Sigrún Davíðsdóttir's Icelog

The price of insufficient and wrong information: €750billion-€2 trillion – and still counting (and that’s just the Euro zone)

with 14 comments

In September 2008, the Irish Government had insufficient and wrong information on the Irish banks when it issued its guarantee of the Irish banks. Consequently, its decision was ill-informed and, most likely, plainly wrong.

This is one of the striking conclusions of the Nyberg report on the Irish banking crisis. But is doesn’t just count for Ireland. It counts for Iceland, the rest of the Europe – and looking beyond Europe, most notably, also for the decisions the US Government made about its banks and the financial system. As to the US, considering how many highly placed officials came from the banking sector, most noticeably from Goldman Sachs, the scary thought is that the officials did actually have a much better insight into the problem-ridden banks but acted more in the interest of the banks than the rest of the citizens.

The EU is feverishly trying to collect bail-out funds worth €750bn. Belgium has called for double that amount. Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citibank, reckons that nothing less than €2 trillion is needed. Truly astronomical numbers at stake.

As pointed out in the Nyberg report and the SIC report on the Icelandic collapse it is abundantly clear that the accounts of the banks in both countries, in September 2008, nowhere near showed the real state of the banks. In Iceland, i.a. Deutsche Bank ‘lent’ credit lines that couldn’t be drawn because they were far too expensive. The liquidity that, from the accounts, appeared to be in the banks was fool’s gold. Nyberg talks about the ‘silent observers,’ i.e. the external auditors. And so on.

Iceland is investigating its banks. Recently, the NY Times posed a pressing question: “why, in the aftermath of a financial mess that generated hundreds of billions in losses, have no high-profile participants in the disaster been prosecuted?” In his report on Lehman, Anton Valukas pointed out possible areas of investigation, i.e. Lehman’s use of a certain repo 105 practice. The NY Attorney General, who has brought some other financial cases, has sued Ernst & Young, Lehman accountants for this accounting practice. As pointed out by the NY Times, a lot more should be investigated.

Governments were badly and/or wrongly informed in September 2008. The information is better now. That information indicates good reasons to investigate banks in the UK, the US, Germany and other countries with big and bloated banking sectors.

The UK Government poured billions into its banks, no question asked and no questions asked ever since. The German banks are huge lenders in distressed EU countries, no questions asked. The Nyberg report, like the SIC report, stresses the necessity of revisiting the banks’ incentive schemes. The banks are now, as before, paying zillions in bonuses, this time profiting from not only low interest rates but basically zero interest rates in the US and the Euro zone.

In the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, voices got louder that politicians had little power but financial markets had great power. This isn’t true at all. The power to legislate is not trivial. The truth is however that politicians have been unwilling to wield their mighty power. Now, the banking sector in the US and Europe is succeeding in channeling private debt into the public purse. In short, the reason is, on one side the political unwillingness to use power. On the other side, wrong information and blatant lies from the financial sector.

The price of the unwillingness by politicians to use their power will be measured in trillions. Certainly, the leaders in the financial sector were the drivers and still are. But, as Nyberg points out, the politicians and official institution were the enablers. Now, they are enabling the financial sector to let the public sector gobble up its debt. This isn’t happening by a law of nature but because of calculated decisions. In Hamlet, the old king Claudius was killed with a drop of poison in his ear while sleeping. That’s what the financial sector has been doing: dripping poisonous debt into many sleeping ears. How lethal it will be remains to be seen.


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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

April 27th, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Posted in Iceland

14 Responses to 'The price of insufficient and wrong information: €750billion-€2 trillion – and still counting (and that’s just the Euro zone)'

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  1. “…The truth is however that politicians have been unwilling to wield their mighty power”

    It’s more than “unwilling”…

    They are afraid to wield their power, for fear of the vengeance of the big corporations and banks.

    The words, “bribery” and “blackmail” are hardly too strong to describe what has been going on for many years in this sphere of activity.

    And, in such crimes, it is the shame of admitting what you have done that stands in the way of clear accountability – not “unwillingness”.

    Only impartial committees with real teeth can do something here.

    I miss Eva Joly…


    28 Apr 11 at 7:51 pm

  2. The idea that the Irish government “had insufficient and wrong information on the Irish banks” at the time of the guarantee is wrong.

    Some of us were tracking the whole situation from a personal standpoint – as a means to protect our own wealth:
    And predictions were made that seemed outlandish at the time but are very prescient now:

    We were calling the guarantee as a disaster once we saw the implications:
    And there are questions about the night of the guarantee that makes it very suspicious:

    Morgan Kelly, an economics professor in UCD, had been warning in the national newspapers and on TV since 2006:

    And each time the official line was all about corners turned, green shoots, green jerseys and confidence someone would pipe up with a “The numbers disagree” post:

    Don’t believe the “no one saw it coming” line, “the only game in town” line, the “there was no reason to doubt the information at the time” line or “the banks lied to us” line.

    It was all there in plain sight for those of us who wanted to save our own, and our kids, futures.

    What happened in Ireland is crony capitalism as practised by gombeen politicians and connected, criminal bankers.

    The guarantee was an effort at a “stroke” (an Irish colloquialism used when the gombeen Irishman thinks he has cheated and fooled an innocent party) by the ruling party Fianna Fail to save connected insiders – everything after that is just them throwing everyone and anyone they can under the bus to try and save themselves.

    What Goes Up...

    3 May 11 at 9:06 am

  3. There is a striking difference between Ireland and Iceland in this respect. As pointed out, by What goes up, there were people in Ireland who realised where things were heading and were pretty vocal about it. In Iceland, this was hardly the case. Very few dissident voices were heard. There was a much stronger consensus there that the boom was sustainable and the Icelandic banks and businesses doing something groundbreaking.

  4. Unfortunately those of us in Ireland pointing out that the Emperor’s clothes were a little threadbare were voiceless.

    The media were getting fat off the property bubble – huge advertising revenue ensured their compliance.

    One journalist learned the lesson the hard way:

    We also had the Taoiseach, Ireland’s Prime Minister, wonder why people who engaged in questioning the economic miracle didn’t just commit suicide:

    So the Irish establishment went out of the way to sell as many of it’s citizens into debt slavery.

    Ireland’s political, financial, business and media establishment needs to be investigated and some of them jailed for the fraudulent activities that went on during Ireland’s property bubble – but that will never happen.

    Those who shout loudest now about “no one saw it coming” do so for a reason – to drown out those who did and those point out the part others played in creating the disaster in the first place.

    The only consolation for those of us who shouted stop is that we’ve saved a few from a life of penury.

    This was just a bunch of amateurs,caring enough about their fellow citizens, sharing the information denied to them by the mainstream Irish media. Once we opened people’s eyes they could see the deception and delusion promoted by vested interests for what it was.

    But we were few and they were many.

    What Goes Up...

    10 May 11 at 8:20 am

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