The Indicator from Planet Money - The Lehman Trilogy

Just before Broadway shut down, team Indicator saw The Lehman Trilogy, about the origin of Lehman Brothers. We talk with playwright Ben Power about the firm, the family and the consolation of history.

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Is the Tony nominations happened this week? It was a really big night for Jagged Little Pill and slave play jar. And you know, it has been a devastating year for Broadway Broadway was shut down in mid-march, and it won't reopen until next summer at the earliest and impact Stacy you and I and indicator team went to a play three days before they shut down Broadway. Yes. We did. We went to see a musical called the Lehman Trilogy was very on brand. It was about Lehman Brothers the Investment Bank that famously collapsed in 2008 and ended up being kind of the canary in the coal mine of the whole financial crisis.

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It was a really fun night. I mean the play was spectacular. We loved it the pandemic at that time, but there was a news about it, but it seemed very far away. I mean we were kind of like joking about covid-19 Purell with the next to us. Remember the lady went to store watermelon flavored Purell that we felt. So responsible. We did look at us using Purell sitting like shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of people we bought souvenir cups. Do you remember Anderson Cooper? We thought Anderson Cooper? That's right. I think it was him gather and the next day the playwright been power came to NPR offices to speak with us just a couple of blocks away from Broadway and I've been thinking about that interview so much recently so much in all the months actually since we talked, I mean the themes of that place seemed almost more relevant now than they did when we first saw the play. It was like this last normal moment for Broadway.

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Expresses a team for the country. We we just we had no idea what was coming.

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This is the indicator from Planet Money. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. And I'm part. Of course do you get on the show? We are going to play that conversation with Ben power to play right of the Lehman trilogy.

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Ben power-play right for the Lehman Trilogy. Thank you so much for joining me. This play is based on a book an Italian book. How did this play come about about 4 years ago, but in touch with me and said I've heard about this play that that doing in Milan and it was 9 hours long writing. Therefore they what they were very comfortable with that. So then when we got our hands on script was astonishing to me that it didn't beginning a Bull Street full drew. It started in the shadow of Ellis Island, you know with this American Dream story, right? He begins he sounds that with nothing he's got one pair of shoes is a little store that sells Clawson garments. Teens, Alabama Shakes from a tiny tiny shop in Montgomery on the High Street and within a generation he and his brothers have

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One of the most significant companies in America when the Lehman Brothers decided that they want to try to buy raw cotton and sell it to a big fabric makers for the actor on stage in the moment invents the word middleman and he's keeps explained everybody what he does because nobody can understand what this job would because normally Farmers would you sell directly to factories and it was so interesting to me because when Lehman Brothers collapse, I was covering business and economics to and it was really a complicated to explain what they did then because they were also still middle man. It was a stroke of Genius and outside-the-box thinking from the youngest leaving brother from Maya the the one who did his older brothers tees in the knees that just to

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A smooth nearly peel potatoes the thing that happens by the time they're in New York when they look at the stock exchange and they say which suggests starting to just stopped. It was like such a strange conceptual thing. They're they're like, this is a word as a temple. You just say cotton and you traded someone with a bullet the goods that they wanted to Sal and you would have looked at the goods in three dimensions of the imagination right this moving to master for instead of having the things you just have the wood and I think this is one of the reasons why the story was probably in theater, right? It's because last year and of these all these Financial system is the idea that one thing stands for something else and you got the distance from the actual thing that you'll selling and from the

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People whose lives are impacting when you do that the more you move into the abstract may be the harder. It gets to have a moral framework around while you didn't it seems like that happened in several several times throughout the Lehman Brothers. That's one of the themes of the play as a sort of a movement away from the tangible into the abstract. And there's this moment we're at one of the original Lehman Brothers a man and his son Philip. They're all being interviewed. I guess by a reporter who asks, you know in this Theory days about PayPal. Well, he asked a really good question not surprisingly. Maybe he was trying to understand what they were doing at that time, which is back in this has been the late 1880s 1880s and he says like what do you do? What is the flower in your recipe and Emmanuel I think says like, oh, it's railroads and cotton all the things that they've invested in and his sons

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Hope speaks up and says no it's money. But what is happening in that moment? What's great about the incident theater times is that it's about 2 old powerful man watching that power move away from them because the Beast immediately after that is Emmanuel in Maya the old found a brother look at each other. And for a moment they were Baker is he didn't understand what bread is like, they don't understand what that means and will not move until it leaving says other people use money to buy stuff. We use money to make more money and that idea that you can be inside the system and you don't have to worry about the tangible is exactly the word you can move ideas trade-ideas and that is very sustaining folding and very exciting and the flip side of. Of course you got in 2019 when the stock broker says money is a ghost like

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Comes up and asks for the mummy. I was thinking that the master. Big Wall Street Crash that because the play ends with the death of Phillips son in it seems like a sixties. So yes, sir. Robert Lehman Bobby Lehman dies in 69. The company is becoming a global company. I'm does a new approach to Mauk saying that says we're going to make the idea of consumerism. We going to make it like breathing. Everybody is going to be consumed. Everyone's going to be buying all the time that people will buy to exist or threats like life will become acquainted with consumption exactly. Do you make everything about that kind of transaction a bank, you know that the supplier of the of the money becomes the most important thing. It's especially interesting. I think now I mean,

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On the night, which I went to see the play the markets and dropped you had their biggest single-day Point drop and everybody is referencing 2008-2018. 2008. What is it like for a play to be opening with this backdrop? Yeah, I mean it was the strange feeling on Monday night and I think it will continue to be a strange feeling that says volatility in the markets you just demonstrating lots of the things that the play is talking about right about do you know the power of events to undermine the best laid plans? You know, it's some its last night thing in a way. I think we should be reassured by looking back and seeing these moments have happened before 5 or we'll always different right but we overcome the greater project moves through and that's what I find really exciting about that the final 20th century pause play.

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Open thank you so much for coming in for talking talking about Lehman. This episode of the indicator was produced by Darian woods and fact-checked by Sean saldania or editor is Patty Hearst and the indicator is a production of NPR.
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