Thursday, March 5, 2009

Irish GDP. Gross Domestic Propaganda. On the horrors of national constipation

It seems the average debt-encumbered worker is now going to have to foot the bill for the Government’s feckless economic banquet over the past decade; perhaps banquet should be spelled with a k.When the Irish export boom slumped in the first few years of this century, the Government decided to keep the Tiger economy myth going by borrowing from abroad. This ridiculous credit bubble was handled by what we might call the GPE, the Government’s Private Executive; in other words, the banks. The GPE helped to keep the dream-reality going by kindly ‘helping’ people to buy ludicrously expensive homes, or perhaps we should call them, domestic investment projects (Dips, for short!). Meanwhile the Government collected the revenue from Stamp duty as the newspapers continued to publish copious property supplements designed to induce the naive to buy houses paid for by the bank’s virtual money. According to the economist Patrick Honohon, foreign loans to Irish banks jumped from 10 percent of GDP in 2003 to a mind-boggling 60 percent in 2008. The result was an orgy of property development. The banks borrowed the money from abroad and the people borrowed the money from the banks while the Government collected the taxes from all the borrowed money. This enabled to Government to stay in power claiming that the economy was flying, albeit on virtual fuel. A few years ago, when some analysts ( very few in fact)were beginning to spread rumours that the Celtic emperor may not be wearing any clothes, they were denounced as pessimists and cynical gainsayers or even worse conspiring ‘Marxists’, the ultimate pejorative term in Modern Ireland. The standard critique of those on the left was that they had nothing to offer but ideology. The Government, on the other hand, had no ideology. Neo-liberal capitalism was ideologically neutral, common sense, human nature etc. In reality the Government had a surplus of bad ideology and a deficit of good ideas.
The country was a bit like those cartoons where the central character,suspended in mid-air, only falls when he looks down. It was the unconscious conviction that the artificial air of mindless optimism would keep the whole fraud going. Now we have finally understood the meaning of our much vaunted GDP: GROSS DOMESTIC PROPAGANDA.The media never ceased to remind us that most people earned over 30 thousand Euro a year.Irish people were rich, the richest people in Europe. We were the living proof that liberal capitalism had triumphed over the ideological battles of history. George Bernhard Shaw famously said that an Irishman’s heart is nothing but his imagination. I’m beginning to wonder if the Irish have an unusual capacity for ‘wild imaginings’. But seeing as we’re on the subject of mass overindulgence perhaps we could reformulate the Shavian dictum thus: An Irishman’s fart is nothing but his constipation! I believe constipation is either caused by overeating or a bad diet. It can be particularly embarrassing when sitting in the intense silence of waiting rooms, for example. It’s as if the pious propriety of social convention is being irreverently attacked by the rankling rumblings of intestinal flatulence. At this bleak moment in history, Irish society resembles a patient suffering from acute constipation. The bowels of our society are making lots of embarrassing noises while the Government, our national face, blushes in the waitingroom of the IMF desperately hoping to be supplied with enough Senokot to ease its bowels and flush the problem down the ideological toilet. I think it was the scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam who said ‘stercorum cuique sum bene olet’- everyone’s shit smells good to themselves. This could certainly be said of the Government. Perhaps it is time to ask the question: is not our national constipation the consequence of the Government’s pathological desire for a perverse form of olfactory pleasure? Or perhaps we could put it this way: are we being forced to pay for ideological overfeed, for a meal we never ordered?