David Chaplin 's Opinion

A personal finance columnist for the NZ Herald

Inside Money: Talking money with The Cat in the Hat

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Learning to speak finance isn't "rocket science, but it's also not The Cat in the Hat".
Learning to speak finance isn't "rocket science, but it's also not The Cat in the Hat".

Here's writer John Lanchester speaking about his latest writings, How to speak money.

It sounds like a good read and I plan to read it in full one day but in the meantime this summary by the author in The New Yorker published in the AFR will have to do.

The book is Lanchester's attempt to demystify the vocabulary of finance on behalf of the average ignorant citizen.

"The language of money is a powerful tool, and it is also a tool of power," he writes in The New Yorker. "Incomprehension is a form of consent. If we allow ourselves not to understand this language, we are signing off on the way the world works today..."

Based on his own late-life conquering of the subject (as research for a novel) Lanchester argues that learning to speak finance isn't "rocket science, but it's also not The Cat in the Hat".

Although The Cat in the Hat is actually linguistically sophisticated, the Dr Seuss classic is no doubt an easier read than Dr Wernher von Braun's 1939 effort Proposal for a Workable Fighter with Rocket Drive.

Surprising himself, Lanchester grew to like the "amoral quality" of finance-speak, which "sets out to be less an expression of politics and more a tool for discussing them".

"Our public life is dominated by hypocrisy, by people holding back from saying exactly what they mean because they don't want to offer targets for opponents or the media, especially targets for the form of fake outrage which dominates so much of our public discourse," he writes. "There's less of that in the language of money; it is not, in general, hypocritical. As a result, it gets to the real matter under discussion with commendable speed - once you have the linguistic tools to join the conversation."

Even the Cat in the Hat knows to call in alphabetic reinforcements when A-M can't get the job done: "But our work is so hard we must have more than them. We need Little Cat N. We need O. We need P. We need Little Cats Q, R, S, T, U and V."

And don't forget Cats W, X, Y and Z.

- NZ Herald

David Chaplin

A personal finance columnist for the NZ Herald

David is a freelance journalist who has covered the financial services business on both sides of the Tasman for over 15 years. David has edited magazines and websites for the financial advice, investment and superannuation industries. Today, he contributes to various publications in Australia as well as his bi-weekly blog for the NZ Herald under the 'Inside Money' banner.

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