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Conor McCabe - 14:06 Sath Samh 18, 2017
I There is a lot more to class than accent or dialect. It is a power relation, the dynamics of which have shaped the contours of the Irish state since its establishment over 90 years ago in the courtyard of Dublin Castle. The economic interests of Ireland’s moneyed class have had an inordinate influence on our [...]
There is a lot more to class than accent or dialect. It is a power relation, the dynamics of which have shaped the contours of the Irish state since its establishment over 90 years ago in the courtyard of Dublin Castle. The economic interests of Ireland’s moneyed class have had an inordinate influence on our laws and on the scope and direction of government policies. They have been able to do this because their objectives and operational procedures are deeply embedded within the institutions of the state itself. They are without doubt the greatest block to progressive change in Ireland.
Take housing for example. It is no secret that we are in the midst of a housing crisis and the way to solve it is to build more houses. The problem is not the solution, which is refreshingly self-evident, but rather the question of whose economic interests should be served or side-lined by whatever plan is put in place.
Should we protect the financial interests of speculators and hope that they do the right thing, or should we protect ordinary households because we know that the former will only ever look after themselves?
The housing plans put forward by Fine Gael are designed in such a way as to ensure that the speculative price of a house will continue to rise. The government will try to help people ?afford? that price but it will not do anything to dampen, stall, or reverse its upward ascent.
The government says that property speculators need the right encouragements to build, and that the best incentive for them is a rising market. Meanwhile affordable accommodation is out of reach for ordinary households and this is compounded by official state policy.
The problem is that we are not just dealing with the relationship between property speculators and political parties: we are also talking about banks; land-hoarders; estate agents; insurance companies; the Department of Finance; the Central Bank; the Revenue Commissioners; tax lawyers; The Housing Agency; Real Estate Investment Trusts (Reits); the Department of the Taoiseach, and the Department of Housing and Local Government.
Housing is an industry. It comprises those involved in property speculation, financial and legal services, and the crafting of government policy. They have a shared economic interest and common cultural and intellectual reference-points, and these are not down to nor exclusively held by any one person or group.
These economic class interests have an institutional form: they are supported and maintained by the state apparatus and by the way the state operates. They are deeply embedded in our legal and taxation systems, both of which prioritise the interests of speculators and financiers over the common good. They are embedded throughout our banks as well as the regulators - as can be seen by the recent tracker mortgage scandal - and in the policy units of our government departments.
There has been in this state a forty-year move to shut down social housing and the class that has benefited from that will not allow any crisis for ordinary people to reverse that trend. In fact, the selling-off of our public housing stock, the almost complete privatisation of the rental sector, and the creation of the myth that home ownership ?is in our DNA? has been one of the great ideological successes of that class. They are not going to give that up for anyone.
And it is not just in housing that this class flexes its muscles. It is in workers rights as well.
On 28 September 2017 Regina Doherty, the Minister for Employment Affairs & Social Protection, appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Social Protection and proceeded to defend proposed new laws that would further erode the livelihoods of ordinary working people.
The minister was challenged on the idea of a law that would allow the continuation of the very thing it is supposed to ban, but Regina Doherty was not for turning. The law would stand as drafted, she said, before going on to criticise the Committee for being so negative.
Trade unions and civil society groups can lobby government and hope to influence the outcome, but in general Irish state departments will protect the interests of private business, with nothing but the weakest of concessions to fairness and social cohesion.
This leads us to the situation we have now: a minister who says she will ban zero-hour contracts - except in cases where bosses want to use them - and will force workers to apply for a work contract under terms that would give employers a fit of the giggles. This is coupled with a housing policy that is designed to benefit speculators and financiers over ordinary people.
We have been here before of course. The decision in 2008 to give an almost blanket guarantee to six banks in Ireland - despite the severe problems that were known in relation to at least two of them, Irish Nationwide Building Society and Anglo Irish Bank - was an exercise in genuine class power. It put certain vested interests over the well-being of the state. It was an unconscionable act that was not repeated by any other country within the Eurozone. As for the banks, however, it was nothing more than what their heightened sense of entitlement expected at the time.
Five days after the announcement of the Irish bank guarantee Sean Fitzpatrick, the chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, gave an address at the annual La Touche Legacy seminar in Greystones Co. Wicklow where he called for the ?sacred cows? of Irish society to be tackled once and for all. These were, in his opinion, universal child benefit, state pensions and medical cards for the over 70s. He also called for Ireland?s corporation tax rate to be cut to ten per cent.
The cost of guaranteeing Anglo Irish Bank would eventually come to around ?30 billion, equal to just less than half of the bailout funds sourced from the Troika. The legacy debt of Anglo Irish Bank will be on the shoulders of the Irish people until 2054. It is certainly true that Ireland has sacred cows, and in 2008 they were the ones given a blanket guarantee to cover their disastrous investment plans while they waxed lyrical about child benefit and medical cards when the mood suited them.
?Real elites only enter the day-to-day operations of government in periods of crisis? wrote William K. Tabb in his seminal work on the 1970s New York fiscal crisis, ?they move to the background as soon as possible, after they have restructured the context of decision-making in ways they find congenial.? Ireland during the 2008 financial crisis was no different. There was a rupture in both the mechanisms and institutions that support economic class power in Ireland, and the political and economic strategy was to protect and rebuild those structures by whatever means necessary, regardless of the social cost. This was done via an unprecedented transfer of collective wealth from the citizenry to the banking system ? a transfer that was only possible through State direction and control.
It showed us that, despite what we would like to think, class power matters. It is real, and it is ruthless.
But it is not enough to look at capitalism simply in terms of economic class alone, for if we do so we are in danger of missing out on the gendered nature of how capitalism works. Given the debate that that is out there at the moment ? that somehow feminism and identity issues ?distract? from the struggle against capitalism ? let me lay it out straight that nothing could be further from the truth. It is simply impossible to confront capitalism and not confront the exploitation of women through gendered roles and economic position in society. Impossible. And I don?t mean this as some kind of moral response on the part of progressives ? that we should do it because it is ?the right thing to do?. The struggle against the economic exploitation of women through gendered roles is a struggle against capitalism itself. That is a fact. Any progressive movement worth its salt ignores that at its peril.
By way of background, in the summer of 1972 a group of feminist activists from England, France, Italy and the US met in Padova, Italy and launched a new campaign based around wages for housework. ?Class struggle and feminism for us are one and the same thing? they said in a statement to the journal Off Our Backs. ?We reject both class struggle as subordinate to feminism and feminism as subordinate to class struggle.?
The group identified itself as Marxist feminist and put forward a definition of class which incorporated the ?exploitation of the labour of women in the home and the cause of their more intense exploitation out of it.? The group said that ?such an analysis of class presupposes a new area of struggle, the subversion not only of the factory and office but of the community.?
The group saw two equal and interdependent struggles in the two areas of production - the home and the factory ? and said that it was wrong to assume that the women?s struggle was somehow secondary to that of class. ?This assumption of the auxiliary nature of women?s struggle flows directly from the misconception that women?s labour in the home is auxiliary to the reproduction and development of capital? they wrote, ?a misconception which has so long hindered us all.?
This idea was expanded upon in a pamphlet co-written by Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James published the same year entitled The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community. ?The community therefore is not an area of freedom and leisure auxiliary to the factory, where by chance there happen to be women who are degraded as the personal servants of men?, they said. ?The community is the other half of capitalist organisation, the other area of hidden capitalist exploitation, the other, hidden, source of surplus labour.?
It was a continuation of a similar analysis put forward by the Canadian feminist activist, Peggy Morton, in her seminal 1970 article, Women’s Work is Never Done. Morton saw that in order to fully understand capitalism it was necessary to “see the family as a unit whose function is the maintenance of the reproduction of labour power,” and that “this conception of the family allows us to look at women’s public and private roles in an integrated way.”
A lot of left-wing thinking assumes a division of work into productive and unproductive sectors ? with ?factory? productive and ?household? unproductive. This is a fundamental misconception, a blind spot to the manner by which capitalism operates. The household is the space where human labour is produced, maintained and reproduced, the cost of which is borne by the household.
Capitalism does not willingly pay for the reproduction of the labour it exploits. Social democracy forced it to contribute to this reproduction through legislation and general taxation, but from the 1970s onwards these very supports have been under profound attack, in particular by finance capital.
The slashing of corporation and capital taxes is the slashing of finance and industrial capital?s contribution to the social reproduction of human labour, pushing the burden back onto the shoulders of ordinary people. Austerity is a continuation of this process. It is class war writ large, with gendered consequences.
The drive to dismantle the welfare state in its various guises has had the effect of placing more pressure on women to compensate for the withdrawal of the state from this arena of social necessity. The absolute need for finance capital to devour the welfare state for profit-seeking purposes leaves finance capital open to attack. The issue contains the potential for a genuine counter-attack against finance capital. In the words of the London-based activist group, Feminist Fightback,
Such strategies shine a light on the patriarchal nature of capitalism. They show that both class and gender are crucial to understanding how actually-existing capitalism works, and are crucial to any plan to oppose it.
Right2Change needs to embrace all these three elements discussed - class, gender, and labour ? in a commonwealth of civil society groups and trade unions.
We need to do this in order to shape our own future. The alternative to the current situation of seeing the interests of Ireland?s moneyed classes made law is quite straightforward: we make the laws ourselves. And in order to do that, we need to organise.
Class power and class interests cannot be tackled at an individual level. The only thing that can take on deeply-embedded class interests is a counter-class organisation. In other words, if we want to take on those who are organised at a class and state level then we need to do the same ? we also need to organise at a class level with the aim of shaping the direction of the state in a progressive way.
But again whereas the solution is somewhat straightforward, the pathway to it is fraught with tensions, contradictions and compromises.
Institutions, however, are a different matter. Once a class interest takes an institutional form it is very difficult to dislodge it. The issue that confronts us today is not so much societal but institutional change.
We want the state to be reflective of where we have already arrived in our thinking. The question is how do we harness the change that is happening and give it an institutional expression? How do we replace the old conservatism and embedded financial interests with the new in terms of social solidarity, and how do we do it without making things worse?
Right2Change produced a document before the last election in 2016 that outlined what it saw as essential policies of a progressive state. These included a right to housing, health, and education; to democratic reform; to equality and a sustainable environment; and to the public ownership of natural resources including water.
All of this requires organisation. It also needs a plan. Without a workable method of implementation any vision put forward of a progressive and equal Ireland is merely an aspiration. It is a set of words that serves no threat to power and its institutions.
The desire to make the world a better place, though, is not enough to make it happen, no matter how worthy the shopping list of reforms. It never has and it never will be. Progressives have no choice but to organise on class lines, because that is exactly what Irish moneyed interests have done. They have the state to protect those interests, so progressives need an organisational framework that is able to confront those interests and overcome the blocks to change they have put in our path. In order to have any chance of success, progressives need a different organisational dynamic to that of Right2Water, the campaign that formed the basis for Right2Change.
Right2Water was not about a new vision for Ireland; it was about stopping the government and the Irish moneyed class from putting in place their economic plan for a public utility. Right2Water was able to do that because the mechanisms that utility needed in order to work as a private, profit-seeking company were not in place at the time the protest began.
The utility, which became Irish Water, needed a separate and clearly identifiable income stream via charges in order to attract private investment and remain listed as a private entity for government statistical purposes. This was fatally undermined by the payment boycott. The company?s funding model assumed a 90 percent compliance rate by private households; by the end of 2015 it stood at 30 percent.
The payment boycott worked because of the dozens of community-based organisations that sprang up to resist the installation of water meters and charges in general. The massive rallies that followed gave national expression to that local energy. The message that was sent out on Facebook and Twitter countered the media bias. People could see the resistance with their own eyes. They stopped believing RTE; they stopped believing the Irish Times. The class interests of Irish society were there for all to see.
Right2Water was reactive, in a positive way. It was an act of resistance, and a successful one at that. The task that faces Right2Change is to build a transformative movement out of a reactive campaign. This is not an easy thing to do. I do not see, though, how we have much choice. As the old saying goes, when life gives you lemons, organise.
No plan survives contact with reality. The more intricate the design, the more likely it will fail. To coin an old phrase, ‘Men plan and God laughs’. The strategies that work are the ones that leave room for creativity and spontaneity. They have to do this, for the world has a way of throwing curve balls that knock you over when you least expect.
This means that a progressive movement cannot simply follow a plan as if life is some sort of predetermined pathway. No. A progressive movement needs: a set of objectives; an organisational structure to harness the societal energy that is out there for progressive change; a plan on how to achieve those objectives; and crucially the ability to think and rethink the plan while it is in operation. The objectives stay the same, the flexibility is in the methods we adopt to get there.
We need an organisational structure that is robust enough to make our objectives real, flexible enough to allow us to achieve them, and reflective enough of the particular and specific class antagonisms and gendered exploitation that are at play in this state to allow us to confront the class that opposes us.
No small ask, and, unfortunately, one that cannot be googled. There is no Wikipedia page out there on how to build a progressive movement specific to the societal needs and class dynamics of Irish society. (No need to check, I already have.)
This is one thing we are going to have to work out for ourselves. We are going to have to teach ourselves to think about how Ireland works. We need to develop these skills so we can adapt our strategies ourselves as circumstances arise.
The skill of thought and reflection is often labelled as education, but it has little if anything to do with school or experts. Activist education, done properly, does not teach you how Ireland works, it teaches you to think about how Ireland works. And it does that for a very specific and practical reason: activists are on the ground and they need to be able to adapt strategies when the need arises ? that means they need to be able to think clearly about how to achieve the same objectives but by different means.
The Right2Water campaign threw up dozens of examples of this such as the various ways of blocking water meters, the use of social media as an organisational tool, and the ’silent women’ protest in Coolock.
When we talk about education we are talking about a way of harnessing this experience and creativity, and placing it within a conceptual framework of economic class power and how it operates in Ireland today. Education used in this way simply gives direction and focus to what is already there. Education is not knowledge; it is understanding. It is not passive; it is active. Education is a tool that builds a deeper understanding of class as a power relation by using the knowledge and experience of activists on the ground. A movement that is able to think for itself ? genuinely think for itself ? is genuinely transformative.
In conclusion, in order to tackle Irish moneyed class interests we need a commonwealth of civil society and trade unions working in tandem with a progressive political sphere. It’s about education, campaigns, legislation, and resources, all framed by class consciousness - that is, an awareness and understanding of how class works in Ireland, its economic and gendered necessities, and the organisational solidarity needed to tackle it.
It is entirely achievable.
Conor McCabe - 15:10 Sath Aib 02, 2016
Ireland?s Economy: Radio Eireann talks on Ireland?s part in the Marshall Plan. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1949 [official/government publication] NLI: OPIE X 26.A Forward by the Taoiseach Mr. John A. Costello S.C., T.D. (pp.1-2) Since its inception European Economic Co-operation has done much towards restoring European economic solvency and has challenged the forces which have been attempting [...]
Ireland?s Economy: Radio Eireann talks on Ireland?s part in the Marshall Plan. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1949 [official/government publication] NLI: OPIE X 26.A
Forward by the Taoiseach Mr. John A. Costello S.C., T.D. (pp.1-2)
Since its inception European Economic Co-operation has done much towards restoring European economic solvency and has challenged the forces which have been attempting to undermine the traditional civilisation and culture of Europe. Today, however, economic uncertainties beset many countries and the international trading system still requires to be lubricated in a way that will ensure that world production will be better distributed and used for the benefit of the people of the world generally. (p.1)
The future prosperity of Ireland, however, is dependent to a considerable extent on the success of attempts now being made to restore the international economy. Because of our small size as a nation we may not be a determining influence in the success of these attempts, but through our participation in the plan for European Economic Co-operation we are enabled to play a not inconsiderable part in assisting them. (p.1)
The basic difficulty in this country?s economy has for long been chronic under-investment. We have had resources idle in land, labour and capital. The most urgent economic problem in Ireland has been under-employment - a condition in which men, money and land are frequently not employed in the manner or in the combination which would produce the most efficient and profitable results. These conditions, the result of under-investment in the past, may have been partly caused by the fact that the Irish farmer, unaided by State assistance, has been incapable of providing himself with the capital necessary to improve substantially the productivity of his lad. It is in a great campaign for the elimination of these conditions of under-employment that the Irish government needs the aid which the bold and generous policy of the American Republic has lent us. (p.2)
To explain in a simple yet comprehensive manner Ireland?s economic problems and the use of American aid to help towards their solution, Radio Éireann broadcast in March and April of this year  a series of talks on the Plan for European Economic Co-operation - the Marshall Plan - and Ireland?s part in it. The first three talks were given by Mr. Seán MacBride, who, as Minister for External Affairs, has special responsibility for the working out of Ireland?s part in the plan. The remaining four talks were given by our American advisers, Mr. J.E. Carrigan, Chief of the ECA Mission to Ireland, and Mr. W.H. Taft III, his special assistant. (p.2)
?The Fourth Talk: Mr. Carrigan Reviews Progress? (pp.16-20)
Now let us look at Ireland. Ireland?s soil, her most important resource, suffered from lack of fertilisers, unobtainable during the war; her poultry and livestock numbers were reduced; her industrial plant deteriorated for lack of replacement parts and equipment; and her stock piles of consumption goods were lowered almost to the vanishing point. In other words her productive plant was in bad condition. (p.17)
The only eventual answer is to produce more or consume less. I think the answer in Ireland is to produce more and that every Irishman is (p.19) going to respond. It is only in this way that Ireland may build her own economy and make her greatest contribution to the European Recovery Programme. (p.20)
?The Fifth Talk: Mr. Carrigan on Agriculture? (pp.21-26)
The fact that Ireland needs to increase her exports greatly in order to close the gap between outgo and income by the year ending June 20, 1953, has been already emphasised. Actually Ireland needs to double the value of her exports over 1947. This means an increase in exports of $39,000,000 and $38,000,0000 or 97 per cent is expected from agriculture. (p.21)
The European Recovery Programme: Ireland?s Long Term Programme (1949-1953). Dublin: Stationery Office, 1948.
Information Supplied by Ireland to the Paris Conference.
Conor McCabe - 19:58 Sath Lún 29, 2015
I start teaching a level one (introduction level) module in UCD Monday Week on the Financial Crisis. As always, I’ll post what I can here to share it with activists and progressives. This is a short audio I’m putting up for the students to give them a sense of where the module is coming from. [...]
I start teaching a level one (introduction level) module in UCD Monday Week on the Financial Crisis. As always, I’ll post what I can here to share it with activists and progressives. This is a short audio I’m putting up for the students to give them a sense of where the module is coming from.
It’s a clip from a Financial Times interview with Joseph Stiglitz last week, and the main point here is the one he makes about economic activity as informed by rules and power. It’s that idea of economic activity as a power relation, and a deeply unequal one at that, which really informs the whole thrust of the module - and that those who get to set the rules, get to rig the game in their favour.
The report referred to in the clip can be found here - http://www.rewritetherules.org/
The full interview is available here - http://podcast.ft.com/p/2926
Conor McCabe - 21:34 Sath Lún 22, 2015
I’ve been asked to write a short book on money. The manuscript is due in the end of April 2016. As with most things I do with political economy and education I’ll be posting stuff here as I go along. I just find it an interesting way of working through ideas, concepts and analysis. Anyway, [...]
I’ve been asked to write a short book on money. The manuscript is due in the end of April 2016. As with most things I do with political economy and education I’ll be posting stuff here as I go along. I just find it an interesting way of working through ideas, concepts and analysis. Anyway, this is the first page of the outline. It’ll be interesting to see come April how close I stuck to it, or how far I strayed.
It’s funny but when I’m writing I have to type, but when it comes to working out the overall design I have to use pen and paper - and squared paper as well.
Also, being left-handed I work from the back of the notebook to the front, upside-down, so as to not have the ring binder under my wrist. We all have our little quirks I suppose. Whatever works in the end. Anyways. Money in 35,000 words.
Conor McCabe - 09:32 Aoine Ean 30, 2015
I’ll be writing more about this at the weekend but I think this is a good standalone clip from evidence to the banking inquiry given by Prof. Ed Kane on Wednesday 28 Jan 2015. He was asked by Deputy Pearse Doherty to elaborate on the statement below which was made in a paper that [...]
I’ll be writing more about this at the weekend but I think this is a good standalone clip from evidence to the banking inquiry given by Prof. Ed Kane on Wednesday 28 Jan 2015.
He was asked by Deputy Pearse Doherty to elaborate on the statement below which was made in a paper that Kane co-authored in 2004:
Professor Kane’s analysis is that the way a crisis plays out in terms of who pays for the crisis is an issue of power - that is, it is related to the nature of political and economic power in a state and the relationships between the worlds of finance and politics.
Anyway, the official transcript is below, with a video clip of the ecxhange. You’ll notice that the official transcript differs slightly from the actual exchange, but not in a significant way. The meaning is still captured and essentially stays the same.
the 2004 paper referenced is available here.
Conor McCabe - 23:11 Déar Ean 22, 2015
Shadows never go away. Might be you don?t see them, but they?re always clinging to your heels.” A Song of Ice and Fire When I was a child in primary school my way of dealing with Irish class was to find a word in the question that matched a word in the text and hope for the [...]
When I was a child in primary school my way of dealing with Irish class was to find a word in the question that matched a word in the text and hope for the best. The sentence I would find would be the one I’d read out. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But, it was a plan, and it helped me get through the hour.
In the absence of any understanding of the grammar, of the way the words actually relate to each other, you grab what you can and try to make sense of the situation.
In terms of the bank guarantee and bailout, and the different narratives that are being thrown out there, we can’t really do this - we can’t just pick out single words, single events, and use them to make our story. We need to have enough of an overview of the dynamics at play in order to make sure we don’t stray from the path as we go forward.
In other words, we need to understand the grammar that holds it all together, and one of the objectives of the bank inquiry is to fulfill this role.
It helps, of course, to have witnesses that understand this, and with Professor Patrick Honohan last week I’m not sure it did.
On paper the purpose of Honohan?s appearance before the Bank Inquiry Committee was to discuss his 2010 report, which looked at the regulatory and operational failure within the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator?s office. On the day itself, however, the proceedings were dominated by talk of the 2008 bank guarantee ? the decision itself and supposed cost.
Honohan initially said that the net cost of the guarantee would be somewhere in the region of ?40 billion. When he was challenged on this he revised the figure and, indeed, the parameters, acknowledging that his figure wasn?t for the guarantee alone but for the subsequent bailout. Even with this, Honohan had not factored in added costs such as interest repayments. The moment he gave the definitive-sounding figure of ?40bn, though, he had handed the journalists the following day?s headline.
He followed his ?40bn with another brash statement ? that Brian Lenihan had been ?overruled? by a more senior politician with regard to saving Anglo Irish Bank. It was obvious that the ?more senior politician? he was referring to was Brian Cowen.
The sole piece of evidence he had for this was a conversation he said he had held with Lenihan ? a conversation that cannot be collaborated as Lenihan has since passed away. The ?overruled? statement had the added effect of handing the journalists in the room the prefect narrative ? the urbane and intellectual Lenihan shot down by the gombeen Cowen.
Honohan also said that to his knowledge there was no phonecall from Trichet strong-arming the Irish government into a blanket guarantee. This is from his exchange with Deputy Pearse Doherty:
Here’s the clip from the RTE documentary, Freefall, that Deputy Doherty mentions in his questions:
This framing of events as down to a clash of social class and personalities had already been put forward in the drama, The Guarantee, and challenged by Eoin O?Broin on The Vincent Browne Show as taking away from the actual facts of the bank crisis. There?s a link below to Eoin talking about the bank guarantee.
The video serves as a short, succinct summary of part of the analysis which underpins Pearse Doherty?s contribution to the bank inquiry, namely that from the late Summer of 2007 the Irish authorities had been discussing, and ruling out, various ways of dealing with a possible crisis involving Irish banks. This isn?t about a panicked meeting at 2am, but a long and detailed process stretching back at least a year.
Getting back to the inquiry itself, Pearse Doherty brushed aside Honohan?s attempts to dictate the story and instead focused in on the substance of Honohan?s report, much to the governor?s discomfort.
Deputy Doherty asked about the ?non-intrusive? regulatory environment set up to facilitate IFSC banks in Ireland and how this affected Irish banks, and he also made the following point regarding Depfa, a German-owned bank with a full Irish banking licence and regulated by the Irish financial regulator from 2002 to 2007.
This is from Deputy Doherty at the inquiry:
The regulation of the IFSC (or lack thereof) had a knock-on effect with regard to Irish banks, but there is more going on here in terms the inquiry. In the case of Depfa, we have a way in to the type of social, political and financial relationships which operate at the highest level in the Irish state.
The point about the relationships that operate with regard to power in Ireland is a key element of the Banking Inquiry. Its terms of reference state clearly that it is required to look into,
With Depfa and the Irish Banking Inquiry, the focus is not so much on the causes and cost of Depfa’s collapse but on the light it throws on the nature of economic, political and social power in Ireland.
On Friday 16 January Pearse Doherty was on the Pat Kenny radio show on Newstalk where he summed up the reasons behind asking about Depfa, the IFSC and regulation. As with Eoin O?Broin, it?s a short clip and well worth listening to in order to get a sense of the overall thrust of Deputy Doherty’s line of questioning on the Bank Inquiry.
In terms of the bank inquiry, in order to make it a story that is more than just a scrambled synchronization of seemingly random events, we need to have a sense of the grammar that underpins the 2008 bank guarantee and 2010 bailout.
Each week we’re getting more and more of a sense of that grammar, and from Deputy Doherty’s questions and analysis we can see that this includes:
1. Mapping the regulatory framework
By the end of the context phase the bank inquiry should have enough of a grounding in these areas to enable it to go forward and ask questions that relate to the overarching story of the bank guarantee and not just to events ripped from their context.
Conor McCabe - 21:04 Luan Ean 12, 2015
Reprieved! Reprieved! I was sure of it. When you’re most despairing The clouds may be clearing.” The Threepenny Opera. Patrick Honohan, the governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, will be before the Bank Inquiry committee this week to talk about his 2010 report into the crisis. We will be able to hear his explanation as to the [...]
Patrick Honohan, the governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, will be before the Bank Inquiry committee this week to talk about his 2010 report into the crisis.
We will be able to hear his explanation as to the conclusions he drew with regard to the role of the Financial Regulator and Central Bank in the years leading up to, and after, the 2008 bank guarantee.
It will also give us a chance to get more of a sense as to where each of the main parties is coming from with regard to the inquiry - the approach they have taken and the analysis that informs their questioning.
In the case of Fianna Fáil, the analysis which underpins their questioning seems to be based upon two main points:
1. The Guarantee decision was taken under enormous pressure and one to which there was no realistic alternative
2. The ECB has questions to answer with regard to blocking any haircuts imposed on bondholders especially from 2010 onward.
For example, this video clip here has these points being raised by Michael McGrath and Darragh O’Brien:
By way of contrast, have a look at this clip of Eoin O’Broin on the Vincent Browne Show, where he argues that the collapse of Northern Rock in September 2007 marked the beginning of the debate within government and state circles as to whether a similar event could happen here.
In other words, the bank guarantee should not be seen purely in terms of the actual night itself (a point acknowledged by Senator O’Brien in the previous clip) - it needs to be seen the context of almost a year of debate and analysis taking place within the Central Bank, Dept, of Finance, Financial Regulator’s office and the Office of the Taoiseach.
With regard to this debate we are still unclear as to its shape and direction, and it is one of the purposes of the Bank Inquiry to throw some light on what happened in the twelve months prior to the guarantee decision.
Conor McCabe - 18:05 Domh Noll 28, 2014
I do not think it is fair to say people partied. People just lived a little better than they otherwise would have done because of the bubble.” Peter Nyberg under questioning from Deputy Pearse Doherty, 17 Dec 2014. Peter Nyberg’s appearance at the Irish bank inquiry marked the beginning of the context phase, the purpose of [...]
Peter Nyberg’s appearance at the Irish bank inquiry marked the beginning of the context phase, the purpose of which is to set the scene for the causes and consequences of the bank guarantee and bailout.
The context part is going to last for a few months, and it may not be until April before the committee starts calling people actually involved in the guarantee decision and its aftermath. So, for those looking for fireworks you may have to be a little bit patient I’m afraid.
However, the context phase gives us the opportunity to do what it says - to place the guarantee within a wider framework than that of the personalities involved in the tense meetings of the night of 29 September 2008. It allows us to see the bigger picture; that is, if we want to see it. It is by no means certain that such a road is one that the various actors involved in Irish finance would choose for themselves.
Alongside this, the committee is itself working within a context where narratives around the crisis have already been formed, most notably the “asleep at the wheel/regulators/bad apples/nobody understood/auditors/collective psychology” theme. I’ll come back to this later as this is something that popped up during Nyberg’s (quite dry and uninspiring) testimony, but it is worth flagging now because in the search for the truth as to what happened we have to deal with a story that has had six years to bed itself down.
The analogy that is closest to explaining what I’m getting at here would be that of a cover story, but it is not as calculated and Machiavellian as that. We’re dealing here with an ideology - Nyberg admits as much in his testimony - and the way that the ideology of modern finance made sense of the world before the crash is the way that it made sense of the world after the crash. It couldn’t grasp the nature of the problem then, and it is incapable of making sense of it now. It knows that the problem was structural, but because it has such a vested interest in the continuation of those structures and practices, it has to find a way of addressing systemic failure without changing the architecture.
Its solution, its way of squaring the circle, is to treat the crisis as a managerial problem. Asleep at the wheel / regulators / bad apples / nobody understood / auditors / collective psychology / etc etc etc. What is needed is better managers, better regulators, better auditors.
It is a bit like if a car crashes because of faulty brakes, the solution is to find a better driver.
There are variations on this story, and indeed outside of Ireland there has been some acknowledgement that a structural problem demands structural solutions, but within the Irish state I see little evidence of even that moderate concession. Here, the bad managers narrative is at its strongest, and has merged, Borg-like, with a morality theme.
In Ireland for the past six years the exploration and analysis of the crisis has been, for the most part, “fecking bad managers and won’t somebody please think of the morality”.
A case of, keep the brakes and get a better driver.
Getting back to Nyberg and his appearance before the Bank Inquiry Committee, I just want to pick up on a couple of points he made that I thought were interesting. The following quote is his response to a question by Fine Gael’s Eoghan Murphy about the efficient market hypothesis which Nyberg highlighted in his report as a causal factor in the crisis.
Conor McCabe - 21:07 Aoine Noll 26, 2014
God will forgive them. He’ll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can’t live with that.” Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) What are we to make of the Irish Banking Inquiry, which began its public hearings last week. For myself, as I said in Shop Floor in September, I think it provides an opportunity for progressives and we [...]
What are we to make of the Irish Banking Inquiry, which began its public hearings last week. For myself, as I said in Shop Floor in September, I think it provides an opportunity for progressives and we should make use of it.
As to what I mean by that, well, take this quote from a 2012 paper by Gregory Connor, Thomas Flavin and Brian O’Kelly, entitled ‘The U.S. and Irish credit crises: Their distinctive differences and common features’, published in the Journal of International Money and Finance (available as a pdf here).
The key to the Irish bank guarantee and subsequent sovereign debt crisis is right there in that complex web of developer loans with different banks. That’s the rabbit hole, the one we need to fall into, in order to make sense of this whole mess.
But let us be clear: although the loan book is key, this is not just about developers and their bets.
For example, the loans for commercial property speculation cannot be separated from the tax incentives approved by the Oireachtas and various finance ministers; nor from the legislative and regulatory environment that finance and property speculation demanded of, and received from, the Irish State.
Alongside the finance/speculator/state core lie the professional sectors that benefited hugely from this environment - that is, accountancy, law and real estate.
There is also the issue of the media in Ireland - private and public, the newspapers as well as RTE - which as a sector not only benefited from property speculation via ad revenue, but at a deeper level shared (and continues to share) much of the ideological framework which gave an intellectual sheen to such base and futile speculation.
When we take these dynamics and place them within a historical time-frame, we start to observe a reconfiguration of the Irish State, from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s, which parallels the shift in profit-seeking strategies within Western capital, from production to rentier. Ireland’s role as a comprador state, that stays the same, albeit one that shifts from the grazing fields of Meath to the glass towers of the docklands.
The best way to make sense of a ‘complex web’ of social, political, economic and cultural forces is to apply a relational approach, not a causal one.
A world seen through causality is binary, whereas a relational approach is dynamic - it allows us to see the various forces in motion, bouncing off each other, as they create new tensions and contradictions.
The terms of reference of the Irish Banking Inquiry allow for such an analysis. They state quite clearly that,
This is a clear invitation to undertake the type of investigation demanded by the profound consequences of the bank guarantee - that such a decision cannot be dismissed as a case of ‘bad management’ within banks and ‘asleep at the wheel’ regulators.
The people of Ireland, since 30 September 2008, have been taught a harsh lesson in the nature of class power and the Irish State. The dynamics of that class power, the economic and social relationships and institutional structures that sustain and protect it, are key to our understanding of how - and why - the bank guarantee was given.
Conor McCabe - 10:26 Aoine Noll 05, 2014