August 7, 2014

Sardine fisherman left high and dry as 'productivity revolution' fails to deliver

Posted in Irish Independent · 47 comments ·

The other night, where I am here on holiday, the local village had a huge festival. This involved part of the main square being turned into a massive inferno and once the embers were smouldering local people piled thousands of sardines on top of old iron bed frames, complete with ancient springs. These frames weighed down with fresh fish morphed into possibly the largest barbecue grill imaginable. The sardines were scoffed, washed down with lots of local wine.

The festival marks the passing of the full moon in early August on the Adriatic and the beginning of a period of moonless nights. Traditionally, on moonless nights, the local fishermen headed out, lanterns hanging from their boats and waited for the sardines.

They did this on moonless nights because the moon confuses the sardines.

Throughout the full-moon nights of late July, the plankton that the sardines eat can be easily seen shimmering on the surface of the water. The sardines come up from the depths to feed on the effervescent plankton, helped by the light of the moon to see their feast.

The sardines thus associate the light of the moon with food. The brighter the light, the more food the sardines believe they can gobble up. As a result, they love the full moon.

Traditionally, the fishermen wait for moonless nights, paddle out a mile or so, drop their nets and wait.

Then once there is no moonlight, they light up their own lanterns, the light attracts the sardines and, in no time, there would be thousands of sardines circling the boats.

Then the fishermen pulled in their nets, bulging with a massive hoard.

The night after the big sardine hunt was historically celebrated with this huge outdoor, communal sardine mega-grill.

Now decades later, the locals still celebrate the Night of the Sardines. But today it is a tourist event. These days, the sardines are caught by large trawlers using high-powered, German-made torches. But the basic principle is the same. Today, instead of the entire island out in boats helping each other, massive leaps in technology mean that only a few of the locals are fishing.

This development, where the few deliver more, is the so-called “productivity revolution”. What used to be done by dozens of men can now be done by a handful.

Economic theory claimed that these increases in productivity engendered by technology would “free up” the others who no longer want to fish so they can take up work in other so-called higher value-added jobs.

But what if this doesn’t work in practice?

What if the people displaced by technology don’t get new high-paying jobs but languish in a half-existence between odd-jobs, underemployment and idleness?

This is an enormous dilemma and it seems that down here in the eastern Mediterranean, what might work in theory, doesn’t work in practice. The last few decades have seen lots of local industry eliminated by competition from the north of Europe as more and more trade barriers have been lowered.

In return for Volkswagens, large swathes of previously employed manufacturing workers are laid off. The displaced workers have not taken up new jobs in new local enterprises but have relied in the main on the expanded government bureaucracy for permanent jobs.

So the countries in southern (and eastern) Europe not only lose their industries to northern Europe, but get into debt in the process. Their banks are privatised initially and then sold off to western European banks, which in turn, provide the elixir of consumer credit to the local people.

This debt is incurred mainly to achieve a lifestyle, which the less productive countries can’t actually afford, but still seem to desire.

And of course, if they don’t yearn for it, a blizzard of advertising ensures that only the truly enigmatic, eccentric and strong-willed can fight the prevailing corporate effort to turn a want into a need. However, if you and your country get into large amounts of foreign debt, it is essential to maintain a very strong exchange rate to make sure that you can pay this lolly back.

But maintaining a strong exchange rate means that whatever domestic industry the country might hope for, has little chance of competing against companies from stronger countries because local workers are too expensive. So the southern countries don’t even get out of the blocks.

All the while, the unemployed sardine fishermen are kicking about looking for something to do – the productivity miracle doesn’t seem that miraculous after all.

Communal work is replaced by seasonal bits and pieces, while industry is replaced by three months of tourism.

Wealth is concentrated in the hands of the politically connected who managed to grab the assets during privatisation, only to sell them on to foreigners.

This means that the political process is one large exercise in doling out sweets to your mates.

Ultimately, the country joins the EU or the euro and this bestows not northern European efficiency, but a western European stamp of approval and credibility on the entire process, entrenching the new elite and painting the once hard-working fishermen as lazy, feckless and endemically work-shy.

  1. Lunar Energy

    Nature responds in magic ways and it is that same energy that drives the Economy in the same way as Sex .

    Full Moon is Sunday . So as an exercise watch the hurling semi final between Limerick and Kilkenny and after 15 mins you will know what side the Full Moon has partnered with .

    The rejected team by the lunar energy will show on their faces a complete lack of control and the power of this force will empower the lucky team to a vibrant success with a spectacular ending .

  2. Morning from lovely Norfolk.

  3. michaelcoughlan


    “What if the people displaced by technology don’t get new high-paying jobs but languish in a half-existence between odd-jobs, underemployment and idleness”

    You could have communities in the UK where the mines used to be with this statement.

    “And of course, if they don’t yearn for it, a blizzard of advertising ensures that only the truly enigmatic, eccentric and strong-willed can fight the prevailing corporate effort to turn a want into a need”

    I kind of fit into this category. Got seven chickens last night had four eggs this morning. Kids had great sport. Have pre pay meter installed in house so no electricity bills at all coming now. Also have own well, bio treatment system, wood burning stove and now eggs. Also have own apples, plums, pears and by next year lamb, pork, potatoes, firewood, onions and beef.

    “painting the once hard-working fishermen as ?lazy, feckless and endemically ?work-shy”

    Typical tactic of the establishment to force people to work for 8.65/hr. Fuck them. The most importantly thing to remember when some asshole like Michael O’leary tries to convince you that you are dignified because you have a job is to remember that you are dignified because you are a human being and your esteem and self respect grows by how you live well and help others to do likewise.

    • Adelaide

      +1 Dignity!

      It heartens me to see more people are seeing through the nonsense of ‘a job is good’, ‘a job bestows dignity’ ‘purpose’ ‘discipline’ ‘you are a winner’, the flipside of the stigma of being an unemployed loser layabout.

      Honestly, in 95% of occupations workers are no more than ‘working chumps’. The ’9-5′ jobbers are the real suckers and they know it, hence the endless PR circus to convince them otherwise. In all likelihood your job is a meaningless fabrication serving no tangible purpose other than to satisfy the mechanistic demands of a man-made profit-required economic usury monetary model.

      What exactly are you doing spending most of your time in the company of complete strangers, spending your time in disgusting traffic, missing out on your friends and family and abandoning your true innate skills and passions? Doesn’t it all feel false? That’s because it is false, it does not have to be this way. Jobs are not good, they are demeaning. And at this point in humanity’s technology advancement, unnecessary. “But how will people earn a living?”. Familiarise yourself with our modern Monetary Model and join the dots to every fact of modern living. For meaningful solutions and alternative to our fake rat-race I’d recommend read the works of E.C.Riegel. It’s a life-changer.

    • DB4545

      We handed over our marine resources to the EU and our fish stocks were hoovered up by the much more savvy Spanish and French fleet.Iceland has well managed marine resources and plenty of people employed in related industries. We were raped for a few motorways(tolled) and very little else. Why spend insane amounts of taxpayers money on “inward investment” subsidies to call centres and the like employing foreign workers while leaving our jobless unable to earn a living and contribute? Where’s the sense in striving for cosmopolitan cities while leaving the native population to survive on scraps? A recipe for social unrest. When will we ever learn?

      • Reality Check

        +1, All for the sheckels to the Farmers.

        • DB4545

          I’m not a farmer and have no connection to agriculture but it is a key part of the economy. We can’t all be economists, rocket scientists or IT professionals. We have to soak up a lot of unemployment down the food chain. Skilled engineering and related trades are a key component of the German Economy. We have a flexible workforce and generations of emigrants have shown what they can do overseas when they’re in a market that lets their talent shine. The Tourism Sector,the Marine Resources and Agricultural Sector, the Pharma and Medical devices Sector have huge pools of talent. Political interference has skewed and lost us business for short term political gain.We need strong regional Government. Because it works. We could soak up 160,000 people in the light engineering sector related to defence industries. But we have a liberal elite who’ll scream blue murder that we’re “neutral”. It’s not their children who have to emigrate. Look at Israel and learn. They don’t abandon their diaspora to the four corners of the earth.

    • Colin


      Just remember please, if it wasn’t for Mick O’Leary, you would be forking out about €500 for a return flight to London and back with Aer Lingus.

      Cabin crew staff on Ryanair make more than €8.65 per hour anyway. They get commission on whatever they sell on the plane, teas, coffees, drinkypoos, hang sangwigdes and all the rest. You do not need to spend money on getting a third level education to become a member of the cabin crew. Horses for courses.

      How was Kilkee?

      • michaelcoughlan

        Hi Colin,

        Thanks for correction re O’leary. I go over board at times and need to be reigned in.

        Kilkee was quieter than last year and overpriced. 7 euros for glass of wine in an eating pub. Other local towns down there much quieter this year.



  4. CorkPlasticPaddy

    Couldn’t agree more with you , Michael!! They’re all a bunch of dickheads!!

  5. dwalsh

    I guess those feckless fishermen should retrain and get into financial services.

    Hope you are having a brill hols David.

  6. michaelcoughlan

    Hi Dathi,

    I knew you jumped the gun when you got sucked inn thinking the Russians or the Ukrainians were responsible for shooting down the Malaysian Airliner as in my view the yanks benefited the most an Russia seems to think so too; (Remember Cui Bono or who benefits)

    The US can keep the pressure on a Muslim country who owns the airliner, They can blame the Russians to keep pressure on them and drive a wedge between Russia and Germany to disrupt the export of cheap Russian Gas The west then can supply gas from there hopelessly inefficient new fracking gas fields which are white elephants but if they are the only supplier in town the price will rise. Max explains how inefficient the fracking operations are in the link below.

    As for driving a wedge between Germany and Russia we know how hat worked out the last two times.
    Finally if the bonbon’s are to be believed and there is a world population reduction agenda then killing 100 world health organisation workers was a real success especially the aids experts as there will be a huge increase in dead people in Africa as a result and I’d say the spread of Ebola at the same time is no coincidence either.

    Really really twisted and disturbed world we live in, Isn’t it?

    • michaelcoughlan

      Max explains how fracking is a white Elephant;

      • ps200306

        The way to know if Max Keiser is lying is to check if his lips are moving. Same goes for the rest of that mouthpiece of Russian propaganda, RT.

        American drilling companies bought drilling rights and land leases too far ahead of themselves. The resulting NG glut caused prices to fall 75% – 85%. That anyone could survive that mayhem is a surprise.

        That doesn’t make fracking a white elephant. Like any endeavour, it needs a market for its product, and those who overpaid on the cost of production won’t survive.

        The environmental scares are way overblown too. Here the industry made a bad name for itself in the early years by taking advantage of lax regulation. It has seriously cleaned up its act now. However, the UK and Ireland anti-fracking lobby will no doubt whip up the same sort of hysteria as with “Frankenfoods” a decade ago.

        • michaelcoughlan

          “The way to know if Max Keiser is lying is to check if his lips are moving. Same goes for the rest of that mouthpiece of Russian propaganda, RT”

          Thanks for this.

          lets see your evidence.


      • Deco

        James Howard Kunstler has produced a worthy critique of media sensationalism in support of suburban shopping based on the real production curves coming out of fracking sites.

        It is not the “miracle” that people think it is. In fact it is only a short term mirage, a lot of the time. Peak oil has not gone away.

        And then there are the environmental aspects.

    • Deco

      The world is even more twisted and disturbed than Bonbon depicts.

      The headlines are almost Orwellian. In other words they are nonsense. Chicken Licken would have had a field day.

  7. Pat Flannery

    David you are incorrigible in your incessant anti-Euro rants. To blame the unemployment of Adriatic sardine fishermen on the Euro is simply over the top. Perhaps it is the sun.

    You seem to base your argument on “if you and your country get into large amounts of foreign debt, it is essential to maintain a very strong exchange rate to make sure that you can pay this lolly back”. This apparently is then engineered by joining the Euro.

    You seem to believe that the entire Euro project is a giant conspiracy to entrap poorer countries into crippling debt, thus reduce them to slave status and that inducing them to give up a weak local currency, that would create local employment, for a strong Euro will ensure that they can “pay this lolly back”.

    Sorry David, your argument just doesn’t stack up. It is faux economics and nothing but more anti-Euro propaganda.

    • Deco

      “faux economics” = what EK and his government are doing now for the sake of the bank bondholders.

      Fully approved by the EU commission, and the ECB.

      That is faux economics. Socialism for wealthy capitalist losers.

    • c_west

      The exchange rate of the euro gives a currency that is too strong for weak peripheral countries, and relatively weak for core countries so that their exports are cheaper, giving them a trade advantage that they wouldn’t have with their old currency.

      This structural imbalance is a fact and it’s something well have to sort out if we’re to become a real currency union like the US, (or something else in between, I don’t know) or break up.

      The euro project has benefitted ireland enormously, and we have received a lot of help as is pointed out by Barroso and Trichet (both separately) but also we HAVE been entrapped by some portions of unfair debt that was not our responsibility.

      That needs to be pointed out and doing so is not a conspiracy theory. Barroso and Trichet are correct but what they say (e.g. “ireland was a threat to the euro zone”, how dare you etc.), is very one sided. That is a much of a conspiracy theory as what David is saying. But the other side of the argument is that there was huge fiscal irresponsibility on the part of peripheral countries, that is very true as well

      • Pat Flannery

        c_west: thanks for those thoughts, many of which I share. There is no such thing as perfection, in currencies or anything else.

        The only part of your argument I would question though is that Ireland was “entrapped” into unfair debt. Nobody entrapped Bertie, Brendan or Anglo-Irish.

        As Enda said at Davos and got howled at for saying it “they went mad borrowing”. So did those who built their macmansions all around the country.

        The historic truth is that the whole country went mad borrowing and that is no conspiracy theory. It is fact.

        • c_west

          Yeah there are a lot of things we have to face up to, there’s a reason those things happened here and weren’t as bad elsewhere.

          It’s a problem in ordinary people’s attitudes and it’s a problem with just consistently bad management of the country over years. The potential is as good as a country with a similar population like Denmark or Finland but we’re just not at that stage at all…

      • DB4545

        I have a fondness for German fiscal responsibility but that’s not what happened when money came flooding into the economy during the Celtic Tiger era. Private Sector Capital flooded into Ireland seeking high returns which normally incur a risk . When it went tits up those same Private Sector Capitalists wanted (and got) the Irish taxpayer to pay the bill. The Irish taxpayer stood to gain nothing on those “investments” if they succeeded but were left to foot the bill when they failed. The back story showed complete lack of any regulation

  8. Well it is nice to be feckless now and then and I have been for long periods of my life. I have always earned enough and saved in order to be so.

    I am just returned from a 12 day sailing jaunt to a different locale every 2 days. all the people in the club fleet were able to not give a damn about the economy as they spent their largess from very nice pensions. (I spend my capital as I have little pension)

    I just do not have a guilty conscience as I have paid a couple of pot fulls of taxes over the years extorted from me because I showed ingenuity and prudence while working. The inflation of the money supply by the unconscionable central bankers caused my property to need a lot more cash for somebody to buy. Consequently I was told to hand back multiple thousands of so called capital gains in taxes.

    In fact the value of the property had not increased at all, only the amount of the devalued currency required to buy it.

    Having taken 25% of the alleged gain they proceed to tax me on the interest earned on the residual. Then they continue to devalue my capital through inflating the money supply.

    So count me out of the system as I now hold solid assets that earn no interest and pay no tax.

    It is time we had a debate on the monetary system that causes all our problems but David will not venture there as he said he does not believe in sound money. When our brightest and best fail us what hope is there? There is none forthcoming from our host!

  9. Deco

    To be honest the above article describes Ireland to a tee, once you exclude the mnc sector (based on double Dutch tax sandwiches).

    And even certain regions of northern Europe are now more committed to Ponzi-real-estate investing economics (which produce even more ridiculous debts) than they are committed to manufacturing. Sweden and Britain being prime examples of countries once serious about manufacturing, but which have turned into real estate Ponzi schemes.

    The entire economic model being used in much of the EU is nonsense.

    A seriously flawed version of Keynesian economics finds political favour in the massive state bureaucracies of the EU members, as exemplified at home by agendas of Jack O’Connor, David Begg, and Blair Horan. And rubber stamped by Ahern, Cowen, and now Burton. It produces waste, freebies, misery and debt.

    An even more idiotic economics approach from Milton Friedman and the monetarists makes sure that the entire system is “rigged” for the benefit of the financial sector, causing endless cycles of asset booms and crashes, while real incomes contract for 905 of the population, and insiders make a fortune.

    The problem is that there is too much central control of the economic system. Both by the state and by the oligopoly oriented business sectors like banking, and real estate.

    Both have one essential trait in common – they promise “something for nothing”. (hat tip to James Howard Kunstler – I recommend that you all find out about his theories concerning suburban madness). Or to put it bluntly, the economics of fraud and deceit are the basis of most economic theories being advanced today).

    We will have a war in order to prevent these policies collapsing by their own inherent flaws. The push for war seems to imply that some people in certain power centres are very eager to get this started as soon as possible.

    Time to drop the current prevailing economic policies, before they lead to killing and destruction. Though I do not expect the beneficiaries of 30 years of Monetarism to be supportive of this realization.

    • Adelaide

      I must have a blind-spot when it comes to Milton Friedman but I can not understand based on my knowledge of Friedman’s output why he is widely portrayed as a baddie. Can someone point out what I must be obviously missing out on? Much appreciated.

      • michaelcoughlan


        Most important post in a long time. There is nothing wrong with Milton or his theory’s per Se. That’s because Milton had a conscience and assumed his disciples would play by his rules. They don’t. They USE him to justify there own perverted and warped logic.

        Like all theoretical economists he never exposed his theories to the harsh reality and now we are staring ww3 straight in the face. The indices are selling off metals advancing and Russia banning food imports from Europe. My neighbour called in an hr ago to tell me the poultry industry is collapsing as I write.

        • Adelaide

          I often hear the verdict against Friedman citing his involvement in Pinochet’s Chicago Boys and his advancement of Thatcherism/Reaganism. Pretty damning stuff, but they have no basis in reality. These bogus accusations irritated Friedman his whole life. He described himself as a libertarian first, an economist second, and a jew third. He espoused common-sense libertarian economic policies. Why he’s portrayed as a neo-con elitist is a mystery to me, I mean, the chap was pro-union, pro-equality and pro-liberty.

  10. Deco

    The article describes the essence of peripheral Europe.

    Greece is an even more accentuated version of the above description – because the debts are worse, and the political corruption is much worse.

  11. Deco

    Excellent article.


    This is the result when a peripheral country attaches itself to the EU and the new World order.

    Leave the Euro and embrace a national currency on sound money principles.
    Regain the national sovereignty. Only then can there be an independent foreign policy pursued.

  13. StephenKenny

    The problem that the sardine fishermen face is that they don’t, actually, live in a real free market.
    Every economic philosopher has tried to describe, and solve, the gap between unbridled nature – red in tooth and claw – and the level of human society that was around them at the time.

    The current western bloc postulate’s that ever increasing state intervention is the only solution. As with all previous statist methodologies, every law designed to direct social attitudes spawns others, to fix the need to enforce the previous ones, at an ever more micro level. Western countries are preparing legislation to enable the state’s use of internet monitoring to allow for enforcement of laws covering ‘potential risk’ – basically allowing for the treatment & incarceration of people for what state believe they’re thinking.

    We’ve reached Philip K DIck’s ‘Minority Report’ world much faster than any of us thought we would. (The action movie was loosely based on the story). A recent conference at Oxford University in the UK suggested that people who were deemed to be ‘climate deniers’ should be forced to attend compulsory re-education.

    Adam Smith, the 18th century economist who came up with the idea of ‘invisible hand’ of the market, wrote an entire book describing the social forces that went hand in hand with the economic ones.
    He has the ‘invisible hand’ idea of what you might call ‘free selection in trade’ to describe success and failure businesses, and he also has the idea of what he calls ‘sentiment’ to describe the social environment within which all this business activity happens. This ‘sentiment’ might be described as ‘social cohesion and sympathy’.

    Without both, the system simply doesn’t work.

    As the economic and social engineering policies of western states spirals to ever greater extremes, an effective ‘free market’ simply disappears.

    It seems to me that in most western countries the free market is in fact long gone, and even in countries with strong social bases (i.e.southern Europe) it’s under attack.

    • DB4545

      I believe in a State that helps every Citizen to contribute to the common good and helps those that can’t through no fault of their own ie people who are intellectually disabled. I’ve seen first hand that communism doesn’t work. It may promote desirable ideals but it doesn’t work in reality. People always act in their own self interest. An example from recent history which is still visible today may demonstrate this innate human condition. If you travel by train through what was East Germany you’ll see hundreds of allotments at the edge of railway stations. These allotments gave East German Citizens limited freedom to grow their own food and sell the surplus for their own personal gain. Some high ranking communists wanted to eliminate even this limited freedom until it was pointed out that it could result in starvation as these allotments provided 30% of the food produced in East Germany. The only benefit that the communist bloc ever gave to the West was that it stopped Darwinian Capitalism from engaging in tooth and claw ruthless extreme behaviour. This was because Governments had a fear that if pushed too far workers might be persuaded by communist ideals. With the fall of communism raw capital has no such fear and it appears that some extreme examples would happily have people return to a world of serfdom. I hope these extremists can learn from history before their actions bring us to the brink of destruction.

  14. Colin

    Off topic, but can we now give Dublin a New nickname, like Junkie City? Let’s get the National Meeja to foster it. Sure Limerick managed quite well with stab city, so lets pass the baton on guys!

  15. Shane F

    More and more economists are talking about how the current monetary system is mathematically unsustainable. There will be a very disruptive reset and quantitative easing is only delaying the inevitable.
    The link below has the best and most succinct explanation I’ve read thus far.
    Ok , They’re promoting gold but their message is to reduce paper holdings and diversify across a broad range of tangible assets.

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