Say what you will about America, but it has some relatively enlightened ways of doing things. As the virus of the financial crisis has mutated so has its response. Americans have had real and robust discussions about options; they have even tried some things and then backtracked when they discovered they weren't working. Even after policies have been implemented they have continued to debate them. It's a system I believe they call reality -- or an attempt at some kind of reality as things become more and more unreal.
We have a different system here. At this stage it would be best described as surrealism. Sometimes you have to sit back and take stock and look afresh at it just to see how mad things have become now. The current situation is this: all the things that they told us we had to do to prevent us from becoming a basket case and to please the markets and the international tut-tutters are the very things that are making us into a basket case and leading to a deafening chorus of tut-tutting. But we have our fingers in our ears and are going "la la la la, can't hear you", at the top of our voices.
You could call it surrealism but you could also call it Stalinism. I'm no expert on Stalinism but I believe, like us, they had these five- year plans which no one was allowed to discuss or criticise and which were stuck to rigidly, regardless of reality and which involved making casualties of vast swathes of the population who had to go down for the good of the collective.
The necessary victims of our friendly fire are contained in the half-a-million people in this country who do not enjoy the dignity, or indeed the financial benefits, of having a job. The Government steadfastly refuses to have any urgent policy on these people because apparently job creation is not a thing to be tackled directly but is a thing that we will get to when we have sorted out the more urgent issues of deflating the economy and fixing the banks and the
debt situation by getting into debt the likes of which we can barely conceive in our tiny minds.
As the weeks go by, surrealism is piled on surrealism. We are spending €25bn (more objective observers say €35bn) on bailing out a bank that most sane people, and some of the people working for it don't think will ever serve any purpose whatsoever to anyone ever. A total 95 per cent of the people in this country are against this plan, as are a host of learned and respected observers. We are doing this against a background of inflicting yet more pain to save just €3bn in the next Budget. We are scrimping and scraping for the pennies -- €3bn is pennies these days, baby -- while we flush 10 times that down the jacks. Overall, some people reckon we are flushing more like 30 times that amount down the jacks. We have a vampire bank that is being kept alive to go around seizing or shutting down other people's businesses. And we have Nama, a State-run bureaucracy that is somehow going to make a profit on property and hotels where the private sector can't.
They tell us various things about Nama. There is talk of a healthy profit, then a small profit, then maybe a break even, then maybe a small loss. Standard & Poor's, who have no real stake in this, reckon Nama will recover less than half of the €40bn we are pouring into the property market via Nama.
Now, nobody is saying the ratings agencies have huge authority -- moral or otherwise -- in all of this. Let's not forget it was their practice of essentially selling good ratings to the highest bidder for bundles of crap and hillbilly mortgages that helped get us into this mess in the first place. But I believe more out of even their filthy mouths than I do from the mouths of the powers that be in this country, don't you?
Firstly the powers that be in this country, including the guilty parties themselves, have lied and lied to us at every hand's turn. They have done their best to hide their mess even when we came looking for it; they have lied about the scale and the severity of things at every turn. The truth is, we still don't really know what more is to come from the banks, even now that we essentially own them. They have told us whatever they felt they needed to say to get us through the day.
Also, the ratings agencies haven't staked their whole reputation, such as it is, on Ireland's five- year plan working. Our leaders, on the other hand, have. Therefore it gets harder and harder for them to admit the truth. This is probably another result of the messed-up system of party politics in this country which focuses on saving face and proving you were right and the other guys were wrong, no matter what the reality. As bad as we like to think America is on the democracy front, it is a model of democracy, free speech and reactive Government compared with our politburo.
So on we go, like a man who has taken a wrong turn who won't ask for directions and won't listen to his wife screaming at him that they are about to drive over a cliff. "Yes dear, but we need to drive over the cliff to get to where we want to be."
And meanwhile the Orwellian doublethink and doublespeak continues. Debt is not debt. The system has been crashed in order to save elements of it that were systemically important. Anyone who tries to intrude with reality is attacked. The markets are branded hysterical if they reflect what people truly think about Ireland. And recovery and a plan for the future is apparently to run up debt that's not debt that will beggar each generation in turn.
And our jobs plan is to keep putting people out of work until we turn some imaginary corner of competitiveness (which is apparently just up ahead there over that cliff).
Truly, ladies and gentlemen, we have gone beyond the realm of the unreal and into the realm of the surreal.