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Monday, March 02, 2009

The Celtic Tiger disease

Image courtesy of The Community Voice.

I was listening to Start The Week tonight. (Well, it beats watching Prime Time, obviously.)

Epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson was on explaining how come a disease researcher like him ended up penning a book about why societies need to be more equal.

His book is top of my 'must buy and read' list already. But if I got him right, basically he was researching illness caused by lifestyle (stress, obesity and so on) and found it more prevalent in the most unequal societies, even if they were overall very affluent.

By contrast, more equal societies like Sweden have much lower levels of all these social and personal ills, despite having less disposable income overall.

Then he looked into things like violence, and found again that deeply unequal societies have the worst violence. What was really interesting was that he discovered that the very rich elites in these societies suffer too. Their wealth merely takes the edge off the risks.

He made the very good point that in such unequal societies - America, Britain, us, but also places like Singapore and Portugal, as well as the obvious African despotocracies - everyone suffers from status anxiety.

In other words, having the big car is no comfort because someone richer has a bigger car. And meanwhile, everyone works harder to earn the money which they then squander on such status symbols instead of using it usefully to develop their lives and society in a genuinely positive way.

Any of this sound familiar?

This goes to the core of the Celtic Tiger lie. The rising tide may well have lifted many of the boats (although you'll always meet plenty of people who it completely passed by.) But it didn't improve Irish society or make our lives more fulfilling and happier.

Instead it made us work harder to live in worse conditions (boxy apartments in dormitory estates miles from anywhere) in order to support the ostentatious consumption that was thrust forth as the be all and end all of our human existence.

Now that the Irish people are finally waking up from the nightmare, we can come to acknowledge that the squandering of the wealth we created wasn't just the fault of bankers, politicians and a golden circle, culpable though they all are.

We're all collectively responsible, and that can be seen in the fruits of our labour. The Celtic Tiger disease is best expressed by what we wasted our money on.

The rise of vacuous celebrity magazines, trumpeting the values of vapidity like the Beckhams or Jade Goody is possibly the most defining symptom of our collective disease.

So was the proliferation of bling, the pointless plumage of the self-obsessed. As were the overt penis-extensions like the big cars, the McMansions and the endless foreign holidays where people went to ever more exotic locales with the sole intent of boasting of it afterwards.

There is a cure for both this emptiness and for the deep social inequality that caused it. But that cure is currently a dirty word. Don't believe me? Listen to the shills scaremongering.

Let's start with a personal favourite, the Sunday Independent, mouthpiece of 'Sir' Tony O'Reilly, the man who got our gas and oil for nothing who now resides as a tax exile in Barbados and who closed Waterford Crystal, such is his commitment to our economy.

Here's his trustworthy senior journalist Jody Corcoran, a hack who previously excelled himself by accusing the late Liam Lawler of being with a prostitute when he died in a Moscow car crash (the poor woman was his interpreter.)

According to Jody, there is a battle for the hearts and minds of Ireland, and our Jody fears - gulp - that the battle may already be lost. Apparently the future of Ireland is socialism.

Yup, the S word. The word that the neo-cons successfully, and utterly inaccurately, linked so directly to Soviet gulags and Stalinist purges, to Mao's mayhem and famine and death, that even socialists themselves rapidly felt the need to rebrand as social democrats all over the world.

The word that Bertie Ahern once risibly sought to claim.

Socialism, the big boogyman, the dangerous ideology that would destroy our society.

How did we not see this 'reds under the bed' nonsense for what it is the SECOND time they played us with it? The truth is that it was the exact opposite of socialism, the inane, greed-driven inequity at the heart of neo-conservatism that destroyed what was good about Ireland.

I hope Corcoran is right (that's possibly a first for me.) I hope the future of Ireland IS socialism and for one very simple reason - we already tried the alternative he and his ex-pat billionaire employer espouse, and it's brought us to the brink of destruction.

We've destroyed our social cohesion, squandered our wealth and bankrupted our nation, while simultaneously abandoning the sickest in society to the vicissitudes of Harney's marketplace, and beggaring our young families on lifetime long mortgages for piss-poor accommodation.

Don't let the very people who beggared you, who stole your healthcare and social services, who sold you on extreme debt to fund crap you don't need that enriched only their already obscene bank balances - don't let them scare you any more.

The only way out of our current crisis is to recognise it for what it is, and wake up from the nightmare we sleepwalked into. The way out is to build a more equal society. The way out is to adopt the one political vision that this country has never tried in its entire history.

The disease, as Dr Wilkinson rightly diagnoses, is that we replaced a slightly unequal society with a desperately acutely unequal one.

The cure for that inequality is socialism.


Peter Slattery said...

There is a simple name for this disease that's rampant in the way people think and behave these days. Greed. I simply don't understand the whole though process that drives people to want, nay, demand bigger, better, shinier and impractical. What happened to being happy with what one has? I'll admit, I do have an apartment. But it's neither a small box in the middle of nowhere, nor an opulent penthouse in the middle of a crazily over-priced suburb. It suits my lifestyle, and is handy for work and the city center. But I don't need anything more. Being happy is my priority and that doesn't come with material goods.

Also related, I live with my cousin, who rents the second room. And she is constantly buying those rag magazines filled with utterly pointless and irrelevant stories about people we shouldn't care about. I walked into the kitchen the other day and she says to me 'did you hear Kim Marsh lost her baby.' To which I answered 'who the fĂșck is Kim Marsh, and why should I care about her baby?' Of course, when I proceeded to talk to her about the state of the economy, she replied that she didn't know about that sort of thing. Priorities are completely shot if you ask me.


One more thing- could you possibly give me an easily understood and frank explanation of socialism and why it's so good an idea? I've heard arguments for it, and it does (according to my very limited knowledge of it) seem like it isn't the monster it's made out to be by some and could be a great idea. Any help would be really appreciated. Cheers!

JC Skinner said...

Nice rant, Peter.
"From each according to their ability, to each according to their need." That's one simple summation of socialism.
I'm no political theorist, and I expect one might be along eventually to argue the toss.
But the idea of socialism isn't to beggar the rich a la the Bolshevik revolution.
It's aim is to protect the vulnerable via social services and state provision of health and education, for the betterment of all, by progressive levies of tax.
Think Sweden, Cuba without the US embargo, or Chavez's Venezuela.

Peter Slattery said...

"It's aim is to protect the vulnerable via social services and state provision of health and education, for the betterment of all"

And what is so threatening about that? That big business might suffer? With the monumental failure that is 'capitalism,' surely it's time to start protecting the little man, rather than banks and those responsible for the current mess. I don't see what's so threatening about doing the best for the people.

JC Skinner said...

Nor do I.
But big business and especially their media and political representatives, have done a thorough job of seeking to equate socialism with Stalinist pogroms and the collapse of all commerce.
One could conceivably argue that what they call socialism is actually commmunism. But it isn't even that - any real Marxist will claim that what you have in so-called communist states like North Korea and the Soviet Union was simple despotism.

parmenides_2 said...

Yeah Pete the old lady was talking about the economy . You were thinkin aboot takin cair of one.
I have nine garnishement on my income and the people are still hurting. One of these days I plan on be able to pay for a permit to enable me to set out a window box with a tomatoe in it and establish a victory garden of my own. Of coure here in America it will be a traumatic experience to observe said non determinant variety of vegeble produce fruit. There fore I will have to produce resources from some one else to enable me to enjoy the privilege of growing the poisonous vines that produce such a healthy product.Is it not funny hoe the talisman of munny can be collected so readily yet the only value it represents is time? Who am I to get into a dhimmie throwing contest my grandma is Schofield Do you care. I care . I owned a miniscule amount of stock in Genesis Lease Incorporated in Ireland. A well Built company that was bought by a Dutch 'conglomerate' I own a Harris Torch manufactured in Ireland. Cable Euro or Scratch it is a fine tool.

Ya know if the round heads want to believe the devils dyke was built by supra natural powers thats fine with me. Prolly got both in mah fambliy. Don't like it cousin come and get me. I tried cave red hill I go by Parmenides_2 yeah I know its lame but hell an old fart can help ya out some time. I know I had a grampa once too ya know. It warnt so much wa he coonnah accept it wha how ee ceppted it. Glad it is early here mistah glitzty seems like it is the same all over. Small world little people blowing their fingers off with pipe bombs, Con artists talking trusting people out of there homes with quit claim deeds oh yeah gimme some of that . Jest don't obfuscate yer position with a head on collision,.mainaerd. happy doxa sophist