Coffee and Bollinger

Lady with Her Maidservant Holding a Letter, Jan Vermeer, 1667

From Eurozine:

It appears that government in the twenty-first century has rekindled a long exhausted genre of power – epistolary government, which has been in decline at least since the epistolary novel began to lose its popularity. Thus, a few years ago, Wikileaks created a truly global detective story based on stolen letters, which in keeping with the genre soon delivered surprising twists. Instead of the criminals, the person who ended up being jailed was the one who blew the whistle: the messenger was accused of rape and became a fugitive; supposedly neutral financial intermediaries turned out to be government agents.

Not long ago, the public was again hit by leaked private and semi-private letters. Just the same sort as the letter from Poe’s story. A special feature of these letters is that, in some paradoxical way, they reveal the family secrets not only of the elected but also the financial rulers.

The first epistolary disclosure concerns the financial sector. Confidential letters among derivatives traders revealed the unpleasant secrets of a large family of the most important global banks, in particular Barclays.

Methods for determining LIBOR prohibit the interests of derivatives traders being taken into account, yet email communications among employees of Barclays Bank demonstrated just that. One of the email exchanges involves the following message sent by a derivatives trader to a co-worker responsible for providing an estimate of the interbank interest rate to LIBOR: “If it’s not too late low 1m[onth] and 3m[onth] would be nice, but please feel free to say ‘no’ [...] Coffees will be coming your way either way, just to say thank you for your help in the past few weeks.” Another trader on a different occasion gave thanks for a similar favour in a more pompous manner: “I owe you big time! Come over one day after work and I’m opening a bottle of Bollinger.”

The second epistolary disclosure concerns the extended European family (to use a once prevalent expression from European political discourse, which disappeared from the lexicon with the onset of the eurocrisis). In September, an unofficial letter from the IMF, EU and ECB troika appeared on the website, which guarantees anonymity of postings. It was addressed to the Greek Ministry of Labour. The leaked letter begins with an unusual ultimatum, evidently a response to expressions of increasing working class dissatisfaction on the streets of Greece, and the ever louder social demands for a new round of negotiations: “There should be no backtracking on recently passed labour market reforms. The mission welcomes social dialogue as a means to consult with social partners [...]. The labour reforms introduced in March [...] need to be preserved well beyond the present round of social dialogue.”

While everywhere else in Europe it was believed that social dialogue, regardless of its formal status, was a negotiation between equal partners, the troika considered it important to stress the merely consultative nature of the dialogue. It appears that the letter was, in fact, directed not at the Greek government or Greek workers, but at the Greek welfare state.

“Epistolary government”, Ciril Oberstar, Eurozine