- homepage link


The Three Trillion Dollar Opera:
Memoirs of the Banker Macheath
Transcribed and edited by Joel Schechter






Editor's Note: When last seen in Brecht's Threepenny Opera, the gangster Macheath, alias Mack the Knife, spoke of entering a more socially acceptable profession. He has found it, if these confessions can be trusted.

It was only a matter of time before I left my gang of highwaymen behind and became a legitimate banker. I asked my wife Polly to send all our profits to Jack Poole's banking house in Manchester, while I took a brief vacation in the Newgate district. (My stay in the prison there ended with a reprieve from the Queen of England, who honored my entrepreneurial talents with knighthood.) Some of my early career was reported with wild inaccuracy by a German writer named Bertolt Brecht, in his musical titled The Threepenny Opera; but the most recent developments in my life have yet to be told. Rather than let Brecht or his followers again misrepresent my admittedly exciting adventures in capitalism, I decided to pen this modest memoir myself.

The honest and rewarding life I led as an international banker might not win approval from everyone. We businessmen of the 21st century live in a time when some of the public would rather hear about stock market scandals and crashes than read dull financial page accounts of multi-billion dollar loans, rising, usurious interest rates and other banking news.

Once I transferred my Manchester holdings to the United States, bought a skyscraper in New York, and installed a new unassailable vault in the building, I was more convinced than ever that owning a bank is more profitable than burgling one.

My life as a banker led me to associate closely with prominent corporate executives and high government officials. I cannot name my friends here; they would lose public trust if linked to my infamous history of highway robbery and extortion. But I am now an honorable man, with honorable friends in high places (not just my skyscraper, either). I adhere to the finest laws that lobbyists can secure, all of which exempt me from prosecution. Once I understood the newly deregulated banking laws, I could see that I was born to sell derivatives, mortgage packages and hedge funds.

A firm like mine is now too big to fail; therefore when the firm falters it receives generous government bailouts. In a December 2010 speech, Senator Bernie Sanders must have had me in mind when he mentioned a secret bailout by Federal Reserve officials who loaned $780 billion to Goldman Sachs, as well as $2 trillion to Morgan Stanley, and $2.4 trillion to Citigroup, all without public disclosure. This is indeed a land of opportunity. Where else could a man like me borrow trillions?

Little did Brecht know when he wrote The Threepenny Opera that this new era of bank bailouts would warrant a sequel: The Three Trillion Dollar Opera.

My own reserve funds have been deposited offshore in a secluded West Indies location. (The same island was celebrated by John Gay in his 1729 stage play Polly. His portrait of me as a pirate in that play was not flattering, but I love its setting, with the beautiful blue sea and the nattily dressed British colonials.)

My enchanting wife Polly (whose name inspired John Gay's play) and I are now older, but as literary figures we live on in new versions of the old dramas. Although our careers began in 18th-century England, we acquired modern capitalist aspirations in Brecht's Threepenny Opera, and today we are quite at home with ruthless financial transactions in the United States.

I recently appointed Polly director of a new disaster relief firm called "The Widow's Friend." The company designed for an age of climate change provides emergency loans to nations that suffer floods, hurricanes, drought, oil spills and other environmental catastrophes. Polly's father, Jeremiah Peachum, pioneered the practice of profitable disaster relief. (Although known as "The Beggar King," the man was inordinately wealthy due to his success as a fund collector on behalf of war veterans and the unemployed.) While Polly will give away millions to widows and orphans, she also will collect and disperse billions to governments that lease new oil, gas, uranium and electronic media rights in their time of trouble. Her firm also will find great demand for its services in areas that need rebuilding after wars. (Polly refuses to fund war weaponry in those regions; even if she wanted to do so, prominent arms manufacturers already control the market.)

My old comrade in arms, Tiger Brown, who fought by my side in India, and served as London's police chief, now advises Scotland Yard on counter-terrorism strategy, and oversees security for famous singers with unruly admirers. Brown's daughter Lucy often hires her father's guards, as she performs Brecht and Weill songs with a very popular band. Occasionally I accept her complimentary tickets, and listen fondly to the old refrains: "The world is poor and men are bad/ And we have nothing more to add."

Nothing like an evening of art to prepare one for re-entry into the fray. The competition never rests, and I buy out as much of it as I can afford. While I have no interest in taking a seat in the government's cabinet (why buy what you already own?), I expect to be appointed to the Federal Reserve Board; for the present I am content to borrow its funds.

No longer an outlaw, but a friend of judges, I now marvel at the benefits law confers on those who can afford to abide by it. Not long ago a firm of mine was fined $550 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission because we held one hundred percent of the short side on collateralized debt obligations before the American housing market collapsed, at the same time our firm was advising investors their obligations would be paid in full. I never admit to such conduct in public, my subordinates are well paid to endure the discredit; but if fined for it, we immediately pay the millions asked, and write it off as part of the firm's operating costs. Such fines cut into the profits, but I can handle a few cuts; that is why friends still call me Mack the Knife.

I have outlived my critics (Brecht among them) by decades; for which survival I acknowledge wonderful government support in the form of banking deregulation, undersight (certainly not oversight) of stock market trading, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the occasional rewriting of my story by someone like Brecht or the Italian satirist Dario Fo.

Polly wept as she read Senator Carl Levin's recent description of American mortgage firms and Wall Street banks as "a financial snake pit rife with greed, conflicts of interest and wrongdoing." "He didn't mention your firm once," she lamented. I told her not to worry, we should be grateful for the Senator's neglect; through benign inaction, he and other officials have helped us acquire great financial wealth and respectability.

In case you didn't see it, when Senator Levin reprimanded the Goldman Sachs Group Incorporated the other day (April, 13, 2011), he announced that "Goldman clearly misled their clients, and they misled the Congress." What is the world coming to, when a Senator so openly praises the achievements of my colleagues? It almost makes me want to become a Senator myself.


©2003-10 All rights reserved. Do not duplicate or distribute in any form without express permission. Hunter Department of Theater . 695 Park Avenue . New York, NY 10065 .