May 8th, 2012 by Conor McCabe
I’ve set myself the task of finishing this book sometime around Summer 2013, so there’s still a good way to go. The framework of the book, though, is constituting itself around seven main areas:
1. Monetary policy and the Irish pound (1922-1999)
2. Private banks and indigenous investment (1922-2012)
3. Financial intermediaries and the Irish State (1922-2012)
4. The IFSC and the tax haven industry (1987-2012)
5. The Euro (1992-2012)
6. Ireland and the shadow banking system (1991-2012)
7. The reproduction of private financial power via the structures of the state (1922-2012)
I’m not sure of the make-up of the chapters just yet - more than likely they’ll follow the topics closely enough - but the approach will be the same as the last book: that is, history as a canvas which allows us to observe deep social forces in motion, in this case those that surround the dynamics of money and finance and the Irish State.
There are other topics which need to be covered - the nature of money and the money circuit ; the role of central banks in a national economy ; currency, credit-money and the rise of financial debt products ; - but I’m hoping to explore these as they arise.
The final topic listed is really the central theme of the book - the way that finance uses the State to reproduce itself. This is not just in terms of bailouts in times of crisis, but in the shaping of national economic policy to suit its needs. And because its power is structural, the scale and dimensions of it are not down to any one person or group of individuals - nor can they be observed simply from the perspective of personal experience. The sense of inevitability about the way things are done comes from the fact that there is a machine at work here, a social force that is somewhat impersonal, even though it is produced by interactions between people.
The image which pops into my head when trying to explain this to myself is that of Hannibal Chew in Blade Runner, explaining to Roy Batty that he just does eyes - that in the great scheme of things his role in the production of androids is small and insignificant:
A deeper and more horrifying example is that of Walter Stier, an employee of the Reichsbahn, the German railroad, during the Second World War. Stier was responsible for scheduling normal passenger trains, as well as the trains which brought people to the concentration and death camps.
Stier was interviewed for the documentary, Shoah, where he gave the following account of his role in the Holocaust:
Did you know that Treblinka meant extermination?
Of course not!
You didn’t know that?
Good God, no! How could we know? I never went to Treblinka. I stayed in Krakow, in Warsaw, glued to my desk.
You were a . . .
I was strictly a bureaucrat!
In his 2011 publication, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, David Graeber tells the following story:
For almost two years, I had lived in the highlands of Madagascar. Shortly before I arrived, there had been an outbreak of Malaria. It was a particularly virulent outbreak because malaria had been wiped out in Madagascar many years before, so that, after a couple of generations, most people had lost their immunity. The problem was, it took money to maintain the mosquito eradication program, since there had to be periodic tests to make sure mosquitoes weren’t starting to breed again and spraying campaigns if it was discovered that they were. Not a lot of money. But owing to IMF-imposed austerity programs, the government had to cut the monitoring program. Ten thousand people died.”
You do not have to be a monster to play a part in monstrous acts. The officials from the IMF who oversaw the cuts that led to the deaths of ten thousand people I’m sure were good parents, and courteous to their neighbours. And Walter Stier spent the war in an office in Warsaw, drawing up timetables for trains. From their own perspective, each was just doing a job - one that was intimately linked yet strangely detached from the end result. I just do trains, I just do eyes, I just do the accounts - when the system at play is observed in motion, though, the innocuous acts which facilitate its direction begin to lose their lightness.