THOSE clever communication consultants who, for a handsome fee, will train one how to do TV and radio interviews, say that one should pick only one point to get across to the audience.
Well, perhaps two at the most. Otherwise, the message gets confused. So the complications are evident when one is dealing with several simultaneous arguments, some of which appear to contradict each other.
The Fiscal Advisory Council ran slap into this problem last week, with its second report on budgetary matters, and ended up being widely misunderstood. Something as grand as the FAC cannot boil things down to one or two points, but things become really difficult if the points appear to clash.
The two I have in mind are both important ones. The first is how stringent should be the effort to restore balance to the public finances? This effort is generally known as "austerity", which is fair enough if one is talking about the effects, and it is a handy word to use.
It is quite different to describe austerity as a policy; as if reducing incomes and living standards was the object of the exercise. This confusion of mind between purpose and effect leads to one of the most popular current phrases -- "you cannot tax your way out of recession".
That is almost certainly true, although there are those who say one can cut one's way out of recession. In any event, even if it is accepted that cutting deficits does not of itself cure recession, it does not automatically follow that not cutting them will do so.
The FAC is among those who say it will not. At the risk of over-simplifying things (almost inevitable with FAC reports) its view can be expressed as saying that the country cannot begin to get out of recession until borrowing has been brought down to sustainable levels.
If that is correct, then the best thing is to do it as quickly as possible. That means more austerity, but recovery can come sooner. It is perfectly possible to disagree with this -- on the grounds that the initial economic damage is too great -- but it is not fair to portray it as a belief that austerity is a cure for recession.
It may also be unfair to say that the 28 economists who signed an article in another newspaper last week were arguing that you can borrow your way out of recession -- although it read a bit like it at times.
There is certainly a lot of borrowing in their suggestions, which were very close to the trade union policy of a major investment programme, funded outside the Exchequer balance sheet by spending the rest of the national pension fund and any cash the Government has lying around, borrowing by state companies, and direct loans to investors from the European Investment Bank.
They were not so clear about what should be done with the Exchequer deficit while this investment was going on. There is less talk now about taking longer than 2015 to put the public services back in balance, so perhaps the idea is that the present programme should continue as is.
It would be helpful if they were more specific about this but a case can be made that, if such an investment programme was embarked upon, the correction process should actually be speeded up.
This where the fiscal council, the trade unions and the signatories could find some common ground. No one disputes that the country urgently needs investment in physical infrastructure, and even more in human infrastructure, given the appalling evidence of skill shortages and educational failures.
The question is how to do this while replacing tens of billions of annual borrowings with our own money? Aside from the immediate construction jobs, the fruits of physical investment, better teaching and more effective administration will take years to ripen. It is hard to see how an investment programme, however well targeted, can itself "get us out of recession".
It might, however, make recovery stronger when it comes, if it restored a sense of purpose and progress. But that will hardly be enough, until the deflating effects of falling disposable incomes have come to an end.
We know they have still a considerable distance to fall. Borrowing just to fund the public services will come to about €6bn this year. That sum must be reduced to zero. Only then does it seem plausible to think of growth as a way to ease the burden of the remaining interest bill (which, it must be hoped, will have been somewhat reduced by negotiation as well).
If that is the case, the sooner the €6bn is found, the better. Last week the Central Bank analysed Irish household wealth. Despite the fact that households have run down debt faster than anywhere else in the EU survey, falling incomes mean their financial position has not improved.
People cannot be expected to lift their heads above the parapet until they think this reduction in incomes has come to an end. That is the argument for speeding up the process, as advocated by the fiscal council. The second important point made by the fiscal council -- and the one which, at first glance appeared to contradict the first -- is that, while the austerity programme should be tougher, it should also be more flexible than it is.
The current programme is not particularly ambitious -- just large because of the scale of the problem. It will just get the country over the line in 2015 -- and that is on the basis of healthy economic growth from next year on.
Despite a hoped-for €11bn increase in the value of goods and services by 2014, the planned deficit will still be 5pc of GDP. It takes no imagination to see the crisis which looms if that growth does not materialise.
If it does, FAC thinks the 2015 target of a 2.9pc deficit is pretty unimpressive, especially since it implies further correction in the following years. That will hardly persuade people that they have emerged on the other side.
If the growth does not appear as forecast, there will be more austerity, no matter how many articles are written in newspapers. The council says it would be better to make that the policy now, but say there will be no further changes, irrespective of how the economy performs.
It is a complicated argument -- no doubt about that -- but well worth thinking about.