Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Man With a Million

(The Million Pound Note, UK, 1954)

From a story by Mark Twain. Gregory Peck is a down-on-his-luck American in London without a farthing. Two rich brothers make a bet. They persuade the Bank of England to issue a one million pound note. One brother says that with such a thing, he won’t need to spend anything. People will be so eager to have his business they will shower goods and services on him, gratis, or bill him for later. He has to make it this way for one month. It’s one of those silly plots where, if only the guy can tell his girl, a duchess no less, what’s really happening, the story is over, so all sorts of devices have to be invented to prevent this, including the guy being pretty dumb. After various machinations his actions cause a run on the stock market, with buyers panicking. It’s over-simplified, of course, but it illustrates something I realized a long time ago. There are two basic differences between an “investor” in the stock market and one who “invests” his money in a horse in the seventh race at Santa Anita: The horse player is a lot smarter, and the average stock market player is more nervous and frightened and prone to the vapors than the worst fainting belle of the Victorian era. Idiots, most of them, as 2008 proved once again.