Monopoly bored

‘Street artist’ Alec Monopoly is showing at Mead Carney Gallery on Dover Street until 11 January. A selection of the works on show.

The title of the show is ‘Luxury tax’, a feature of US, but not British Monopoly. (Monopoly is a trademark of some games company who have a tendency to sue people for creating games called things like Alcoholopoly, Lake Distropoly, or Stop Global Wopoly) Most of Mr Monopoly’s pictures feature the running man in a bowler hat who is the mascot of the Monopoly game. Presumably he is hoping that he gets sued by the Monopoly company so that he can start some kind of viral backlash as a publicity stunt.  There are also various dollar signs and other things like 1950s gas station comics children holding dollar bills up and so on. These are usually done spray paint with some stencils and then a tag of the artist’s tag ALEC and some other painted bits in acrylic, on top of a collage either of old comics, or of newspaper clippings about the global financial crisis, or something else.

It’s not really clear if Mr Monopoly is commenting on money itself, or the practice of making some out of putting street art on a canvas in a gallery and selling it, or if he just wants to get some money without necessarily commenting on anything. Of course, you can put a lot of thought into an ethical question and then still behave in a way which you know to be clearly unethical. You only have to lie to yourself once. The people that buy this are presumably all rich, and they either think it’s a jolly jape to have a painting hanging up which ‘satirises’ how rich and stupid they are, or they are so rich and stupid they don’t really care. The final possibility is that both Mr Monopoly and his rich customers are gleeful about how much money they both have that they want to celebrate it with tacky, crass art which glorifies money without any pretence of depth. But then why would they do this in full public view rather than behind closed doors??

In any case this is quite possible, given the motif of pretty much the only memorable one – Monopoly man (he actually has a stupid trademarked name) crucified on a ‘Wall St’ sign. Are we supposed to be happy about this crucifixion? It seems more likely that this is an attempt to gain sympathy for round bowler-hatted men, sacrified on an altar of whatever it’s supposed to be, people with iPhones in Zucotti park. Mr Monopoly was probably taking designer drugs and reading about art history on Wikipedia the day he thought of this one, and there are very few crucifixions in art history which are not intended to evoke sympathy for the victim.

The simple answer is probably that Mr Monopoly is not making art for either the rich or those who require facile cartoons to express their disapproval of the rich for them. He is making it for both – for anyone who EITHER thinks his stuff is worth money OR that it has some other merit.

The good thing about bad art is that it establishes that good art is really real, since that which is present but usually invisible in good art is blatantly absent from bad art. Damien Hirst’s art is the world’s biggest advert for conceptual art, since looking at conceptual art which lacks any ideas, reminds one of how many ideas are present in even quite abstruse or poorly executed conceptual art done by proper conceptual artists who are not Damien Hirst. Looking at Mr Monopoly’s work is similar – it reminds us that there are quite a few ideas are present in Banksy’s work, since otherwise it would look like this. His stuff does contain ideas, just not as many as one per picture. There should be at least one per picture, some artists have many more than one per picture. If there is less than one per picture, by the pigeonhole principle at some point the artist must have started painted a work from start to finish without ever once using thought.

There was a nice exception, a painting of Bob Dylan with spray paint drips that went up instead of down. Bob Dylan has sheet music collaged behind his face, slightly inappropriately since he doesn’t read music or write his compositions down on staves. It looked like this, but I don’t think it IS this one, just a self-plagiarism of it.Imagee:

There were also various combinations of Bob Dylan, Jack Nicholson and other cool people of that ilk who probably have lots of money. There was also another ‘straight’ portrait, probably of Robert Kennedy, Roman Polanski or Ben Stiller, which looked quite good from far away.

Outlook: SELL the bowler hat stuff. Target price: 5 bitcoin.


By any judicious means necessary

Now to the extent that these premia do not have to do with factors inherent to my counterparty – they come into our mandate.

The most important sentence of Mario Draghi’s 26 July 2012 speech. The most important phrase is factors inherent to my counterparty.

Of course, much of the work of saving the euro that he talked about in that speech was done just by giving the speech. If the ECB announces that it will protect periphery sovereign debt against the wicked speculators, those speculators are going to need big hearts and deep wallets before they decide to test this thesis.

But now suppose a Southern European country, say Portugal, runs into various forms of political drama and instability, and yields start to grow. The ECB can act or not act, and it has to act if the bond prices are not caused by risk that Portugal won’t pay its debts. Equally, it can’t act, if the sell off is caused by factors inherent to my counterparty, such as the genuine possibility of default (including buybacks, bailins, bailouts with PSI, etc.)

So the ECB now has the job of doing things like looking at Portugese governments and deciding if they have a chance of being stable, finding out how much Portgual (headline unemployment rate: 28%) has lied about various economic indicators, figuring out how and to what extent her banks are being encouraged to misallocate money they don’t have to people who can’t afford to pay them back… They are not supposed to hand over Finnish and German surpluses merely based on the benefit of the doubt. And the longer they wait before doing this, the more of this hard-earned money will be seen to go to reward hedge funds who bought in at the bottom. But neither do they want their statement about why they are not buying any Portugese government debt (in the immortal words of Gerald Ratner, “because it’s crap”) to be the thing that happened the day before Greece 2.

See why this is a more dangerous road to go down than LTRO. A bank that has collateral to get money with is by definition illiquid and not insolvent, unless the collateral is crappy. And crappy collateral suddenly gets a lot less crappy, if you allow the bank holding it to pretend it isn’t crappy and treat it as currency. It’s a bit like playing Monopoly when you choose to ‘forgive’ debts for as long as everyone needs to pay, rather than have them go bankrupt and spoil the party. Sooner or later everyone passes Go and collects £200 enough times.

Governments tend not to have much collateral, other than things like hospitals, and buying up government debt to lower its yield doesn’t actually give the government in question any more money to pay its deputy mayors until the next bond auction comes along.

Unlike the IMF (and the Egyptian army), the ECB doesn’t have a lot of functionaries whose job is to decide at what point it would be in everyone’s best interest to cancel democracy. This might be one of the things that has to change in the new Europe.