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  • Robert Hinkley

The Lehman Trilogy--Outstanding


I went to see The Lehman Trilogy (Trilogy) in Sydney yesterday. Great theatre. It's about much more than the rise and fall of Lehman Brothers. 


Trilogy doesn't devote very much time at all to Lehman's fall or its role in the global financial crisis. That story has been told many times since 2008. Trilogy’s story is much more important. 


Its story is the evolution of the role of the finance industry in our society, how its power has expanded and why that's not good. (Clue: the people at the top of

the industry (i) aren't nearly as smart as you might think they should be and

(ii) aren't very much concerned about the wellbeing of anyone but their institutions.) 

Photo by Richard Miller


At Trilogy's heart is the expanding role of the finance industry from the 1840s to the fall of Lehman in September 2008. If you want to know why the world seems to be going in the wrong direction, Trilogy explains how finance became the vehicle which hyper-charged greed and made it, though we never chose for it to become, such a driving force in the world. 


The finance industry started to take over in the last quarter of the 20th century. According to Trilogy, it came to Bobby Lehman (the last member of the family to

run the company) that the role of finance was "To get people to buy what

they can't afford with money they haven't got." 


When that idea became widely accepted, the finance industry took over. As the main supplier of finance, everyone had to play by the rules it set. Wall Street became King.


Democracy and government were no longer the forums where our most important decisions were made. Government could only tinker around what had already been decided, (i.e.,"we must do whatever is best for the economy.") 


Trilogy offers an aside to show the heightened role of finance and the reduced role of government when Herbert Lehman (one of two cousins in line to run the bank) is banished because he is more concerned with doing good for society than making money for the bank. (Eventually, he becomes a much-loved Democratic governor of New York, but that hardly gets a mention).


Trilogy is about Lehman Brothers, but the investment bank is simply the vehicle for showing how we've let Wall Street and the finance industry gain control of our lives by making the foundational rules which determine the direction of our society. Not surprisingly those rules are good for Wall Street and care little about the wellbeing of anyone else. For everyone else, life is becoming a constant battle for survival with only a severely weakened government left to lend them a hand.

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