April 22, 2013
Enda Kenny would cut a dash in a pair of bottle-green, high-waist parallels and a snugly-fitted Bay City Rollers bomber jacket. Or maybe a Robin Gibb, Bee Gees one-piece with the flares up, in which you could hide a six-pack?
He should have turned up to the Dáil last week in full 1970s regalia to a backing track of Slade or, for the funkier among you, why not a camp, be-feathered entrance to a blaring disco, 12-inch version of Sister Sledge’s ‘He’s the Greatest Dancer’?
Make no mistake about it: we are back in the mid-1970s. Whether your weakness is glam rock, outré disco, prog rock or Leo Sayer, the soundtrack matches side-burns, microphone Afros, catsuits and Babycham.
Close your eyes, forget the Toyota Prius, the i-Phone, Facebook and Twitter. Sit back and listen to the news this week – the sound of the seventies.
Let’s start with the breaking down of national pay bargaining negotiations, then move on to the threat of all-out nationwide strikes delivered by leftist men with beards, and consider politically-driven, violent terrorism orchestrated by extremist suburban students. All the while, we have the threat of nuclear Armageddon in an ideologically-divided country, split down the middle on arbitrary Cold War lines. Yes, it’s 1976 and we are somewhere in the West.
Once you have digested that, think further about nationalised banks issuing credit rations to indentured debtors. Rationing, together with rising petrol prices, dole queues and increasing taxes across the board, gives the place a classic pre-Thatcher feel to it.
But it doesn’t stop there. Global economic policy also has a Starsky and Hutch feel to it. The “Phillips Curve” – the trade-off between unemployment and inflation – is back. The Federal Reserve is targeting sub-six per cent unemployment and risking inflation by printing money to get there. The last time the Fed held real interest rates negative for so long was in the mid-1970s on the watch of the rarely celebrated Arthur Burns.
But just when you think we are somewhere in the West in the 1970s, think again. We in Ireland could just as well be behind the Iron Curtain.
The language in our personal insolvency bill is straight out of the wonderful speech by our Dear Leader Nicolae Ceausescu at the 25th annual bumper socialist grain harvest convention in the Black Sea port of Constanta during the long heat wave of 1977.
This week, a decree has been passed which means that you, the good but indebted citizen of the Irish Republic, are now allowed to spend €28.97 per week on what are described by the state as “social inclusion activities”.
Social inclusion activities include any meeting of two or more citizens that might involve talking, fraternising and possibly more. The activities have to be inclusive, so obviously that means they can’t be exclusive. In other words, the activities have to be open to all citizens of the great socialist Republic. Inclusivity clearly debars people from having private conversations in the pub – as that would be a socially exclusive, not inclusive, activity. In other words, your night out has to be open to any old gobshite who might stumble upon you.
The new range of financial rations includes a generous allowance, bequeathed with munificence by our Dear Leader, of €31.09 for medical expenses. The citizen’s “personal hygiene and grooming items” are to be rationed at precisely €33.40 per month. Our all-knowing leader has decreed that the average citizen will be allowed expenditure of €247.40 per month on food “based on a balanced nutritious diet” which is “premised on a healthy lifestyle” dictated by the aspirations of the state – “four greens good, two cakes bad”.
But someone will benefit from this codology because a new Big Brother arm of the state called the “Insolvency Service of Ireland” will, from now on, oversee your diet. And this place will be staffed by loyal apparatchiks on, presumably, decent coin.
In true Orwellian fashion, single citizens of the glorious Republic are all assumed to live in identical houses. This is deemed to be a “rented furnished studio apartment”. They will be allowed €31.47 exactly to spend on household appliances, furniture and the like.
The Great Leader has also decreed, in order to reinforce – if there could be any doubt – that this place is heaven on earth, that a debtor shouldn’t need to leave the state. After all, why would they want to? Under no circumstances can the indebted citizen leave the jurisdiction for holidays or anything that might undermine the great thrift drive orchestrated by the nationalised banks, now clear instruments of the all-knowing state. Holidays abroad are banned.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
Ireland is firmly back in the 1970s, suspended somewhere between Erich Honecker’s sinister interference in the minutiae of everyday life and James Callaghan’s incompetent interference in every aspect of macro-economic performance. Of course, echoing the 1970s, the IMF is overseeing everything.
What is happening to our country? We are on the road to nowhere. These policies and the aimless drift therein are destroying the productive marrow of the economy. How is anyone supposed to open a business, employ people and take a risk in these circumstances?
There are clean and simple methods all over the world for personal bankruptcy. They are straightforward and involve selling houses in default and allowing the people to rent and get on with their lives. But we couldn’t do this. Oh no, we have to set up a quango to monitor what grown-up people spend on toothpaste?
If the future spending of all the people in default is to be controlled and curtailed, what happens to domestic demand, the engine of growth in this country? It stalls indefinitely, that much is obvious.
And we are doing all this to ensure that the banks can control their bad debts so that they don’t go bust again – the very banks that caused the problem in the first place! All the while, the public sector trade unions – who represent less than 20 per cent of the workforce – behave as if they are driving the bus. And why wouldn’t they? No one has told them they are passengers not drivers.
If you think the Ceausescu image was entirely in jest, think again. What was the central plank of Ceausescu’s 1970s and 1980s policy that destroyed Romania? It was an obsession with paying back foreign creditors for previous bad investments to remain credible in the eyes of the rest of the world. He created the most convoluted internal economy, squeezing every penny out of the domestic population, forcing untold privations on his people to avoid an international default. In his eyes, the default rather than the privations might expose to the world the bizarreness of the economy he had created simply to avoid that very default.
The world rightly laughed at this strange little man, his notions of grandeur and his obsession with international credibility. We thought he was consigned to the strange economic history basket of the 1970s and 1980s.
Well, look around you at Ireland, and think again.