Gloating about Quinn family misfortunes is sickening

Fri, Jul 27, 2012, 01:00

The pursuit of small-fry individuals distracts the public’s attention from an economic system not fit for purpose

THE PUBLIC gloating about the misfortunes of the Quinn family has been one of the most sickening chapters in the recent elongated degradation of Irish life. I have never met any of the Quinns, and hold no candle for them, but I truly wonder whether there is any point in having a successful economy when the rest of the apparatus has become so poisoned with such bitterness, stupidity and malice.

I take Judge Peter Kelly at his word when he describes as “mesmerisingly complex” the schemes devised by the Quinns to put assets beyond the reach of the former Anglo Irish Bank. But I wonder if I am dreaming that a bank which bankrupted Ireland is permitted to bring Ireland’s most successful business to its knees, and that many of the citizens of the country undone by the forces now pursuing the Quinns are rejoicing because a rogue bank has put a young man behind bars.

Seán Quinn snr made a mistake of a most fundamental kind. He shifted his attention from economic activity grounded in human engagement with three-dimensional substances such as stone and glass to the type of “wealth generation” that engages in conjuring to make zeroes add up to zillions.

But, then again, this conjuring is now at the very core of the mechanism that drives our society forward along the lines we have elected to propel it. As far as I can see, Seán Quinn followed the logic of the system to the letter, doing precisely what its logic invited – required – him to do.

It went wrong, yes, but this was inevitable. There was always going to be a moment when the debt pyramid collapsed, and not just for Anglo and the Quinns. The outcome of this inevitability can be seen in the conflagration currently enveloping Europe. Yet, we gloat over the humiliation of one family who once put bread on the tables of thousands.

The “sin” here is not that of any one person or company – it is the collective failure of our society to educate itself about the nature of the financial, economic and banking systems we have depended upon for our material needs. The money system we have acquiesced in having foisted upon us operates on a kind of alchemy, which allows private banking interests to generate what we rather ludicrously refer to as “our” money.

Those who interpret the meaning of these events speak as though there was a fixed pool of money which belongs to the Irish people, inferring that what has happened is that certain people have “stolen” from “us”. This is nonsense. “Our” money system is owned and controlled by the banks. This is the way our leaders have decided things should be, and there has been no appreciable dissent.

Privately-owned banks, operating all but indifferently to the public good, create and destroy money more or less at will. Consequently, all but a tiny percentage of our money system exists in a digital limbo inaccessible by the people. For every euro of money created, a corresponding debt is brought into being, and this is multiplied over time by the process of levying interest. Thus, our economy consists overwhelmingly of debt, at once spelling our salvation and our doom.

When you extend to bankers the power to create money ex nihilo, your can hardly be surprised if they start to believe themselves superhuman. Why pick on Seán FitzPatrick because he was simply more “successful” at implementing the system as it was designed? Why the Quinns just because they happened to be at the scene of the collapse?

Those who revel in the Quinns’ misfortune suggest they inflicted some damage on Irish taxpayers. But the Quinns did not ask to do business with taxpayers. They did business with a bank, which ill-advised politicians went on to nationalise, thus lumbering the public purse with unconscionable levels of debt.

We are informed that certain loans were extended by Anglo to Seán Quinn to prevent a collapse in the Anglo share price, to shore up confidence in the bank at a time when the banking crisis was deepening. In what sense is this is at odds with the overall ethos of our current banking and money systems? The fact that the manoeuvre is frowned upon by the “regulations” is no more than a fig leaf designed to maintain the pretence that the operation of this system has a basis in reality.

What has happened to our economy is much bigger than Seán Quinn, Seán FitzPatrick, and even the bank formerly known as Anglo. The pursuit of small-fry individuals is a way of distracting the public’s attention from this reality, of implying that the system itself is still fit for purpose.

Seán Quinn’s greatest failing is one most of us share: a fear of economic insecurity expressing itself as an inability to grasp the concept of “enough for now”. Those who survey his undoing may succumb to Schadenfreude and gloating, but behind the rejoicing is the selfsame emotion: the fear of losing what they think is theirs.

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