The Three Trillion Dollar
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
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
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
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
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.