Thursday 23 March 2017

Cowen's cult of positive thinking is a mindless recipe for disaster

We can't rely on karma and optimism to get the economy up and running again -- we need to face facts, writes Carol Hunt

I know a guy who thinks Brian Cowen is doing a grand job. Seriously. When I scream with frustration at news about the ever-increasing dole queues, the lack of support for SMEs, the proposed bank interest increases, or the latest billions that have disappeared into the Anglo-Irish black hole, he lectures me on my pessimism and tells me that disparaging the people who are trying to get us out of this mess won't get us back to Kansas.

In fact, by bluntly stating that we are in an appalling economic mess that looks like it will get a hell of a lot worse before it ever gets better, I am, he insists, actually fuelling the depression. Mea culpa.

My mate's hero, Brian Cowen, said pretty much the same last week when he lectured the nasty pessimists in the media for their "pervasive negativity" when faced with bad news. Seemingly, instead of focusing on the fact that the international ratings agency Moody's downgraded Ireland's sovereign bond rating from AA1 to AA2, we should somehow be spinning this news into a positive story (in the national interest, of course). For instance, concentrating on the news that the economy is now considered "stable" at AA2 rather than "negative" at the higher rating.

Yep, even though Moody's lead analyst for Ireland, Dietmar Hornung, said the "downgrade was primarily driven by the Irish Government's loss of financial strength, as reflected by its deteriorating debt affordability" and that growth was not expected to improve without any meaningful contribution from banking or property, we should actually be delighted with ourselves for some unfathomable reason that I have yet to discover. Anything less and we are "running down the economy".

Analysis pages 27, 28, 29

Yes, apologies to Seanie Fitz and Micky Fingers and all of those other optimistic fellows who we keep blaming for getting us into this mess. How wrong we were. It wasn't your fault at all!

It was those pesky journalists and economists who suggested that maybe, just maybe, putting all your eggs into a property bubble might not be the most sensible of economic policies. Guys like Jim Power who, when he dared to criticise government policy, suffered his employers being contacted by the Department of Finance -- just to make sure that Jim was an aberration and there weren't any others like him around desperate to tear the economy to shreds with their ridiculous and irresponsible warnings of doom and gloom. Because, you see, the whole economy seems to run according to Rhonda Byrne's bestselling positive-thinking book, The Secret.

When we all believed that the boom would go on forever, or at the very least that we would have a "soft landing", the economy was hunky dory. It wasn't until those dangerously pessimistic economists and journalists like David McWilliams and Richard Curran (with his misguided documentary Futureshock) started whining that the whole caboodle fell apart.

Why? Because these people thought negatively and persuaded others to do likewise. And, as anyone who has read Rhonda's book will tell you, the Law of Attraction means that if you just think something bad will happen, it will. And so it's your own fault if you get cancer or lose you job or can't pay the mortgage: you weren't thinking positively.

Of course, this is all bo****ks! The cult of positive thinking is a recipe for disaster. Look at former Financial Regulator Patrick Neary, who told the Taoiseach that Anglo- Irish Bank was in good health -- just three days before the Government had to move in and save it. To say anything else would, presumably, attract bad karma.

And now, Brian Cowen et al are continuing the positive-thinking farrago, repeatedly telling us that we've turned the corner, that things are improving, and that pouring billions of euro into the corpse of Anglo Irish Bank is actually good for the economy.

Again, bo****ks! It's all very well to look on the bright side, but only if that bright side is based on facts -- not bullshit. It's called realistic thinking, and it's something we should all get used to practising.

At present in Ireland we are facing problems that we haven't suffered in decades. Our suicide rate is up by 25 per cent; our dole queues are lengthening daily; our best and brightest are leaving the country in droves; our health system is a catastrophic failure; our SMEs are failing weekly as they can't get credit from their banks; interest rates are set to increase; and more and more homeowners are finding themselves in negative equity or unable to cope with their mortgage repayments. The Irish economy -- with consumers terrified of spending and little being done to create/save jobs -- shrank by 7.1 per cent last year and remains in recession.

I am not being pessimistic in stating the above, I am merely reporting facts. So please don't shoot me, Brian.

In reality, none of these problems is insurmountable. In reality, there is always something that can be done to improve a situation. In reality, if we get off our asses and work hard and clever, we can genuinely hope to turn the tide of economic failure.

But first we have to face up to the seriousness of our position. To do anything less invites further catastrophe.

So what is the Government doing? Oh yes, after slapping down the media for being a negative bunch of whiners, it's off on a well-deserved 10-week summer holiday, hurrah! If they just lie on a beach/walk through Connemara and visualise the economy improving, then it will, you see. It's called positive thinking.

On second thoughts, shoot me now, Brian.

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