Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Now we know - the global economy is a house of cards

You'd think the world was coming to an end in the Republic. Brian Cowen fighting for his political survival over the bail-out; cuts - and more cuts on the way; the IMF taking over the banks; depressed fathers committing murder-suicide; thousands of ghost estates; and pictures of a young homeless man slumped on a Dublin street.

Some of the British-based newspapers are having a field day with Ireland's current financial woes. It's only a matter of time before they dig out those old pen-and-ink illustrations of malnourished peasants boarding the Famine ship to America.

Even Irish commentators are making quips about Ireland being brought back under 'adult supervision'. Funny how no one is making a big splash about the fact that UK banks were among the investors in Ireland's decade-long property boom. Or that one of the main reasons the IMF has to step in now is because the EU economy will be adversely affected if the Irish economy collapses.

What I don't understand is how ordinary people seem to be getting the blame for Ireland's financial woes, when most ordinary people had nothing whatsoever to do with the property boom. And why will ordinary people have to repay the debt in the form of increased taxation and decreases in benefits?

What I'd really like to know is who exactly borrowed all this money and what did they spend it on? And why do ordinary people (who were involved neither in massive borrowing nor spending) have to pay the money back? After all, the Republic is only a few steps ahead of the UK in terms of a debt crisis.

I know it sounds cynical, but I'll bet the main architects of all this misfortune have already deserted the sinking ship and are currently building nice homes abroad somewhere.

No doubt they've got their money stashed in some posh and exclusive bank, while ordinary savers everywhere gain no interest on their savings and lie awake at night worrying about their savings disappearing into some banking black hole.

I'll tell you something else: the first 'saving' to be made will likely be in mental health services, such as suicide prevention and counselling for anxiety and depression. Which is unfortunate as it's probably the one thing governments should be giving priority to.

How is someone supposed to cope when they're facing ruination? How are they supposed to cope when they lose their job, and then their home, and then they discover there's no social housing available?

So they'll have to ask friends and relatives to put them up for a few days. And, of course, the friends and relatives will be anxious about doing that, because a few days could easily become a few years.

I'm not an economist, but I always thought the 'global economy' was a house of cards that would collapse at the first sign of a wobble.

All those aggressive young traders in designer suits, waving their arms and shouting excitedly and moving huge sums of money here and there at the touch of a button.

All those get-rich-quick schemes that basically relied on creating a buzz and then getting out again even quicker.

All those poor migrants roaming the globe, picking fruit here and cleaning floors there and leaving their own villages to become ghost estates.

I knew it wouldn't last - and my only training is in book illustration. But then again, I'm a commercial artist/writer with a social conscience who wouldn't dream of making a fast buck at the expense of someone else. And I'd never close down a local factory and set up again in some far-flung place, because I'd think of the big picture: if everyone is out of work and counting the pennies, they won't be able to buy even cheap imports.

So eventually all these clever clogs will be left with products they can't flog and properties they can't make a profit on and obscene wealth they can't be seen to flaunt.

So what happens now to Ireland's ghost estates and migrant workers and suicide hotlines? And what will the IMF do if Ireland's homeowners and taxpayers resign en masse?

And what will happen to that young homeless man in all the newspapers? Is he a heroin-addict, or is he a rogue trader fallen on hard times?

I hope somebody gets him off the streets soon, because I hear there's snow coming. Talk about Charles Dickens: it's time to start knitting fingerless gloves and bed-socks and hiding your money under the floorboards.

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