‘It’s the pearl of great price,’ says Jonathan Ruffer. Like the merchant in the Gospel, he is selling all that he hath. With the proceeds, he is buying the 12 Zurbaran paintings of Jacob and his Brothers at Auckland Castle, the palace of the Bishop of Durham. And when he has bought them from the Church of England, he will give them back, keeping them in the castle, thus bestowing them upon the people of the north-east in perpetuity. The price is £15 million. He believes in the Big Society and is taking a big punt on it.
Ruffer, who is 59, is a very successful private client fund manager. He is famous for having foreseen the credit crunch, largely by careful study of past crises. ‘I know more about the history of economics than anyone I know,’ he boasts, though, on the subject of his benefaction he is so unboastful as to be almost abject. The credit crunch was the moment when people suddenly stopped trusting their bank deposits. The next big crunch, which he sees as ‘certain’, and which could happen in Britain first, is that trust in the value of the currency will collapse, leading to hyperinflation: ‘It is an airless valley from which there is no escape.’
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