April Fools – Hey, why aren’t we laughing?
Last week, on April 1, I posted a short piece that purported to be about a meeting in Geneva of major international banks, who had gotten together to plot to take over savings groups. It was an April Fools gag and a complete fabrication.
It presented a series of increasingly preposterous and cynical statements, attributed to non-existent vice presidents at various real banks. It suggested that the bankers would use sophisticated financial engineering to bilk savers out of their money, creating clever but opaque derivatives that misrepresented to the savings group members what was actually happening to their money.
My expectation was that at some point while reading the article the reader would say, “Hey, wait a minute! This has got to be a joke. Oh – I get it! April 1! Good one! Ha ha.” And based on feedback, that’s what happened with some readers.
But in other cases, readers made it all the way to the end without realizing that it was a spoof, even after seeing this bit, attributed to a fictitious banker: “The much-vaunted transparency of savings groups should be recognized as their principal weakness. While it may seem counterintuitive, transparency preys on people’s aversion to risk. Inflating the expected outcome of an investment helps people invest in products that they wouldn’t otherwise consider. Fear holds them back, and deception helps them overcome their fear.”
Several people reacted with outrage: “Those bastards! How dare they!?” One reader who received a forwarded copy had a different reaction, saying he didn’t know who this “Paul Rippey” was, but he really suspected this was a joke, that he had checked with one of the banks and the person I cited didn’t exist, and anyway, no banker would actually say those things.
Well, it’s true: no banker would actually say the things I made up. But what does it say about the reputation of banks that, despite the millions of dollars they have spent in brand advertising, some of the smartest people I know hold them in such low esteem as to believe that? And what are the lessons for community-based groups in this? And why aren’t we laughing?