American football is like rugby with all the bits I understand taken out. Admittedly that leaves plenty to be getting on with, but it seems to consist pretty much entirely of men charging directly at one another. That can’t be the most efficient way to accomplish anything. To make it even more confusing, when I tuned in no one was doing anything at all. I’d heard there were pauses in the play, but hadn’t expected them to last half an hour.
I gather though that the power cut is not an official aspect of the sport. Which is a shame, in many ways it seemed the best bit. Like the half-time show but with far more scope for improvisation. You’d think this would be cripplingly embarrassing to the Americans, having probably their most-watched event globally turning into an advert for inadequate engineering. Fortunately however they can all blame it on the political party they don’t support, thereby avoiding any conception of collective failure. Democracy in inaction.
What James Reilly did was nothing special, just politics as usual. That’s precisely why he has to go. What passes for usual politics in this country is the whole problem. Politics as usual is what we threw Fianna Fáil out for.
James Reilly is our Minister for Health, in case you’re wondering. For the moment at least. And believe it or not, this has little or nothing to do with the Savita Halappanavar tragedy. There was a time when, as an actual doctor running the health service instead of a career politician, he seemed like a breath of fresh air. That chapter was brief, its ending a few months ago decidedly anticlimactic. His Labour party junior at the Department gave up, accusing him of manipulating health service priorities to bring investment and facilities to his own constituency. Documents released now appear to confirm this.
Is that not just the inevitable outcome of representative democracy? People expect their reps to bring back the goods. A little thumb on the scales.
No. A TD is not a warrior-champion, not a hunter. We’re sending them to Dublin to represent us there, not to loot it. Government tends to look away when a minister slips some spoils to the folks back home. It helps keep the seat safe at the next election. For ministers, it helps them keep their job and its lavish pay – not to mention its influence. Public money is diverted for their personal benefit in an only very slightly indirect way. In other words, it’s corruption. The sort of endemic, omnipresent corruption we used to mistake for normality.
But this is not a victimless crime. Favouring his own constituency disfavours the rest of the country. By taking a hospital from where it’s needed most to where it’s needed less he’s reducing someone’s chances of survival – and doing it for his own gain. Just like the worst sort of career politician.
Abie Philbin Bowman made a good point at the gig yesterday. Once, people believed in a mysterious, invisible force. They didn’t understand it, they could hardly even describe it, but they credited it with vast power, claimed it controlled just about every aspect of the world, and declared that whatever it wanted to happen was what must happen. They called it “God”.
Now, they call it “the economy”.
It’s so true. Nobody really understands the economy. We can’t even define it – is it the sum total of human transactions, or just the sum total of human transactions that involve things you can count? But nevertheless we positively invite it to take control of our lives. As someone else said, the problem with calling economics the “dismal science” is not that people think it’s dismal, but that people think it’s science. At best, it might aspire to being a branch of psychology. Yet people actually try to run the world according to its self-defeating prophecies.
A concept tossed around a lot in current economics is “competitiveness”, which sounds like it has to be a simple, positive good. Got to be lean and fit to make it in this world, don’tcha? It seems almost synonymous with efficiency. But when you look at it more closely you realise that there are a lot of assumptions involved here. “Competitive” is sometimes used as a synonym for “cheap”. When it comes to wage costs, it seems competitive always means cheap.
Competitiveness is at heart a sports metaphor, so let us imagine economic activity as a game like soccer or rugby. We – as a country – have to get out there and be competitive. Cool. Let’s go get ’em! We’ll show them who… costs less. We’ll give it 110% all the way through the first half, and right through the second, and on through the third, and… Hold on, three halves? When does this game end actually?
It doesn’t. We’ve taken the concept of competitiveness from sport, but overlooked the fact that a game is a brief interlude of peak performance. You can’t live your whole life like that. That would be, well, a desperate struggle. If democracy and civilisation exist for any reason at all, surely it is to free us from desperate struggle. And yet struggle is precisely what they’re telling us we need.
So it turns out that, like a lot of words used in economics, “competitiveness” translates most accurately as “whatever makes most money for the people who already have most money”.
There are good and bad arguments in favour of the fiscal compact. Well, better and worse anyway. But one stands out as being truly, shockingly, jaw-droppingly appalling: We should vote Yes because it will improve our credit rating. As if Standard and Poor and Moody and Mean don’t have enough influence.
It’s probably quite true of course; being a nice obedient populace is something they give bonus points for, no doubt. But it makes me think, why stop at voting? There’s loads more we could do to make ourselves look better credit-wise.
Stop holding those nasty unpredictable votes altogether. A country run by committee – especially a committee of appointed, imported technocrats – will be far more predictable than any democracy. Markets like that.
Execute the old. Seriously, think what that would save. And others who are a burden on the public finances too, like the mentally and the physically disabled. Or to use the more acceptable modern term, the economically disabled.
As is universally acknowledged, lenders only want to lend to you when you don’t actually need the money. Therefore we should repudiate all our debts. Including of course debts the government owes to citizens, such as pension and welfare commitments.
I only scratch the surface here I’m sure. There’s no end to what we could borrow, as long as we forget why.
But I shouldn’t say “give away”, as if it wasn’t earned. This money is a reward! It’s what we give to investors for making decisions that destroyed our economy. They bet that a property market can keep rising until every building is worth an infinite amount of money. The banks they invested in, quite naturally, went bust. We own these banks now, and we’ll all be working extra-hard for the rest of our lives to pay for those decisions. Though on the bright side we will be able to afford less health care, so our lives will be shorter.
All just to make sure that no matter how mindlessly, droolingly, shit-flingingly stupid the decisions they make, the richest people stay that way.
And yesterday was a fine day indeed, as it turned out. I think I met more new people than in the previous year altogether. This is good, this is what I need. One of the reasons you get too dependent in a relationship is that you stop knowing other people. I have restoration work to do on my social life.
First I was at the book launch of a local poet, Thanks for Nothing, Hippies by Sarah Clancy. Nice stuff. Then a meeting of activists against the Fiscal Compact, which was the main inspiration for yesterday’s piece. This was stimulating because I’ve done nothing like it for many years. As a cartoonist, a commentator on events, you try to keep actual political activity at arm’s length. I have never joined a party, association, or union. I’m even pretty reluctant to sign petitions. Being right at the coalface felt like a safari – even a spying mission.
The meeting was addressed by an economist, Professor Terry McDonough, and it was pointed out to me that I had done cartoons for a book he co-authored a decade ago. So I thought to check and, yes, you can buy a book I illustrated on Amazon. Lord knows, there may be more of my work available there. After all I forgot this one completely. It’s nice to be reminded that I do more than I think.
Fifty years and God knows how much money to reach a conclusion that – let’s face it – we already knew. Madness?
No, worth every penny. Because the “everybody knows” needed to be brought out and made official: Politics in Ireland, and planning in particular, is filthy, stinking, riddled with the most blatant corruption, bent. That’s official.
And now it’s official we can begin to dismantle it, to make politics fair and open in this country. No more blind eyes can be turned now that a little boy – well, a panel of judges – has pointed out that the Emperor is walking around with his giblets out. It will be a huge task, but at least we can face up to it and make a start.
There will be resistance, even now, from all corners of society. Because you know that while some of us feel this as fresh air on our faces, there are a lot of people in Ireland – a hell of a lot of people – who will see it as a loss for their team, a massive letting of the side down. Huge numbers of ordinary voters who were loyal to their party not in spite of but because of its corruption, who genuinely believed they were advantaged by nod-and-wink politics. Because that was our political culture, and the parties did nothing to discourage it – to say the least.
They were not advantaged of course, not the vast majority of them. In fact it disadvantaged all voters, in favour of those who could afford to purchase their political representation wholesale. Because political corruption destroys democracy, raising a secret aristocracy in its place. What is your vote worth, when others are paying cash?
I must apologise form the infrequency of posts in the last while. That whole girlfriend business didn’t exactly help of course, and I’ve a cartoon commission on that has proven to be much more tricky than expected.
My work usually concerns ideas and words – so much so that at their worst, my cartoons are just two people talking. My drawing, if it can even be called such, is normally minimalistic, loose, and spontaneous. This job is quite the opposite. While still cartoony in style, it’s to illustrate the precise way that certain tools are used (I’ll tell more when the clients have actually published), so suddenly I have to pay enormous attention to tiny details. The tools have to be drawn correctly, they have to be held correctly. Hands! Endless hands. No one likes drawing hands… My own are physically tired now.
And we’ve had predictable communications problems. The clients of course know precisely how the tools are employed. So when they describe what they want, they know what they mean. I merrily walk off with a profound misapprehension of their wishes, and consequently have to discard hours and hours’ worth of entirely useless work. Perhaps I’ll do an exhibition of those later in the year. Under the title “Unnecessary Pictures”, because that will make them sound like art.
But this will be finished shortly – I hope – and I will try to make up for my absence.
Desperate times call for desperately unfair measures. A popular one is cutting back on public overindulgences like health and education. Another is increasing flat taxes like VAT rates, because they at least seem fair. Indeed the richer you are, the fairer they seem.
Basically, it’s all about finding ways to squeeze those who can least resist the squeezing.What’s the point of trying to tax the richest after all? They’ll always find ways to bribe you not to. So it’s the poor that get it.
But mammies are sacrosanct. That’s the rule, or so we thought. It’s not worth the political risk. Make life hard for the elderly, and you make the whole country angry. They already have enough to worry about – i.e., everything you ever do or might do. The last thing they need is a vaguely threatening letter, apparently designed to sow the maximum amount of fear and confusion.
Yet that’s what mothers and grandmothers all over the country have just received. Statements, to be exact, of their revised tax credits. Now I am self-employed. I do my own accounts, make my own tax returns, so on. But I have read one of these letters, several times, and I have no shrieking idea what it means.
Many retirees have a work pension as well as their state one, both of which they paid towards of course, and neither – they were given to understand – liable to tax. But now the worry is that between them they create a tax liability. This means people with zero hope of ever increasing their incomes are now in fear that the money they budgeted for is going to be suddenly reduced. By how much? Will they still be able to feed themselves, still afford fuel? They have absolutely no idea. All the have is a document covered with the calculations of bureaucrats, that might or might not represent an end to any security.
I’m watching the replay of the inauguration of Michael D. Higgins as President of Ireland (Uachtarán na hÉireann), a significant threshold occasion in our history. An event in my personal life too – this is after all my old Sociology professor. And, one I missed. Yesterday I had to do something to sort out the utter mess my finances had gotten into since the economy hit the windscreen.
It is moving now though, to see one of the few politicians I’ve ever had any respect for become First Citizen. What the hell happened there? After over a decade of naked materialism we’re suddenly electing a socialist intellectual, and with no intervening transition except the global failure of capitalism.
It is a bittersweet occasion though. We now have as President a man who you can say without embarrassment is passionate about equality, about justice, about actually changing society. That we esteem him enough to raise him to this position is a wonderful thing. But at the same time, it’s sad that he was raised to a position of esteem only. As President he has less power than an ordinary citizen; they at least are free to express their own opinions.
Which is unfortunate. Now more than ever we need voices like his.