BLOG: THE WINNER’S CURSE

THE WINNER’S CURSE

I got the idea for this story while on an assignment in Switzerland at the same time as the investment bank Lehman Bros collapsed. Although the media gave wide coverage to the failure and its consequences for the financial markets, to an insider the real causes were hardly touched upon. Naughty bankers earning exorbitant salaries and bonuses and using the markets as gambling casinos were only part of the problem. The buzzword “too big to fail” characterised the investment banking culture, and the lack of responsible oversight on the part of the authorities and regulators did the rest. Those involved closed their eyes to the obvious. They were on to a good thing. In other words, they didn’t make waves.

zurich2 Photo of Zurich

But as all markets where buying and selling takes place work on the zero sum basis, at the end of the day winners and losers cancel out. Now we know who the losers were – the taxpayers. Hundreds of billions had to be written off by banks across the world only to be rescued from bankruptcy by the central banks and thus the exchequer at sky-high cost while elsewhere in the world millions were homeless and starving.

But who were the winners? Who pocketed the billions raised by national treasuries across the world by printing money to save their banks? Somebody did.

While in Switzerland, I began to get interested in this question. Soon it became obvious that nobody in authority really wanted to know about cause and effect of the market collapse, but just to to make the problem disappear. Which the politicians did – at huge expense but without eliminating the origins. Under this global cover-up the “criminals” among the investment bankers had a free ride to do their thing: skimming and scamming. This is the story of such a scam which could have happened in the shadows of the world financial crisis.

But it is not just a story of a clever scam to defraud the foreign exchange markets – that is just the backcloth – but about the interactions of a group of people, some motivated by ethics, others by greed, who are sucked into the epicentre of the scam, and their individual fates. It is a people-oriented story with a character-driven plot told with dark humour and in a style reminiscent of Jimmy Breslin’s classic “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” until the dramatic – and for two persons – tragic end.BLOG

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