Sunday 23 October 2016

A whole continent loses its reason over macroeconomics

Perhaps leaders don't want us to take meaning from their words - they're just making noise

Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan

Eventually it stops making any sense.

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The way our minds are constructed, we like the plausible scenario, we crave a connection between what people are saying and what they are doing, we want to think that they are guided by reason, or something vaguely resembling it.

But they have been making it very hard for us, these past few weeks. Of the many episodes which have left us baffled and even bewildered, I would probably start with the reports that Yanis Varoufakis had annoyed the finance ministers of Europe because he had been "lecturing them on macro-economics".

Our own finance minster was quoted describing Varoufakis as "too technical" in his macroeconomic overview - an analysis which was meant to give poor Paddy listening to the morning show with Ivan and Chris the impression that this weird individual was essentially wasting the time of busy people with his academic self-indulgence.

But then you realise that the weirdness is not with Varoufakis. It is with those who seem to think macroeconomics is a bad word here, when in fact it is the only word. Indeed, if there is anything going on here except macroeconomics, it is not apparent to any normal person - the only reason we're talking about these things in the first place, is not because we have some strange obsessive interest in the rate of VAT on various branches of the hospitality sector in Greece, but because they pertain to the currency of an entire continent.

Which would be - I think it is fair to say - a macroeconomic matter.

What they probably meant, was that when Varoufakis was talking about macroeconomics, he was winning. And when they were talking about VAT on water-wings, they were winning. So they're trying to present themselves as the reasonable ones, the pragmatic ones, and while you're trying to take that one in, there's Michael Noonan saying that even if Greece gets a debt write-off, we certainly won't be looking for one.

In human history - at least until the arrival of this Irish Government - there has probably never been a situation whereby an individual or an entity is monstrously in debt, yet closes its eyes to the prospect of that debt being reduced. Nay, it spurns the very idea as being foolish, and frankly a bit vulgar.

But our boys are doing it, and then presenting themselves as the very soul of reason.

Then again, maybe they don't intend us to take any meaning from what they say, maybe they're just making noise. Even in times of peace such people tend to use words merely as a stalling tactic, but in this great crisis the Taoiseach in particular has made a special contribution.

So disconnected are his words from anything that is actually happening in the world, his delivery is that of a man walking down the street who has seen some fellow collecting money for charity, and who hurries past him a bit flustered, muttering something that has no meaning, just to get himself past the fellow.

And we have to listen to this, and try to figure out where it's all going.

We are then presented with even further bamboozlement when the new Greek finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos arrives with briefing notes which seem to feature the instruction: No Triumphalism.

If Mr Noonan and his friends were thrown by Yanis and his macroeconomics, now they were faced with a man representing a country in which the banks are closed and an entire civilisation is on the verge of extinction. And he's trying to control himself in case he's tempted to indulge in a little show-boating.

No Triumphalism indeed. But then maybe the Greeks were thinking, that with a referendum going in their favour, their position in negotiations might now be strengthened somewhat.

Leaving aside the fact that their victory was endorsed by Nigel Farage and by Sinn Fein, and others of an extreme nationalist bent, maybe they were assuming that back in Brussels their mandate might be given some respect. That the institutions might be maddened by it, but that they would have to pretend at least that they had considered it.

Instead the Eurocrats responded in a way that nobody had foreseen - the normal response would have been the "Irish" one whereby they make the people vote again, but with Greece they just pretended that it never happened at all.

This is a new one, reminding us of Seinfeld when George quit his job and then changed his mind, just turning up for work the next day as if nothing had happened.

In that world of the most advanced bullshit, it seemed there just wasn't time any more to observe the usual platitudes about the voice of the people and all those overly technical generalisations - so it was straight back to the VAT on water-wings, and none of your old palaver.

Yet it was the referendum which gave us perhaps the one coherent statement, the only thing we have heard which contained some obvious wisdom. Given a choice between two terrible things, the Greeks voted for the one that would at least make them feel better about themselves for a while, a decision which made a lot of sense.

It was perhaps unique among all these narratives in being believable, indeed such was its credibility you could take it to the bank.


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