Tuesday, May 4, 2010
How has economic nut-job Ireland reacted to the Eurozone/IMF €110bn bail-out of Greece? Let’s look at that ineffable source of mainstream blather that is the Irish Independent. Brendan Keenan in an article promisingly entitled “We’re not like the Greeks” admits that after last week’s Greek, Spanish and Portuguese downgrades Irish bonds fared badly. “People may well feel miffed about all this, as well as puzzled,” he owes. “What about all that budgetary pain, and the forthright actions of cutting public sector pay, even social welfare?”
Forthright. Nevertheless, pain “is still Ireland's strongest card.” Only a problem looms for which “even friendly disposed lenders have reasons to worry”, Keenan frets… “The budget deficit is the one area where we can make our own luck. If the speculators are doing their research, they will have noticed the growing opposition among public sector workers… Political pressures are making morons of the intelligent people at the head of public sector unions. Were they to succeed in their stated aims of reversing the public sector pay cuts, there is every chance that the day would arrive when their monthly salaries could not be paid at all.”
No pay at all, you pinkos! And what will you butter your spuds with then, eh? Your regrets! But let us pass over this churn about research-rich lenders wisely and sadly shaking their heads as puzzled public sector morons tip the country over into the abyss of BBB- credit ratings. I’m mainly interested in the idea that this "pain" is "Ireland's strongest card”. What game is moron-averse Mr Keenan talking about?
He must mean poker. Poker has always been a popular game in Ireland. You play at home, in the pub, with pennies, with euros, with big notes, with strangers. Democratic open-to-all comers poker has rules that apply equally to all. Luck detemines victory of course but it's really the skill in divining which cards rise back up the pack and psychological probity in determining that Johnno's watery eyes means he bluffing on a crap hand again. Lest we get carried away here, however, the history of this crisis suggests something other than poker's levelled playing field. It can't have escaped even Keenan's intelligent notice that major financial players, as well as dominant countries like Germany or France, do not need to play by any rules other than those they make up. Historical latecomers to the gambling tables of international finance like minor powers Ireland, like Greece, must submit to such rules which were never written with their advantage in mind.
There is only one card game I know of that operates on such a principle. It's called Asshole. Asshole has four players who, depending on a first hand, are assigned four castes – President, Vice-President, Vice-Asshole and Asshole, and unfolds according to this initial pecking order. If you are Asshole, then you must always give your best cards to the President, who in turn gives you his worst. Once you are Asshole status, it’s extremely difficult to get out of it. You might just attain to Vice Asshole with a slew of lucky hands. But mostly, assholedom is where you are stuck, so to speak, because the game itself works against you. It only works for the President.
The game is comic because it parodies the utter injustice of life that we all instinctively understand but refuse to admit; it's addictive because hope springs eternal with each new hand. It’s also a great measure of an individual’s psychology. Some philosophical Assholes laugh, some brood, others dream of less despicable Vice Asshole status and the struggle with Vice-President for mid-flight dominance. In the meantime, the almost unassailable President grows into a sense of his entitlements. The President sees his good fortune not as chance but as the inevitable consequence of his personal intelligence and courage.
With its colonial history, Ireland for many centuries languished in confirmed Assholedom, and in the last decades rose to Vice-Asshole while imagining in its repressed longings for supremacy that it could be President.. Now that it finds itself verging on Untouchable again, it looks down at fellow Greece, waiting for one more good hand when it can crawl back up a rung. It's a pitiful destiny for a country, but these unfortunately are the rules. No-one seems to have pointed out that we are playing the wrong game.