Ireland Inc. – whatever that is – is bankrupt, we are told. Insolvent, broke, bust, beggared. Our spending is way beyond our means, out of control, disconnected from the ‘real’ world. With deeply worried looks they ask if we can not see that our GDP doesn’t match our public spending, or is it GNP, whatever that or the other one is. We need, they say, to get to grips with the macro numbers, or maybe it is the micro numbers.
We’d need to be economists to understand the gobbledeegook. But we have enough of them already, too many, and most of them played their part in getting us into the trouble we are in. The good ones were dismissed as cranks, or traitors, advised to go and commit suicide by our then Taoiseach, Bertie ‘Cornerboy’ Ahern. While many ordinary citizens knew we were in some sort of bubble, the favoured economists and the cheer-leading media commentators protested otherwise. “It’ll be fine”, they said, “sure we’ll have a soft landing”. Turns out that soft landing was more like a plane plummeting down, out of control, onto concrete.
What is a country worth? Measured in a way that is different from the IMF’s way, what might Ireland be worth? If a qualified valuer created an inventory of assets, what value might those amount to? How many multiples of our deficit, or GNP/GDP, or total international debts would that be?
We have 70,000 sq. kilometres of land, and 27,847 sq. kilometres of territorial fishery waters. We have proven gas and oil reserves of at least €500 billion in value, with much more to discover. We have agriculture and food manufacturing, tourism, high-end manufacturing and service industries and a valuable arts ‘industry’. We have many thousands of kilometres of road, and thousands of kilometres of railways and all that goes with that. We have over 4,000 schools and 134 hospitals, and two million houses and apartments. We have electricity generation and a grid, and a natural gas grid too. We have towns and cities, airports and ports, bridges and tunnels. This list could go on and on. We can get the drift. We paid for all of that, with blood and money. It has value, and much of it is owned by the state – in other words owned ultimately by the citizens.
But most of all, we have the people of Ireland, the greatest resource, much of it untapped. In 2004, while he was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell said that ‘a dynamic liberal economy like ours demands flexibility and inequality in some respects to function’! Note the use of the word ‘demands’, particularly as used in conjunction with the word ‘inequality’, a foretaste of the line taken by the EU, ECB, IMF and Goldman Sachs.
Since independence we have maintained, and still do to an ever-increasing extent, a significant cohort of our people including children in poverty and deprivation. Their use is as a negative force to depress pay demands, thereby increasing ‘competitiveness’ and inflating profits. Urged on by brutish neoliberals like Michael McDowell we turned and still turn our own fellow citizens into unwilling recipients of social ‘welfare’ by depriving them of the educational and training resources necessary to lift them out of poverty and to allow them forge a productive life for their own benefit, and society’s. Not content with forcing a life of dependency on them, our leaders accede with alacrity to the diktats of the EU/IMF/ECB Troika that social welfare rates be slashed and the low-paid be brought into an ever-widening tax net. While that is done, we allow a self-appointed ‘elite’ to maintain and enhance, on the backs of the poor and the low-paid, a life of power, privilege and wealth.
The formula for determining the liquidity or insolvency of any country is, on the face of it, a smoke and mirrors formula created by the IMF, the World Bank, the EU, the OECD and the United Nations. It pays no attention, it seems, to the value of long-term durable assets including natural resources, the built environment and communications infrastructure, or the value of people and what they can do. It appears to be nothing other than a contrived tyranny inflicted on non-‘elite’ countries by those who control ‘elite’ international bodies with the end result of maintaining empires and money markets.
We need to cut through the gobbledeegook and find an exit strategy that we can live with. It is time to turf out the amateur ‘smoke and mirrors’ men we put in charge of the ship of state or, to use their gobbledeegook, ‘Ireland Inc.’.