A new paper critiquing how decision-makers have dealt with the Irish crisis is now available on NUIM eprints. It questions how the adherents and practitioners of neoliberal ideas have sought to deal with the contemporary crisis by examining three elements of the Irish state’s adjustment and austerity programme in the areas of property and finance, the labour market and state spending.  The paper contends that the crisis has led to processes of adjustment that deepen and extend neoliberal ideas and practices rather than negate them. It concludes that the various crisis-adjustment strategies are part of a process of disturbance which focuses on shaking the confidence of the working class and ultimately redistributing an even greater share of economic output to capitalists. It can be downloaded via NUIM eprints here. This version deals with events/policies up to May 2 2013 when the final revised version was submitted for publication.

The paper by Alistair Fraser, Enda Murphy and Sinead Kelly is to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Human Geography. The journal is motivated by a need to retain control of the value produced by academic labour. Over the last twenty years, journals that once were owned and produced by universities and academic and professional associations have come to be controlled, in part or in whole, by publishing houses that increasingly are concentrated in a few multinational media conglomerates. This means that the profit produced by (mostly) public funded academic labour ends up with large corporations. The aim of Human Geography is to change that and ensure that any profit made from the journal is re-distributed to young radical scholars.

Abstract

The current economic crisis – the ‘great recession’ – raises numerous questions about neoliberal ideas and practice, not the least of which is whether (and if so, how) neoliberalism can survive it. Our paper takes on these issues using the case of Ireland. This is the first proper neoliberal crisis in Ireland. From the early 1990s to 2008, Ireland was held up by many neoliberal champions as a place that gained from deregulation, openness to inward investment, and low corporation tax rates. But the build-up of contradictions in Ireland exploded rapidly in 2008, when its property bubble burst and private banks and government finances collapsed. Rather than examining what caused Ireland’s crisis, we look at what has happened between 2008 and 2013. We focus on structural adjustments regarding the property, finance, and labour markets and then on the government’s austerity programme as a whole. In addition to demonstrating how these adjustments have been an attack on workers and ordinary citizens, we identify some particularly striking elements, which we use to argue that a new phase of disturbance and restructuring is deepening and extending neoliberalism’s influence in Ireland.

Looks like Nama’s starting to get going. Good stuff. Now we find out how much we’re going to be paying. Then I suppose we can start planning. If it’s €10bn over ten years, that’s €1bn per year, is it? And if it’s more likely to be €30bn over ten years, then that’s €3bn. But, sure, isn’t the €30bn estimate more on the optimistic side of the realistic/pessimistic view? Could it be that we’re in for €40bn? (more…)

We’ve all been wondering who among the country’s developers will end up being Nama’d. Now we know some of the names. According to a report by Simon Carswell in Thursday’s Irish Times, some of the debts owed to the banks by the following ten developers will be bought from the banks by Nama on behalf of the (charitable? swindled?) Irish taxpayer: (more…)

Is it just me, or is there indeed a shortage of commentary on what strategy Nama should be taking? Thank heavens, then, for Isabel Morton, The Irish Times’ ‘buy property, please’ champion. In her latest column, Morton asks, pertinently, “Are we likely to see a glut of repossessed homes coming on the market in 2010 or will Nama and the banks sort through the properties and decide on which to stockpile for the future and which to sell immediately?” Spot on. That’s what we should all be asking. What is Nama’s spatial strategy? Is it dump the British portfolio while the market there rises (temporarily); flog the Dubai flats before prices really hit the floor there; and fire sale everything in the Midlands (so the Namacrats, pity them, don’t have to go beyond the M50), etc.? (more…)

Namantology

noun.

1. The branch of social science that deals with the study and critique of Nama
2. The totality of social scientific and lay knowledge concerning Nama

According to Noel Smyth, formerly of Dunloe Ewart and current head of Alburn Management, Nama will be paying between €150,000 and €200,000 each for 20,000 homes and apartments in Dublin alone (Irish Times, Dec 8th).

(more…)

This blog focuses on the spatial dimensions of Ireland after Nama. As such, I think it’s worth dwelling on Nama’s scale. Not scale in the ‘economies of scale’ sense, but in the ‘politics of scale’ sense.

The idea that there is a ‘politics of scale’ is not by any means new in academic Geography (in fact, it’s probably one of the biggest literatures in academic Geography). What it tends to point towards is the set of relations that exist between different scales of government (but note that it needn’t draw attention to governing; for example, it can be about the local, regional, national or global scales at which social movements act). So, a question about the politics of scale might ask how a national government interacts with local governments, or with institutions or actors that have a global presence, such as the IMF or even a transnational corporation.

In the ‘Namascape’, this line of questioning might lead us to examine how Nama, as a national ‘asset’ management agency, interacts with local governments in Ireland. Or it might mean asking questions about relations between Nama and even more local branches of the state, such as town councils (which the McCarthy Report wants abolished, by the way). Alternatively, we could ask questions about the internal scale division of Nama: will it have an office charged with looking after its international ‘assets’; one for its urban and one for its rural ‘assets’; or will the breakdown of its ‘asset’ management follow the scale division of the Irish state e.g. a Cork office, a Dublin office, etc?

Towards proposing that we think about these relations between Nama and local government, I’ve just conducted a search for Irish newspaper articles published in the last year that contain the words ‘Nama’ and the phrase ‘Dublin City Council’. Not much came up (nor did I get much by searching for Cork City Council). In fact, only five of the 49 articles had anything pertinent to say and none of these got to grips with the sorts of issues I’m thinking about: namely, will Dublin City Council, or any other branch of local government, have any input or dealings with Nama; will local governments know and have an up-to-date register of Nama ‘assets’ in their areas; or, will there be scope for local governments to use ‘Nama’d’ land in strategic or even ethical ways that benefit their local populations [don’t laugh here: I’m fully aware that some readers of this blog might find it difficult to grasp the idea of local governments acting strategically or, indeed, ethically!!]?

Anyway, back to the five useful articles. Here are some of the issues raised:

1. Dublin City Council’s Assistant City Manager, Michael Stubbs, acknowledges “that the council has a number [but how many and where?!] of developments that are unfinished” – and he flags the North Fringe area, in particular. Source: Irish Times, Oct 3 2009.

2. Ciaran Murray, managing director of Ballymun Regeneration Limited, acknowledges that Treasury Holdings might struggle to raise financing for its town centre development on the 15 acre site in Ballymun, which is owned by Dublin City Council and leased to Treasury. The Ballymun project is, “tipped [by whom?!] to be transferred to Nama…” Source: Irish Times, Sep 22 2009.

3. Dublin City Council is “on board” Harry Crosbie’s development strategy for the Point Village. Crosbie will be owing Nama and will “pay it all back…Every single cent.” Independent, Sep 20 2009.

4. The Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland met in September and slammed the McCarthy Report’s call to abolish town councils. The councillors passed a motion rejecting McCarthy’s ideas. Ok, Nama was only mentioned in the article because John Gormley couldn’t make the AMAI meeting because he had to “remain in Dublin to deal with the new Nama bill”! Source: Irish Times, Sep 11 2009.

5. Finally, acres of Nama’d land might need to be mothballed because the “country’s waste water infrastructure needs to be upgraded significantly before any development can proceed.” A spokeswoman from Dublin City Council said the council will endeavour to ensure that “wastewater facilities will not infringe on any future development.” Source: Sunday Tribune, Aug 16 2009.

There are clearly some indications here of Nama’s politics of scale: as the fifth article indicates, it will need local government to do a good job on Nama sites; as the third article makes clear, it matters whether local governments, such as Dublin City Council, are “on board” development plans for Nama’d land; and as the first and second articles highlight, key tracts of land owned by local governments (such as in Ballymun) or which form part of their long-term spatial planning (such as the North Fringe) look set to be Nama’d, which means strategic decisions in places such as Dublin are going to have involve Nama.

So these articles hint at some of the sorts of relations between Nama and local government (and hopefully comments to this post could expand on this list) but just what are the terms of those relations, whose interests are given priority and why, and just what impact will Nama have on local government in the future? And re-phrasing my questions from earlier, will local government have any input or dealings with Nama; will local governments have a register of Nama ‘assets’ in their areas? Just how much will Nama’s politics of scale hurt or help local development in Ireland?

Alistair Fraser

So we know that Europe matters in Ireland. But do we know just how much Europe matters in Ireland after Nama? We know, of course that a good chunk of Nama’s “assets” are located in Europe [tangent: not about Nama as such, but the Sunday Tribune reported that Irish investors own 3,500 apartments and property sites in Budapest… 3,500! And now a vulture capitalist is looking to buy that knock-down prices from, we must imagine, pretty desperate sellers]. And we know that Europe has helped give Nama some shape: it was the European Central Bank that called for the Special Purpose Vehicle, for example, and now the European Commission is in the process of reviewing state assistance to bailed out Irish banks, such as Anglo Irish. What else is in the pipeline? Well, we certainly know that interest rates in Ireland are set to rise if growth does emerge in Europe and we know that that decision is not taken in Dublin – the known unknown here is just what effect rising interest rates will have on the property market and, in turn, on the valuations of our new “assets”. We also know that Lisbon Treaty will kick-in soon and that it will impact on Irish society – perhaps a known unknown is what form that impact will take, for example on Ireland’s strategy for attracting inward investment [Article 207 of Lisbon might raise pertinent questions here]. Perhaps, then, one final known unknown is this: we know Europe will matter in Ireland after Nama but what spatial effects will it have and how can geographers get to grips with these effects?

Alistair Fraser

One of the major ‘known unknowns’ about Ireland after Nama is whether there will be any economic growth in the country during Nama’s lifespan. And such growth is needed if property prices are to rise 10% in ten years. There are many reasons for pessimism here. The U.S. capitalist economy isn’t exactly surging back to life. And even if it does, the U.S. is so riddled with debt that any recovery won’t necessarily mean demand for services or good produced in Ireland. China, to which many commentators look for signs of a global recovery, is too export-dependent and too dominated by its coastal elites to lay the conditions for a much-needed boost in demand from its rural sector – a source of demand that was critical to the success of other Asian NICs (that is, ‘success’ as measured by surging economic growth rates, if not in equality).

So, if not from resurgent growth in the U.S. or China, just how will the anticipated recovery occur? Or, is there some other reason to be cheerful? Might it be that Ireland’s European partners offer succour here? Are we on the verge of a new period in Ireland’s economic relationship with Europe? Or, as lots of people in the country expect, is Ireland just on the verge of a sustained downturn / fully-fledged long term crisis? If the latter, how can Nama expect to return a profit to Irish taxpayers? And if it will make a loss, just how much of a loss, year-on-year, are we looking at? And precisely which sectors of Irish society are going to have to pay for those losses?

Alistair Fraser