A visit to the theatre last night to see David Hare’s The Power of Yes which examines the causes and exposes the villains of the financial crisis was well timed; banker bashing is in full swing.
Earlier in the day the city minister Lord Myners articulated public outrage at the banks’ failure to act with due penitence after receiving state aid and promised regulatory reform to prevent a similar collapse happening again. Meanwhile, President Obama is squaring up with the titans of Wall Street who have trousered millions in bonuses.
The play opens with the narrator – an actor who takes on the role of Author – explaining: “This is not a play. It is a story.” And the story is compelling. The audience learns about the Nobel prize-winning economist who created a formula to remove risk from the market in ‘options’ and the growth of the financial services in the UK to the point where it accounted for 9 per cent of GDP. We learn more about sub-prime, what was really in those boxes being carried by Lehman Brothers’ staff from their offices on the day the firm went bust and how Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin was groomed to be nice for a media appearance.
Drawing on interviews from important players in the banking industry who saw the events unwind first hand, the play moves briskly and employing an Author figure to ask the questions the public would want asked is a clever device. The play attempts to provide some answers. The Author as Hare tell us that the current crisis represents the death of an idea and the invalidity of the much-spouted wisdom that capitalism is self-healing and works for the benefit of all members of society. The pay-off lines are left to the George Soros character who says that while the bankers reap the benefits of capitalism they rarely pay the price of failure.
But Hare, perhaps surprisingly for a left-leaning polemicist, seems reluctant to pull the trigger on capitalism. He hesitates to come out and declare greed is not good, instead saying that it is fallible and that it got it badly wrong this time. There is only one short section of the play which offers an insight into how ordinary people are struggling with debt caused by the crisis. As a result, I am afraid the play lacks real emotional punch. I left the theatre with answers but not the anger I expected to come away with.