I do not think it is fair to say people partied. People just lived a little better than they otherwise would have done because of the bubble.” Peter Nyberg under questioning from Deputy Pearse Doherty, 17 Dec 2014.
Peter Nyberg’s appearance at the Irish bank inquiry marked the beginning of the context phase, the purpose of which is to set the scene for the causes and consequences of the bank guarantee and bailout. The context part is going to last for a few months, and it may not be until April before the committee starts calling people actually involved in the guarantee decision and its aftermath. So, for those looking for fireworks you may have to be a little bit patient I’m afraid. However, the context phase gives us the opportunity to do what it says – to place the guarantee within a wider framework than that of the personalities involved in the tense meetings of the night of 29 September 2008. It allows us to see the bigger picture; that is, if we want to see it. It is by no means certain that such a road is one that the various actors involved in Irish finance would choose for themselves. Alongside this, the committee is itself working within a context where narratives around the crisis have already been formed, most notably the “asleep at the wheel/regulators/bad apples/nobody understood/auditors/collective psychology” theme. I’ll come back to this later as this is something that popped up during Nyberg’s (quite dry and uninspiring) testimony, but it is worth flagging now because in the search for the truth as to what happened we have to deal with a story that has had six years to bed itself down. The analogy that is closest to explaining what I’m getting at here would be that of a cover story, but it is not as calculated and Machiavellian as that. We’re dealing here with an ideology – Nyberg admits as much in his testimony – and the way that the ideology of modern finance made sense of the world before the crash is the way that it made sense of the world after the crash. It couldn’t grasp the nature of the problem then, and it is incapable of making sense of it now. It knows that the problem was structural, but because it has such a vested interest in the continuation of those structures and practices, it has to find a way of addressing systemic failure without changing the architecture. Its solution, its way of squaring the circle, is to treat the crisis as a managerial problem. Asleep at the wheel / regulators / bad apples / nobody understood / auditors / collective psychology / etc etc etc. What is needed is better managers, better regulators, better auditors. It is a bit like if a car crashes because of faulty brakes, the solution is to find a better driver.