Zombie leaders staring at a black hole
Europe's 'bored viceroys' have been making propositions that would seem ridiculous, even to a child, writes Declan Lynch
I was reading my first eBook last week, the Kindle edition of a novel called Chasing Dragons by Eddie Naughton - a very decent piece of work about heroin and the damage it has done to the old solidarity of the Dublin working class - when it was announced that Amazon is devising a new system of payment based on the number of pages read by Kindle users, rather than the number of books downloaded.
The novelist Hari Kunzru said it "felt like the thin end of the wedge", while the editor and author Peter Maass noted that in a restaurant, you don't only pay for the part of the burger that you eat. And while there are conflicting theories as to how this new concept will work in the fullness of time, given what we know of life in general, there has to be a better-than-even chance that for authors, it will not work well.
For Amazon, no doubt, it will work very well. But for many of the mere writers whose wordage will be up for counting, it feels like someone, somewhere, is actually trying to figure out ways of paying them less. That an Eddie Naughton of the future will not be receiving such lavish royalties, but will be required to give something back to those more fortunate than himself.
Yes it seems that a way can always be found to get at the little guy. But up there in the financial stratosphere, it is not so easy. We had Minister Alex White speaking sadly of the recent Clerys scandal, explaining that nobody should imagine that "a law can be introduced next week to stop capitalism operating the way it does".
And he is right in the sense that we would never imagine such a thing happening, on his watch. Yet if he were to take a walk down memory lane, he would find that the Labour movement which he represents was more or less invented for the precise purpose, "to stop capitalism operating the way it does".
It's a while since I've pored over the constitution of the Labour Party, but you can be pretty sure it's actually there on page one, chapter one, line one - "Our purpose is to stop capitalism operating the way it does".
Or words to that effect.
Because things that end in "ism", be it capitalism, communism, or sado-masochism, have this tendency to go wrong, if you don't keep an eye on them and observe a few basic rules.
Capitalism, as we have seen it operating in the Greece situation, has clearly gone wrong - its enforcers have created a series of absurdities, of propositions that would seem ridiculous, even to a child.
It has been going that way since it was established, in the aftermath of the great crash, that for the financial-services community there can be no downside, that it is effectively against the law for those guys to lose. This is such a fundamental corruption of the system, it allows all sorts of craziness to be seen as normal. For example, it allows the loftiest eurocrats to devote their best energies for several years to the business of getting blood from a stone. And when they get none, why of course, they come back for more.
But the great thing about the old capitalism, is that even when it is fundamentally corrupted, it can be fixed. You just need governments now and then to refresh the rules to ensure that the lads in Wall Street and the City don't feel completely free to destroy the world every few years - and if they find a way to do it anyway, that something unpleasant might happen to them.
But as Mr White has explained, that is not what governments do, any more.
So we have Michael Noonan asking the banks nicely to behave themselves, which of course they will not do, and as a result he will come back to them again sometime, and again he will ask them nicely. And so it goes.
We can see this diffidence in Enda Kenny too, in all the leaders of Europe who have accepted that their destiny is to facilitate the flow of money to those who are least in need. As funnyman Frankie Boyle recently wrote of David Cameron, he is "a sort of bored viceroy engaging in the handover of power from government to corporations".
Which may help to explain why the Taoiseach's brain seems increasingly disconnected from his vocal cords, why he says things that are obviously at variance with the known facts, or simply answers a different question to the one that is asked. He is one of these "bored viceroys", these zombie leaders staring at a black hole, telling us this is the game, and there's nothing the likes of them can do about it.
Indeed, I often think that too little attention is paid to the fact that Angela Merkel was raised in totalitarian East Germany, where they kept going with a mad ideology long after it had manifestly failed. I wonder if she understands how capitalism works at all, how it worked in West Germany when they were making so much money, they were even able to bring poor Paddy in and clean him up and throw him a few quid until such time as he could look after himself.