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.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Economics and demography by Edward Hugh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

7 thoughts on “The Serial Borrowing of Catalonia’s “Robin Hood”

  1. Unrelated to the economy, but reacting to the video link, I was shocked by the forceful police actions. What were the students doing to be charged like that by the riot-police? Calling them names and organizing sit-ins?

  2. Hello Rope,

    “Unrelated to the economy, but reacting to the video link, I was shocked by the forceful police actions.”

    Yeah, well me to. Which was why I put it up. It was going the rounds in Barcelona as I was writing the post. Would you believe they had been sitting in at the university in a protest at the Bologna “process”.

    If it weren’t so serious, this would be funny, or surreal.

    Basically I am strongly in favour of this process to standardise qualifications across European Universities, but I don’t think people should be subjected to a beating simply becuase they don’t agree. Nor do I think that journalists or pensioner bystanders who happen to be around at the time should be on the receiving end either, which is what happened.

    Basically these students are affiliated in one way or another with the same “anti-system” groups that the so called “Robin Hood” was financing. I, myself, am about as “pro system” as you can find, it is just I would like a “system” which is worthy of the name, which is why I draw attention to the fact that financial irresposibility (and cooking the books) extends a lot farther than the unfortunate Enric Duran, and that if we want an economic recovery then as well as throwing money at banks (which I do agree needs doing) we need to address this issue to, even if as a macro economist my main interest is elsewhere.

    Basically the situation in Spain is now very very delicate. Lots of people are at risk of losing their homes (they are already losing their jobs) while hundreds of thousands more will soon see their unemployment benifit run out and anger and tension is bound to mount.

    Which is why we need to see dialogue and solutions, not police charges.

    The young generation between 15 and 25 (which is numerically very small, after so many years of low fertility) and a lot will be expected of it. These people are now pretty reticicent after seeing what just happened to the generation which went before them (the 25 to 40 year olds, with unsellable flats and unpayable mortgages) and obviously don’t want the same to happen to them.

    They need talking back in, and this isn’t the way to do it.

  3. Stealing in opposition to politicians is very different than stealing in concert with politicians.

    The biggest thieves of our era not only have not been punished, they have been propped up – and even rewarded – by their governments. Those are the smart thieves – unless they have miscalculated and stolen so much that heads roll.

  4. Hello Edward,

    I concur with the standardized academic qualifications, and I don’t quite understand the “anti” attitude (the argument I found is that tuition at some universities will increase, but I bet Spain must be in the middle of the European spectrum, and as such loses or gains more or less the same as everybody else). Re-watching the video, I couldn’t help thinking that if such actions were happening in France, the police would have another thing coming. The news I found on the web reported clashed between students and police as students-provoked, and that half of wounded were police (I wonder which came first – the beating or the clashes).

    Since you mentioned demographics, I wonder if any sizable reverse migration takes place these days, and its effects on Spanish economy (couldn’t imagine not being talked about in Barcelona). I recall that a while back it’s been speculated that such reverse migration would be detrimental to countries where the migration originated from (more unemployed people). How about destination countries (Italy, Spain, UK)?

  5. Hi again (old) Rope :)

    “Since you mentioned demographics, I wonder if any sizable reverse migration takes place these days”

    Very interesting question. Up to now there is very little evidence of people going back. Some families (eg from the East) do seem to be sending the children back to live with grandparents (ie there is some reduction in children in the schools, here in Barcelona, at least). But in the main, at least up to quite recently, all the reports suggest people keep arriving at more or less the same rate – say 700,000 a year. Now, there is a scheme to help people return if they want to, but this envisages something like 20,000 a year, to give you some idea of the relative proportions.

    Also, this scheme is mainly for Latin Americans, and they get Spanish nationality after 2 years, and the evidence is that once they have nationality they are more willing to go back, since they can return whenever they want.

    Some people from Romania (one of the main origin countries) may have gone back in the autumn, since their economies were still booming at that point, but now they too are crashing, my guess is more will be back, plus possibly people from Ukraine, Russia, China etc.

    “How about destination countries (Italy, Spain, UK)?”

    Well, my feeling is that the situation in each of these countries may be different. Here in Spain, with the economy closing so rapidly, and company after company closing, my guess is that the informal economy may be expanding quite rapidly as a proportion of the total, which means there may be lots of work for undocumented workers, while those with papers queue up at the unemployment offices.

    Basically the sort of salaries being paid in Spain’s “new jobs” won’t be much different from unemployment benefit, so this is what I expect to happen.

    Essentially Spain’s “boom” was based on massive inflows of capital and people. The capital flows have now dried up, and even reversed to some extent, so the outsanding issue is what happens to the people? I think the future of Spain is all about the answer to this question.