Mary Poppins, Bank Runs and Why I’m Poor

It must be Christmas- Mary Poppins is on television. Doubtless, Zulu will also make an appearance on the schedules. Mary Poppins is one of the most delightful films ever made. First screened in 1964, it continues to enamour adults and children alike, with its catchy songs and cutting-edge combination of cartoon animation and live action. Poppins’ employer, London banker George Banks, sums up the British Edwardian period, singing:

I run my home precisely on schedule;

At 6:01, I march through my door;

My slippers, sherry and pipe are due at 6:02,

Consistent is the life I lead.

It's grand to be an Englishman in 1910;

King Edward's on the throne,

It's the Age of Men! 

The film closes, however, with Banks’ bank coming close to being ‘rupted’. His son Peter refuses to hand over his tuppence to the banks’ directors. Nearby customers mistake this exchange for the institution’s impending insolvency, and a run on the bank ensues. Under fractional-reserve banking, our financial institutions are vulnerable. Savers’ deposits are not held in the banks’ safes but lent out to borrowers. If every saver withdrew their savings at the same time, the bank could not recall its loans on time and it would become insolvent. The word bankruptcy is derived from Italian banca rotta, meaning ‘broken bank’, perhaps a reference to the Genoese practice of breaking a money lender's bench or counter to signify his insolvency. In Britain, the last bank run began on 13 September 2007 when Northern Rock applied for emergency loans. Savers immediately began to withdraw their deposits until Her Majesty’s Treasury promised to guarantee accounts. The most recent run was on 19 April this year, when Home Capital Group in Canada lost its savers’ confidence. 

Our economic system always teeters on the ability of our banks to be both wise and successful, which are two attributes seemingly beyond most bankers’ grasp. To boost confidence, Her Majesty’s Government decreed that all UK-regulated current or savings accounts in banks, building societies and credit unions are covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) up to £85,000. People like me are unlikely to have savings anywhere near this level, so I lose little sleep. Rich people may find otherwise: 

The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. Ecclesiastes 5:12

Only after losing his job does George Banks become the good father and pleasant human being that he singularly failed to be throughout the bulk of the film. As an unemployed man, he takes his children to the park where he flies kites with them and laughs and jokes. Though poorer, he’s better.

Contrary to the sons-of-hell prosperity preachers, both here and in America, God sometimes prevents us from becoming wealthy, knowing it would endanger our souls. Our lack of money causes us to depend more on Him, and focus our hopes on the next life rather than this. 

For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. Proverbs 1:32