Thursday, April 18, 2013

18/4/2013: Legalising Modern Version of Slavery


Insolvency guidelines published today were wholly and fully written by the banks and for the banks.

The core points are that under the new regime, Irish mortgagees will be:
  1. Treated as de facto strategic defaulters until they are proven not guilty of such behaviour in a biased process that will see them face fully resourced lenders while having no practical and meaningful means for defending themselves. 'Innocent until proven guilty' principle no longer applies in the Irish State.
  2. Permanently branded as defaulters for the rest of their lives as there record of applying for the resolution process will be kept indefinitely, independent of success or failure of the process.
  3. Will lose basically any means to sustain real savings, investment, pensions provisions for the duration of up to 6 years or even longer without any guarantee that their engagement with the system will end in resolving the debt overhang at the end of the process.

This means that the Irish economy will continue to struggle with the debt overhang and, materially, the current change in the regime will only serve the purpose of further shifting financial resources from the households to the banks.

There was no real functional process for consultation with the current providers of services to those facing the insolvency. There was no transparency in developing these Guidelines. Give you one example, there is no reference to the protection of consumers, mortgagees or borrowers in the entire text of the document.

Take it from the top: "A debtor should be able to participate in the life of the community, as other citizens do. It should be possible for  the debtor ‘to eat nutritious food …, to have clothes for different weather and situations, to  keep the home clean and tidy, to have furniture and equipment at home for rest and  recreation, to be able to devote some time to leisure activities, and to read books,  newspapers and watch television" according to the Guidelines.

In other words, from get-go, a debtor is not to be allowed to plan or provide for the retirement, to arrange for health cover, to build functional (as opposed to token) precautionary savings, or to have incentives to better their lives. 

Presumably, Irish social inclusion does not provide an allowance for dental care either. At EUR5 per week in allowed savings, a debtor would have to wait around 140 weeks in agonising pain before they can get a tooth cap. Children braces will take as much if not longer. And you better not dare go to a doctor more than once every two months during your dental affordability waiting period.

Now, let's give it a thought - we are releasing households with children into the wilderness of living without providing a single cent for uncovered (beyond those stipulated by the guidelines) eventualities - e.g. dental emergency or a breakdown of the sole family vehicle. And we give them no capacity to acquire such means by working harder or undertaking different jobs which pay more.

When it comes to access to car, the guidelines do not distinguish between the need to commute to work and to commute to deliver children to schools or childcare facilities. The guidelines also appear to ignore the fact that shopping for a family is not the same as shopping for a single individual when it comes to transportation options allowed. There are no provisions for households that may require two cars. There are no realistic provision for caring for the old-banger vehicle that Guidelines allow for and which cost more in repairs than newer vehicles which the households will be forced to sell.

The real flaw in this approach is that we start from the point of allowed disposable income and work our way back to earned income. This means that a household has absolutely no incentive to earn more, no allowance is provided for them to take up risk and become entrepreneurs, no capacity to fund change in employment. 

This is precisely what wage slavery is all about. And we are now putting people into it.

The Guidelines talk vaguely about the need to incetivise households to engage in economic activity, yet provide a cap on savings of EUR5 per week per adult. None allowed per child. 

In other words, suppose you satisfy the conditions of the Guidelines and you get a new job paying an extra EUR50 per week. You cannot save anything out of this, which means all of the additional income immediately accrues to the banks.

Now, imagine that a new job offer comes with the prospect of better pension down the line, greater promotional opportunities, better life satisfaction and other benefits you might want to have and that can significantly improve your and your family wellbeing, not to mention the economy. Alas, also assume that the new job requires you to commute to work by car while prior to that - with your old job - the Guidelines allowed only for public transportation option. You have no savings to buy the car and no access to new credit. Which means that you will either have to turn down the new job (at a loss to you, employer, the bank and the economy) or to borrower on terms and conditions from the bank with which you have arrangements in place (at a loss to you, as you can't keep the upside of the new job pay). 

This is like taking slave labour and forcing it to consume bank-provided services at prices set by the bank. In the 19th century this was the practice with monopsonist employers and it led to industrial unrest on a massive scale and even revolutions. Welcome to the New Ireland, folks.

Thus, even in theory, the Guidelines are not consistent with one of their intended purposes - that of supporting economic activity and participation in this activity by the households.


In a summary: From the beginning of this crisis I have argued that we need to import UK insolvency regime into Ireland, so as  to allow effective and efficient bankruptcy resolution. 

What we have done instead is put forward a modern-day, democratically legislated slavery in the name of protecting our banks and created an incentive for tens of thousands to convert current bankruptcy tourism into a permanent bankruptcy emigration. 

Welcome to the 21st century model of a Dickensian nightmare grafted onto, as Namawinelake puts it perfectly world's most exemplary Nanny State.


Updated:
Two excellent posts on the Guidelines that are a must read:

Brian Lucey's: http://brianmlucey.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/pettifogging-nanny-state-gone-mad/

and

Namawinelake's: http://namawinelake.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/hey-world-if-you-want-to-see-what-a-true-nanny-state-looks-like-look-at-what-ireland-has-just-done/
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