“The Irish famine killed more than a million people, but it killed poor devils only. To the wealth of the country, it did not the slightest damage.” So wrote Karl Marx back in 1867. As 21st century Ireland peers out over the debt drop, beneath which lie the open jaws of an EU/IMF “bailout”, I’d like to make some outrageous parallels between then and now.
Back then, Ireland’s colonial masters massively restructured the national economy, effectively turning the Irish countryside into one big pasture upon which livestock for export could feed. Right now, members of the European Commission sit at Merrion Square overseeing cuts to the Irish economy worth €15 billion over the next four years. If this were a country the size of the UK, George Osborne’s tastefully appellated “Spending Review” would be axing €207 billion instead of a mere €91 billion. Cleverly, the Irish government anticipates that such a society, with bits of its legs and arms amputated, won’t need much of population to live in it. That’s why it’s dropped a big hint that 40,000 will need to emigrate in order to maintain the unemployment level at its current 13.8 per cent. 13.8%? Hohoho.
By 1866, the result of the economic convulsions was “1,032,694 Irishmen replaced by 996,877 head of cattle, sheep and pigs.” 144 years later, the Irish government officialeses the medium term outlook for the exporting sector as “reasonably favourable given the adjustment in competitiveness”. But “the additional employment-content of growth will be limited to some degree by the export-led nature of the recovery.”
Translated into English, this means that while there won’t be much of an influx of new pigs, there will be, by some mystery process, a scenario where exports are “favourable” but “employment-content” won’t have, well, any content. In other words, a diminished country that works for diminished wages, on diminished expectations, but to the wealth of the country, not the slightest damage. Back in the days of the USSR, factories turned out saucepans with four-inch thick bases or shoes with the heel where the toe should be in order to satisfy the numbers of tons to be churned out according to the master plan laid out by Moscow, in kilos and not utility. In the stunted new world coming into being, “growth” is any quantity that a bureaucrat notes on a report, regardless of whether anything cooks or not.