I’ve skim-read yet another article in the Times which tries to explain the objective shiteness of Ireland by blaming it on a mash of vague “cultural” factors- how we see the state, how we engage as citizens, how we should be more like Scandinavia. The memorable bit of the article (which is available here: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2011/0820/1224302759014.html) is when he says if we had had a Norwegian finance minister for the past twenty years we wouldn’t be in this mess. I heard another guy on the radio this morning bemoaning the fact that we’re “on our knees”, considering we were one of the world’s most competitive countries just a few years ago.
This is what passes for commentary right now. No suspicion on the part of that second guy that there might be an intimate connection between our “competitiveness” and our failure. Being “competitive” in the capitalist market means being on your knees.
The other guy, the Scandinavian-ministers-guy, looks at our credit binge and says the Scandinavians would never have done this. That’s the same attitude which breeds articles full of lazy, spend-happy, feckless Mediterraneans and disciplined, austere Germans. At its worst it breeds the Myers brand of African, a black haze of angry incompetent irrationality.
A more sensible analysis shows us that after the Irish Gombeen class accidentally recovered from the crisis of the 1980s, the credit binge was the only option. How else to achieve prosperity in Ireland than to fake it? When world capitalism became fundamentally unprofitable in the 1970s and ’80s, this was the route taken by most of the advanced capitalist countries. The Age of Credit (c.1989-2008) was the historical blink-of-the-eye in which the weak, tiny Irish Capitalist class found conditions in which it could thrive. Never before had it provided full employment or such huge tax revenue. As a historically weak class of gombeens and chancers, not quite capitalists, the Irish ruling class naturally found its niche in an age when con artistry was seen as viable economic policy.
That age has passed. Debt mountains; rows upon rows of dead, empty houses- dramatic contributions from an apparently unpromising class. It’s all we could ever hope to get from them, even if there had been a Norwegian on Merrion Row. It’s all we ever will get from them; talk of export-led growth and our “enterprizing spirit” should be disregarded out of hand. If only this failed class had the grace to bow out now.
[ps: a short post from politics.ie on the word “gombeen”- I think I pass the test for precise usage of the term… http://www.politics.ie/forum/culture-community/166759-why-do-posters-misuse-word-gombeen.html%5D