Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Serial Borrowing of Catalonia's "Robin Hood"

From Wikipedia:

Enric Duran, also known as "Robin Bank" or "Robin Hood of the Banks" is a Catalan anticapitalist activist and member of the "Temps de Re-volts collective". On September 17, 2008, he publicly announced that he had 'robbed' dozens of Spanish banks of nearly a half-million euros as part of a campaign of political action to denounce what he termed the "predatory capitalist system" and finance various anti-capitalist movements. From 2006 to 2008, Duran took out 68 commercial and personal loans from 39 banks with no guarantees or properties as collateral. Duran published an article entitled "I have 'robbed' 492,000 euros from those who most rob us in order to denounce them and build some alternatives for society" explaining via the internet that he had taken out a series of loans from numerous Spanish banks as well as publishing his "confession" in the Catalan magazine Crisis. Duran called his action an act of 'financial civil disobedience.'

Of course, while Timothy Geithner recieves a supportive understanding pardon for his "sin of omission" (he forget to present adequate tax returns), and AIG directors continue to haggle about their bonus payments, Duran is whiling away his time in prison awaiting trial on charges of fraud. There is a fairly credible rumour going the rounds that he will be receiving no support from the official government "bail"-out fund.

Meantime we are constantly reassured that Spain's banks are completely sound, that every loan was judiciously and meticulously checked, and that there really is nothing at all to worry about.

My point here is not to defend Duran's actions, but to highlight the double standards embodied in the way we go about things. I think his case can also give us some inkling of an insight into why it is that some of our young people are now becoming so disaffected. Apart from being left with the lions share of the debt to pay off over the years to come, they will also be called upon to sustain our ever more fragile pension systems.

We are told that recovery is just round the corner, maybe as soon as the end of this year. Personally I fail to see how this can be the case, not only because none of the macro economic data I am looking at are consistent with such a view, but also because it isn't at all evident how things can ever "correct" themselves while we still have such a massive "values overhang". Part of the problem we just got into was about greed (it always is), not just the greed of those who wanted an ever bigger cash bonus, but the petty greed of all those millions who got themselves ever deeper into debt on the basis of the flawed idea that the price of their home (or second home) would simply go up and up forever. We still have a lot of "cleaning out" to do in this department, all of us, before what is steadily getting worse can start getting better.

The much maligned Keynes went to work as a volunteer at the Bank of England during World War II, the man who was arguably the twentieth century's greatest philosopher (Ludwig Wittgenstein) spent the war as a porter in Charing Cross hospital (he was already old, and a pacifist), while one of Russia's greatest painters, Pavel Filonov, starved to death in 1943 since stayed behind in a beseiged Leningrad simply to take care of a sickly old woman. When we start to see people of this calibre up there and running things, then we will know we are starting to emerge from the crisis. Meantime, its "war" as usual, although hopefully not the type of "class war" that Duran and his associates would have us get ourselves into.

Of course, these scenes shot outside Barcelona's central university yesterday afternoon are one good example of how NOT to handle the crisis.

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