All the talk in Ireland right now is on the government’s latest ‘bludget’ and the creation of a so-called ‘bad bank’ into which taxpayers will place billions of euros worth of ‘toxic’ assets. It’s all thoroughly geographic!
Take, for example, the geography of these toxic assets. Minister for Communications, Eamon Ryan, announced yesterday that around 30% of them are abroad, including “luxury hotels in the Persian Gulf, vulgar villas in Florida and corner shops in Bulgaria.” Lots of places, then; our national assets are spread far and wide. And close to home. At least a good few billion euro worth of the assets to be bought by the taxpayer is located in Northern Ireland; and then there are the land banks around Dublin and the unfinished apartment blocks and housing estates which the government will soon purchase.
Then there are other geographies. Think about the places in which Ireland’s credit worthiness (ever deteriorating) is judged: New York in the case of Fitch’s, Moody’s, and Standard & Poor’s. And the sorts of offices and meeting rooms in other places – the City of London, Frankfurt, Tokyo – where such information is digested and evaluated. Geographers have been in awe at the wave of globalization processes (partly) constituted by up-to-the-minute information-flows and instantaneous market-updates; flows and movements that compress space and time and ‘shrink the world’.
Now we see close-up why so much of that compressing happens, and what sort of effect it can have on places such as Ireland.
But the geography of the bludget and the bad bank isn’t just about places. There are spaces in between these places; spaces occupied by many vulnerable people in Ireland and spaces into which “many of those who created the present series of crises [can] escape”.
So are there any geographic lessons from all this? For economic geographer, Darius Wojcik, the key lesson from the current crisis is this: “you must be neither too close nor too far from your investments. There are dangers in both too much proximity and too little proximity between providers of finance and their users.” A tricky balance! Tell that to National Asset Management Agency as it assesses the ‘value’ of the “shopping centre in Birmingham, the apartment blocks in Bulgaria, the hotels in Dubai and the retirement villages in Florida.”