W.W. Norton, New York, 2014
Until now, John Lanchester has been an outstanding British novelist. But How to Speak Money is a non-fiction work that will expand his fame— unless the financial services industry sends a hit man to silence Lanchester because he understands how they speak money.
The book begins with a 62 page essay on The Language of Money that reviews ancient and modern ways of hiding truth about money.
Next is the heart of the book: A Lexicon of Money, 175 pages about 292 words, phrases, acronyms and names whose updated definitions will worry the industry—but will it stimulate the regulatory agencies? Of the money-speak words he invents, headliner is reversification. * It describes money words we think we know until Lanchester redefines them. Examples:
synergy Mainly bullshit, but when it does mean anything, it means merging two companies and taking the opportunity to sack people. [Page 232 of ebook edition]
supply-side…in practice means “rich people economics” in which the rich get tax breaks and spend money…that “trickles-down” through the economy and everyone benefits. If that was going to work, you’d think it would have kicked in by now. [Pp. 228-9]
Lanchester’s research is extensive, his background helpful (was the son of a British banking employee in Hong Kong) and his language is in the finest traditions of English wit and satire. To use an 18th Century phrase, his book will “teach and delight.” In 21st Century usage, it will clarify and alarm. If you suspect the country is headed in the wrong direction, the book will give you yet more reason to believe we are headed for another cliff. He makes the case that those who speak Money learned a comforting lesson from the 2008 hits to the financial system: Why worry? When stuff happens so do taxpayer bailouts. Plus our bets are with other people’s money.
The book concludes with a 35 page Afterword that says we may have time yet to redirect our current path to the next abyss. But the “we” depends on the “them,” as in the new congress and the existing president, which is like hope without action, as in jet without propulsion
* Google the words reversification consumerist and my August 6 post will pop up with more on Lanchester’s reversification.