26 January 2008

Money and Fiction

I've received the book I mentioned in my January 10 entry, "Money, Speculation and Finance in Contemporary British Fiction."

It isn't what I thought it would be. It's both broader in scope and more theoretical. Still, it has passages of interest.

In the first chapter, which is apparently intended to provide historical context by reference to not-so-contemporary British fiction, we get some discussion of Ian Fleming and the Bond novels.

At the start of the novel GOLDFINGER, our protagonist 007 is being entertained by an American millionaire named Du Pont, who wants Bond to work privately for him, investigating a man whom he suspects is cheating at cards. This man turns out to be Auric Goldfinger.

In wooing the famous spy, Mr. Du Pont provides him with a sumptuous meal, which Fleming describes in depth. Sweet shellfish, dry toast, the "slightly burned taste of the melted butter," champagne with the "faintest smell of strawberries," and so forth.

Bond is put off by this display of conspicuous consumption. "Suddenly the idea of ever having another meal like this, or indeed any other meal with Mr. Du Pont, revolted him."

Of course, Bond does expose the Goldfinger card scam, and that serves as a prelude for their more world-shaking conflict to come. But Bond can't bring himself to keep the money that Mr. Du Pont has paid him for this service.

Now: what's that all about? We have to abstract from the Hollywood movie Bond, who doesn't have the puritan streak of the character of the novels. But Fleming is clearly creating some distance here. Not just between the UK and the US, but between Bond and the world that he works to rescue.

Goldfinger represents two sorts of threat -- the political/military one, from the Soviet empire with which MI and the CIA were both jousting -- and the threats posed to the Du Ponts of the world by hoarding. Fleming's novel presumes the Keynesian idea that capitalism requires that consumption be stimulated, that too much saving/hoarding is a threat. (Bond gets a briefing on this from an official with the Bank of England, and the Bank is described as having a spy system of its own.) Goldfinger's vast reserves of hidden gold themselves represent a threat, the Keynesian world-view's analog to the cheating at cards that allows Bond to trip him up early on.

But, back to the clams, toast, and champagne. Bond viscerally (slight pun there) recognizes Du Pont's consumption as a vice, just as in the line of duty he recognizes Goldfinger's hoarding not just as an opposite vice but as a deadly threat to the world he's protecting. His job is to protect Du Pont from Goldfinger -- but he doesn't have to like it.

By the way, here's a 21 year old joke. What do you call a 20-year bond issued in 1987?

Wait for it....

James, of course. [Maturity in '007. Get it?]

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.