The devil is in the detail—and the Square Mile. A play to demonstrate the problem of moral hazard in bankingby Marcus Miller and Nicholas Beale / April 24, 2013 / Leave a comment
© Phil Disley
Dramatis Personae Richard Fausto: high street banker, Vincento: first advisor to Fausto Diablo: second advisor to Fausto, Morphosa: agent for Mammon Chancellor of the Exchequer, Carnage: governor of the central bank
SCENE 1: THE FAUSTIAN PACT
Setting: Fausto is in his banker’s parlour in the City of London. Enter Vincento and Diablo. FAUSTO: Come dear Vincento, you have known me long, since both of us were young. So what think you of pastures new for feisty Richard Fausto, so he may become seriously rich?
VINCENTO: Of banking’s magic art you, sir, are master. People trust you with their money: their trust in you must never be betray’d. Beware the lure of yet more lustrous lucre.
FAUSTO: My thanks Vincento, keeper of my conscience. What says Diablo, young and yet so smart?
DIABLO: What pray is trust? If kept, it loses you your profits, if betrayed you will get rich. So target first the ones who trust you most! Take loyal depositors and offer them high savings rates: but, unseen, cut them soon. Take your loan customers too; and sell to them insurance—for which they don’t qualify!
FAUSTO: This ruthless logic hardens my good heart! I would learn more of Mammon’s devilish art. Arrange to meet with him without delay. Exit Diablo. Re-enters with Morphosa.
FAUSTO: Diablo? ’Tis Mammon I asked to see. Who is this woman fair?
MORPHOSA: Sir, let me speak. My name is Metamorphosis, but now I’m called Morphosa. Famous banker once, yet double-dealer too. Sir, I could make dross seem like gold, and loss appear fair gain. Cruelly betrayed, and sent to Hell, I’m now lord Mammon’s agent here on earth.
I offer you a deal. You can become immensely rich with bonuses galore for ten years and a day. But you must give your soul to Mammon to claim you for his own.
FAUSTO: ’Tis not my custom to transact with women. But I will take this deal. I give my word.
MORPHOSA: Sweet words mean nothing without swift action. Fire Vincento, and promote Diablo.
FAUSTO: Step up Diablo. Vincento, go! Exit Vincento
Now sweet Morphosa, give your crafty help; to lead us to ill-gotten, boundless wealth . Exeunt.
SCENE 2: MORPHOSA’S MAGIC
Fausto’s office, next day. Enter Fausto and Morphosa. FAUSTO: Tell me Morphosa how I may become investment banker, bless’d with great renown.
MORPHOSA: Catastrophe insurance you can sell, the premiums your bonuses will swell.
FAUSTO: But how to pay when the disaster strikes?
MORPHOSA: Why then’s the time you can retire, my dear.
FAUSTO: Say more, Morphosa, music to my ear.
MORPHOSA: Since high-yield, triple-A has no risk weight, yet interest rates are high, take my advice— that is the stuff to buy.
FAUSTO: But risky, no?
MORPHOSA: Indeed, but if it fails you get bailed out! In their great wisdom, rulers of this land will inject capital and lend funds cheap. They will not want to see the ship go down, so you, as captain, will escape the deep! But let us talk of some more cheerful things— a LIBOR-fixing scheme we could enjoy within the Bankers’ Guild’s most blessed rules.
FAUSTO: What are the rules?
MORPHOSA: Most flexible. He who offers the best champagne can fix the rate!
FAUSTO: O marvellous Morphosa, tell me more! Say, one attractive as you are — and smart — must have won many an admiring heart?
MORPHOSA: Nay, private life had I none. There were, true, attractive young men in the bank to woo. But ‘twas the balance sheet that shar’d my bed. So it was for them. Money is what we bred.
FAUSTO: And yet your sacrifice was not in vain. I see it now! We’ll lure into finance the very best and brightest of the young. With boasts of bonuses beyond belief, we’ll take them from their nearest and dearest. To the music of Morphosa they will dance, laughing all and forever gambolling; and Fausto will be Pied Piper of Hamelin! And so it came to pass.
SCENE 3: VINCENTO’S JUSTICE
One day the music stops and a mighty crisis unfolds. Fausto has to resign, and Vincento leads an investigation. Setting: The rooms of the Institute for Cleaner Banking (ICB). Enter the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Vincento CHANCELLOR: Honest Vincento you have laboured long To rid us of this wretched incubus— I mean the bloated banks. So tell us now what punishments for them you have devised.
VINCENTO: Well, after a due deliberation, sir, we say, on pain of death, risk-taking must be separate from high street banking. And Fausto himself be forthwith sent to Hell, together with those of the Bankers Guild who saw no evil, heard none, nor smelt none, for all of these years.
CHANCELLOR: Vincento true, well done. These steps we’ll implement without delay. These miscreants we’ll send to distant Hell. With trust restored on Earth, all will be well. Exeunt omnes.
EPILOGUE: VINCENTO’S DREAM
Vincento lies dreaming of the scene in Hell itself. DIABLO: Alas, we suffer at Vincento’s hands. He has revenged himself upon us all.
FAUSTO: Fear not my friends. The answer is at hand. For now, with the money we have amassed, We must subvert democracy itself! Yes we must bribe these parliamentary fools to quite reject Vincento’s vile Report; and pay them well to write the laws we need, so we may enjoy our wealth for ever! All rise to their feet.
FAUSTO: We will replace the normal market law with jungle law. For there the regal lion eats first, then tiger, and then, only then, the trembling doe and her defenceless young. Let us, my friends, be Lords of the Jungle! Cheering, all surge towards the gates of Hell. Vincento from his slumber almost wakes; but then dreams on
DIABLO: (waiting, doubtful, at the gate) The gates of Hell lie in the frozen north, Fausto; and as we boldly sally forth I see no trembling deer, but ravening wolves await us here. Enter Carnage drawn on a sledge
And who now comes apace by huskies drawn, and arm-ed to the teeth?
CARNAGE: My name is Carnage, famous in these parts for saving folk here from Mammon’s dark arts. The Brits have called on me to keep control; so back to your kennels, you hounds of Hell. Fie on you, Fausto! leader of this pack Come fight face to face, and I’ll drive you back! Vincento awakes
The battle fierce that follows—and who won— Alas, I cannot tell: our tale is done. End
Watch a performance of The Fall of Richard Fausto
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Read more about the play here