Spot the Bank Robber

July 25, 2009

However you process the moral calculus, what seems to be a wave of bank robberies in Spain constitutes a form of resistance to the economic crisis. As Elizabeth Nash has written for the Independent:

Bank robberies have risen by 20 per cent in two years, Spain’s banking association says; and those who adopt the tactic of the stick-up to pay their debts are novices rather than hardened criminals.

Some nuevo-Robin Hoods have emerged amiongst the ruins of an economy which officially admits to 18 percent unemployment.

Typical among novice robbers is the building contractor identified as Ausencio CG, who allegedly stole €80,000 (£69,000) from four banks before he was caught attempting his fifth hold-up near Barcelona in February. He told police he had used the money to pay his workers and fund his daughter’s studies in London.

Foreign workers are reportedly more likely to engage in risky tactics like bank robberies or kidnapping. That isn’t because of their intrinsic villainy. During its boom-time, Spain invited in millions of low-wage workers from Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America. According to the BBC, 5 million arrived in the past decade, making up 10 percent of the national population.

Spain benefited massively from immigration as its economy swelled. Now, with credit hard to come by, those low-wage samaritans are being labelled as burdens. The government is now striving to send them back in huge numbers, offering cash incentives to do so.

But, as one Romanian woman told the BBC, “There’s a crisis in Romania too. If we get jobs there, we’ll go back, but as it is, we won’t.”

Or, as Gheorghe Gainar, president of the local Romanian cultural association in Alcala puts it, “What Spain is trying to do is to take Romanian unemployed out of the Spanish statistics and move them over to the Romanian statistics.”

Bank robbers may well be justly censured for their behavior. Certainly if it was my money held in trust by the bank then I would be miffed if another individual decided to forcibly remove it from their keeping and spend it on their own causes.

But, as the BBC reports, it is the banks themselves that are the greatest bank robbers of all. As business reporter Brian Milligan writes, “Most experts believe that banks are using the relatively low level of competition in the mortgage market to rebuild their profits.”

Milligan reports that Moneyfacts, an organization which monitors the lendin “industry” has found that “lenders’ potential profit margins were the largest they had seen since they started keeping records in 1988.”

Banks are borrowing at low, low rates from the Bank of England, and then charging customers huge mark ups to borrow from them, while they are stitching up the “market” between them to ensure that their rates remain high.

The banks themselves offer quite a few justifications for such behavior. Some say that “the risk of customers defaulting on mortgages was much higher than it was.” But surely, charging higher interest rates than before, at a time of economic misery, will vastly increase the chance of default?

That’s the view of the Council for Mortgage Lenders, but the CML has also told the BBC that “[lenders] need to get back to a level of profitability that makes the system sustainable without government support.”

So your spiralling mortgage payments are down to the desire of banks to replenish their profit margins – not their sustainability – their profit – raw greed in other words.

So who then is the bank robber?

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