Authors: David Lagercrantz
“We have an exciting day ahead of us,” she said. “We’re going to be listening to a whole range of expert analyses of the current market. But first we thought we’d take a look at the stock exchange from a more philosophical point of view. Please give a big hand to Leo Mannheimer, who has a Ph.D. in economics and is head of research at Alfred Ögren Securities.”
A tall, slender man with curly hair, in a light-blue suit, stood up in the front row and went up on stage. His step was firm and light and he looked as one would expect: rich and self-assured. But then a screeching sound cut through the crowded auditorium as a chair was dragged clumsily across the floor, and at that Mannheimer staggered. His face went ashen, and he looked like he might collapse. Malin grabbed Blomkvist’s hand and whispered, “Oh no.”
“Leo! Are you O.K.?” Laestander stammered.
“Are you sure?”
Mannheimer grasped the edge of the round table in front of him and fumbled with a bottle of water.
“Just a bit keyed up,” he said. He tried to smile.
“Well, a warm welcome to you,” Laestander said, apparently not sure if she should keep going.
“Thank you, that’s kind.”
“—I’m a bit steadier on my feet.”
Nervous laughter rippled through the hall.
Laestander brightened. “Right. Rock solid. Normally you generate factual analyses of the economy for Alfred Ögren, but lately you’ve begun to describe the markets – how would you put it? – more philosophically. You call the stock exchange a temple for believers.”
“Well, yes,” he said. “I’m not the first to say this. It’s obvious that both the financial markets and religion rely on faith. If we begin to doubt, they collapse,” he said, squaring his shoulders. Some of the colour returned to his face.
“But surely we all doubt, all the time,” Laestander said. “In fact it’s the reason we’re all here today – we’re asking ourselves whether we’re in a bubble or in the last phase of a boom economy.”
“Doubt on a small scale is what makes the stock market possible,” Mannheimer replied. “Every day, millions of people out there doubt and hope and analyse. That’s what sets share prices. What I’m talking about is deep, existential doubt – lack of faith in growth and future returns. Nothing is more dangerous for a highly valued market. That level of fear can cause a crash and plunge the world into a depression. We could even start to question the whole idea, the imaginary construct. This will sound like a provocation to some of you, and I apologize for that. But the financial market is not something that exists like you or I, Karin, or this bottle of water on the table. The moment we stop believing in it, it ceases to exist.”
“Isn’t that a bit of an exaggeration?”
“No, no, just think about it. What is the market? It’s a convention. We’ve decided to let our anxieties and dreams and thoughts about the future set the price of currencies, companies and raw materials. Much of what matters in our lives – like our cultural heritage and our institutions, for example – are mere creations of human imagination.”
“And our money too, of course.”
“Absolutely, now more than ever. We don’t dive into piles of gold the way Scrooge McDuck used to in the comic books, nor do we keep cash under our mattresses. These days our savings are numbers on a computer screen, constantly shifting with movement in the market. And we rely completely on them. But imagine if we start to worry that those quotations not only bounce up and down with the markets, but could also quite simply be erased, like numbers on a slate, what happens then?”
“Our society would be shaken to its foundations.”
“Exactly, and that’s what happened to some extent a few months ago.”
“You mean the hacker attack on Finance Security? The old Värdepapperscentralen?”
“Correct. We had a situation there in which our investments ceased to exist for a short time. They couldn’t be found anywhere in cyberspace and the market reeled. The krona fell by 46 per cent.”
“Yet the Stockholm Exchange reacted prodigiously quickly and closed all trading platforms.”
“Indeed, we have to hand it to the people in charge there, Karin. But the collapse was limited by the fact that nobody in Sweden could keep dealing. There were no longer any assets. But believe you me, some people grew richer on the back of it. It’s enough to make your head spin. You cannot imagine what they made, those who created the crash and then took positions in the market. You would have to rob innumerable banks to amass that sort of money.”
“Absolutely,” Laestander said. “There was a great deal written about it, not least in
by Mikael Blomkvist. In fact I can see him sitting there at the back. But in truth, Leo, how serious was it, really?”
“In actual fact there was no major danger. Both Finance Security and the Swedish banks have extensive back-up systems. Still, for a time we came to doubt the very existence of capital in a digital world.”
“The hacker attacks were also accompanied by a massive disinformation campaign on social media.”
“Very much so. There was an avalanche of fake tweets about how our assets could never be reconstructed, so it was an attack on our faith as much as on our money – to the extent, that is, that you can distinguish between the two.”
“It seems there is conclusive evidence that both the hacker attack and the accompanying disinformation campaign on social media originated in Russia.”
“We should be careful about accusations like that, but it’s still an eye-opener. Perhaps that is exactly how a war of aggression in the future will begin. Few things would create as much chaos as a complete loss of faith in our money. You have to keep in mind that it’s not even necessary for us to doubt. It’s enough if we think that others do.”
“Could you elaborate on that, Leo?”
“Picture a large crowd. We ourselves may know that the situation is under control and nothing dangerous has happened. But if other people begin to run in panic, we have to run too. Good old Keynes, legendary economist, once compared the stock market to a beauty contest – one in which we, the jury, do not select the person we think is the most beautiful, but the one we think is going to win.”
“That we have to forget our own preferences and instead think about other people’s tastes and opinions. In fact not even that: we should be thinking about who people think others think is the most beautiful. Which is no more involved than what happens every second of the day in the financial markets. The stock market is not just the result of analyses of the values of companies and the world around us. Psychological factors play an equal role, real psychological mechanisms, and guessing about them. Guessing about other people’s guesses. Everything is twisted and turned around because everybody wants to be one step ahead, to be able, so to speak, to start running before anyone else does, and this is no different than in Keynes’ day. Actually, increased automated trading is making markets even more self-reflective. Algorithms act on people’s buy and sell orders, so that patterns are reinforced. There’s a significant risk with this. A quick movement in the market can rapidly accelerate out of control. In such a situation it becomes rational to act irrationally – to rush even though you know it’s lunacy to do so. It’s no good standing there shouting ‘dimwits, there’s no danger’, when everyone else is running for their lives.”
“But surely if the panic is unjustified, the market will correct itself, will it not?” Laestander said.
“It can take time, though, and then it doesn’t matter how right you are. You can be right all the way to the bankruptcy courts, to paraphrase Keynes again. But there is hope, and that’s because the market is able to reflect on itself. When a meteorologist analyses the weather, that doesn’t change the weather. But when we study the economy, our guesses and analyses become a part of the economic organism. That’s why the market is like any self-respecting neurotic – it’s capable of evolving and becoming a little bit wiser.”
“That makes it impossible to predict, doesn’t it?”
“A bit like me on stage. We never really know when there’s going to be a wobble.”
Genuine laughter could be heard now, and in it a kind of relief. Mannheimer gave a careful smile and took a step towards the edge of the stage.
“In that respect, the stock market is a paradox,” he said. “We all want to understand it and make money from it. But if we really understood it, our very understanding would transform it, and then it would become something else, a mutated virus. The one thing we can predict with certainty is that it’s unpredictable.”
“And our disparity is its very soul,” Laestander said.
“Quite so. You need both buyers and sellers, believers and doubters, and that’s the beauty of it. The chorus of dissonant voices often makes it astonishingly wise, shrewder than any of us here who like to play the armchair guru. If people all over the world separately ask themselves: ‘How can we make as much money as possible?’ and when there is a perfect balance between guesswork and knowledge, between the buyer’s hope and the seller’s doubt, then an almost prophetic insight can appear. The problem is: When does the market know what it’s doing? And when has it gone mad and run off like a crazy mob?”
“How are we supposed to know?”
“That’s the point,” Mannheimer said. “When I’m feeling full of myself, I like to say that I now know enough about the financial markets to realize that I don’t understand them.”
Malin whispered in Blomkvist’s ear:
“He’s certainly no fool, is he?”
Blomkvist was about to reply when his mobile buzzed in his pocket. It was his sister, Annika. He thought about his conversation with Palmgren, whispered an apology and, deep in thought, left the auditorium without noticing that his departure brought a flicker of alarm to Mannheimer’s face. But Malin did not fail to see it, and she studied Mannheimer intently. She had another vision of him sitting in his office, writing on that sand-coloured paper. There was something significant and strange about the scene. She felt it more clearly now, and she decided to buttonhole Mannheimer after the presentation to ask him about it.
Blomkvist stood on the wharf, looking out across the water towards Gamla Stan and the Royal Palace. The sea was calm and in the distance a cruise ship was coming in to dock. He decided to use his Android telephone and his encrypted Signal app to call Giannini back. She answered after one ring, sounding slightly out of breath, so he asked if anything had happened. She was on her way home from Flodberga, she said. Salander had been questioned by the police.
“Is she accused of something?”
“Not yet, and with any luck she won’t be. But it’s serious, Mikael.”
“Well, let’s have it!”
“Easy, easy. That woman I was telling you about, Benito Andersson, the one who’s been threatening and exploiting both the staff and fellow prisoners – an unimaginably sadistic person – well, she’s been taken to Örebro University Hospital with severe injuries to her jaw and skull after a violent attack in the maximum security unit.”
“And what’s that got to do with Lisbeth?”
“Let me put it like this: The head of the unit, Alvar Olsen, claims he did it. He says he had to knock Benito out. Because she went for someone with a stiletto.”
“Inside the prison?”
“It’s a huge scandal, of course, and there’s a parallel investigation going on to find out how the knife could have been smuggled in. So I’d say that the attack in itself shouldn’t be a problem. Getting it adjudged as self-defence shouldn’t be too difficult, especially since Olsen’s version is backed up by Faria Kazi, the woman from Bangladesh I told you about. Faria is adamant that Olsen saved her life.”
“So what’s the problem for Lisbeth?”
“Her own witness statement, for a start.”
“She was a witness?”
“Let’s deal with one thing at a time. There are contradictions between Faria’s witness statement and Olsen’s. Olsen claims that he punched Benito twice on the windpipe while Faria says that he elbowed her, and Benito then fell badly onto the concrete floor. But that may not be a problem. All experienced criminal investigators know that people’s memories of traumatic incidents can be surprisingly inconsistent. What the C.C.T.V. shows is more problematic.”
“Which is …?”
“The whole drama happened just after 7.30 in the evening. It’s the worst time in the maximum security unit. Most of the violence there occurs just before the cell doors are locked and, as Olsen knows perfectly well, no-one has been more exposed to it than Faria. He’s been aware, but hasn’t dared to do anything about it. He says so himself. He’s good in that way, very frank – I’ve seen a copy of his interview notes. At 7.32 last night he’s sitting in his office, and finally gets the call he’s been waiting on for so long: he learns that Benito’s going to be transferred to another prison. Yet he says nothing, apparently, he just puts down the receiver.”
“Because at exactly that moment he realizes that it’s 7.30, he says. He’s worried, he rushes off to open the sally port gates with his code and runs along the corridor of the maximum security unit. The strange thing is … just then another inmate, Tine Grönlund, bursts out of Faria’s cell. People in the maximum security unit call Grönlund Benito’s lapdog, so that raises the question: Why does she come rushing out? Because she hears Olsen coming, or for some entirely different reason? Olsen says he never even sees her. He’s busy barging past all the inmates gathered outside Faria’s door, and once he’s in the cell he discovers Benito with the knife in her hand. He hits her as hard as he can on the windpipe. For reasons of privacy there are no cameras in the cells, so we can’t check his story. To me he seemed like a man of principle and integrity. But Lisbeth is already in the cell at that stage.”
“And Lisbeth isn’t the sort to stand idle while abuse happens in front of her eyes.”
“Especially not when the victim is a woman like Faria. But that’s not all.”
“O.K., go on.”
“The mood in the unit, Mikael. As usual in prison, no-one wants to talk. But even at a distance you can tell that the atmosphere is seething. When I was just passing through the dining hall with Lisbeth the inmates started rattling their mugs on the tables. They see her as a hero, but also … as someone with a death sentence. I heard the words ‘dead woman walking’. Even though it only adds to her reputation, it’s critical, not just because of the unpleasant message in the words. It will also get the police thinking: If it really was Olsen who smashed Benito’s jaw, how come Lisbeth is the one being threatened?”