, I’m pleased to offer you a mortgage loan of up to £200 on your new brick. Why not fund the purchase with a 100 per cent mortgage, and pocket the proceeds of the sale of your old brick? Your job is well paid, and safe, I assume; and doubtless you can keep up your mortgage interest payments? Good. Sign on this dotted line. Now, here’s a cheque.

Joe Citizen: Hooray! The new brick’s mine, and £100 extra in my pocket. I’m off to buy a new washing machine for Mrs Citizen! And that holiday... and car...

EXIT Citizen.

Mr Moneybags (alone on stage): Heh-heh! I’ve sold lots of mortgages this week. I’m in for a big fat bonus. But... (scratches head) my bank will need more funds if we’re to honour all the cheques I’ve been writing. (Calls) Hey, Mr Dollarsacks!

ENTER Dollarsacks

Mr Moneybags: Ah, Dollarsacks, I need a £1,000 loan.

Mr Dollarsacks: Sure. What’s your security?

Mr Moneybags: Here’s my mortgage book. There’s mortgages in this sealed envelope to the value of £1,000, mostly on bricks, which, as you know, are rocketing in value. (Hands him the envelope) Nice return on them too. No need to scrutinise the details.

Mr Dollarsacks: Indeed not. Bricks are safe as houses. (Takes envelope. To himself:) Heh-heh! A major transaction. I’m in for a big fat bonus. (To Moneybags) Here’s your cheque.

ENTER Messrs Citizen, Jones, Ballpark-Estimate and Whatam-Ibid, and Mrs Jones and Ms Dreamhomes. They join Messrs Moneybags & Dollarsacks in a high-kicking dance, chorusing:

All:    No return to boom and bust!

    In some clay we’ve placed our trust.
    Though it isn’t quite clear how,
    Everyone’s a winner now!

They are interrupted by the sound of wailing offstage. The backdrop changes abruptly to a darkened sky with thunderclouds. Ms Dreamhomes’s mobile phone rings, she answers

Ms Dreamhomes: Hello? (Pause) What’s that you say? (Pause) Interest rates up? Taxes and petrol up? Unemployment rising? The price of bricks falling? (Pause) Down 15 per cent already?

Joe Citizen (to Mr Moneybags): You can’t increase my payments by that much! Stuff your mortgage, mate. Here, you can repossess my brick. (Hands over brick)

Mr Dollarsacks (to Mr Moneybags): What’s this I hear — getting your bricks back?

Mr Moneybags (to Mr Dollarsacks): We’re all doomed.

Thunderclap. ENTER Mr Brown

Mr Brown: My regulators say you’re about to go to the wall.

Mr Moneybags: If so, Mr Brown, I fear our savers will lose the savings they’ve deposited with us.

Mr Brown: Holy cow! This is a job for the taxpayers. (To Moneybags): I’m nationalising you. In the meantime, here’s a big cheque so you can honour your commitments to Mr Dollarsacks, pay off your board and look after your depositors. I blame the Americans. The age of irresponsibility is over. (Hands big cheque to Moneybags)

Mr Moneybags: Phew.

Mr Dollarsacks: Phew.

Depositors (offstage): Phew.

Taxpayers (offstage): Help!

Matthew Parris is a columnist on the Times.