So, here I am again, two posts in twenty four hours and that is unusual. There is of course a reason for this; bear with me and I’ll try to explain.
Blogging is, when you come right down to it, an instrument of self-promotion. You have something to say, you want to say it to as many people as possible and so you put it on the web – otherwise it would be enough for you to tell it to your nearest and dearest. Part of it is, therefore, a version of the opera singer’s basic morning exercise; me-me-me-me-me-me-meeee! The problem is that there are over a hundred million bloggers out there in cyberspace, all singing a variation of the same exercise, a real cacophony for every potential listener (reader) surfing around the marvellous Vanity Fair which is the internet. So, how do you manage to stand out from all the others, what do you do to ensure that others – as many as possible – find their way to your blog, after you’ve told your family and friends about it?
There are all kinds of tips available on-line about increasing the number of hits your blog gets. Some of them are easy to do, some are complicated and time-consuming. It all depends, I suppose, how important it is to you and how much time and effort you want to put into it – and where you want to put that time and effort.
I started this project last February basically for myself; for fun, as a hobby (I really hate that word, it sounds so trivial for a description of something most of us invest so much of ourselves in, but that’s language for you!). I wanted to write and follow a feeling that I could do so in a fashion that readers would find interesting, informative and, perhaps even, good. And, so far, the feedback has been fairly positive and the number of hits on the site pleasantly satisfactory. So let me express, before I continue with this, a big thank-you to all of you who take the trouble to read what I write, particularly to those who keep coming back to read the new essays I post.
But nothing in life remains static, if you’re not moving forward you’re moving backwards, etc., etc., so I’ve been thinking recently about what I could do to increase the visibility of my blog, to increase my volume and melodiousness, if you will, in that huge choir of opera singers doing their me-me-me exercises. Or, put another way, my baby has grown up a little bit and I thought it was time for it to take a few more steps out into the virtual world.
I’d already done the obvious things like telling my friends, putting my URL on my various on-line profiles and sharing links to my posts on Facebook. But I felt that the time had come to do a little more and, having a few days holidays left before going back to work, started looking around for the best ways to do this. One of the things I came across was something called Entrecard.
If you are attentive, you will notice to the right of the text (actually, if I’ve got the length of the text here right, you should be near it now), under the list of “Followers” a new widget, a box with the bottom in black-and-gold and an “E” followed by the word “Drop”. Above this will be an image of some sort, which is actually a link to another blog. Do, by all means, click on it – after you’ve finished reading this, of course – and go and read it. For Entrecard is an advertising forum for bloggers, where they get the chance to publicise each other on their web-sites.
The whole thing is a wee bit complicated; if you want to know exactly how it works, I suggest you go to the following link: http://entrecard.com/blog/?p=1593 . And there you will also find the reason why I am putting up a second post within 24 hours, because, if I’ve done this right, then I’ll get five thousand EC credits for doing so which will enable me to do quite a bit to publicise this blog. (Unfortunately, there’s a deadline for all this which runs out tonight so I have to do it now.) That’s the theory anyway, how well it works is something we’ll just have to see.
It does mean giving up a tiny corner of control over my site, although, if I’ve understood Entrecard properly, I will have approval and a right to rejection of those bloggers advertising on my site, so I can promise you won’t be linked to pages plugging Scientology, or Sarah Palin, or Japanese porn. Indeed, Just Plain Tired …, the guy who’s there at the moment (http://justplaintiredof.blogspot.com/), is well worth a look – and that’s an unsolicited recommendation!
In this context, I want to emphasise that this blog is basically a labour of love, and I plan to continue it as a platform to publish stuff; I hope to spend most of the time available writing for it and not playing with it. Unlike many others, I’m not dependent on it to make a living so I don’t have to plaster it with ads. I’m not ruling out the possibility that the odd advertisement may appear here sometime in the future – I may be a pinko liberal with strong socialist tendencies, but this doesn’t mean that I hate the chance of making a little extra cash. But personally, sites that are filled up with commercial links and flashing pictures annoy me and so I would always ensure that such additions are tasteful, understated and don’t take from the basic character of the blog. So don’t worry, you won’t be confronted with an extra Welcome portal with the announcement, “Attempted Essays is proudly sponsored by Runalot, the laxative that keeps you going, day and night!”
Oh yes, and I won’t do Twitter, I don’t like it and am not interested in it.
(And finally, I should mention Molly, on whose site http://cblegacy.blogspot.com/ I first came across Entrecard. Thank you, Molly, your posts are always worth reading!)
The Airbus 320 corrected course for its final approach on a beautifully clear morning, dipping first to the left then to the right, I could see the whole sweep of the eastern Irish coast, from Wicklow head to the south to the peaks of the Mountains of Mourne in the north. In the middle was the great spread of Dublin Bay, bracketed by Dun Laoghaire and the Hill of Howth, the approaches to the port sticking out like the tines of a tuning-fork in the middle, dominated by the twin chimneys of the Pigeon House power station.
As the plane shed altitude over Howth Head, two things struck me, as they always do when I fly into Dublin; firstly, how green everything is and secondly, how much Dublin sprawls. The green is just the actual confirmation of the original Irish cliché, a result of the island’s mild, moist climate; the sprawl is due to the deep Irish preference for everyone owning their own house, so that rather than the continental European preference for large accommodation units, Irish towns and cities basically consist of housing estates with mostly semi-detached houses, none more than two storeys high. But the generous area north of the Dublin/Wicklow Mountains leaves space enough for a Greater Dublin population of more than 1.5 million, about a third of all residents of the Republic.
I personally think that the approach to
The city and the whole life there have changed enormously, of course. Most of my friends in
Even within the Church – an area in which I was particularly involved at the time – there were strong anti-establishment currents, the most obvious being an increasing interest in liberation theology and social justice issues, at home and worldwide, which reached a provisional peak in the active involvement of many church groups in the massive protests surrounding Ronald Reagan’s visit to Dublin in 1984. There was a vibrant local music scene in Dublin, from a young U2 to the great trad-rock group, Moving Hearts, and Ireland was becoming an increasingly popular part of the international rock touring circuit; as well as local greats like Rory Gallagher and Thin Lizzy during those years, I saw Simon and Garfunkel and the Stones in 1982, and, during that period, Clapton and Dave Gilmour and others as well. There was a feeling that, despite the doom and gloom, there was incredible vibrancy humming under the surface, pushing to break out.
Most of it was probably that I was young, for when we are young we spend our energy with wild and passionate profligacy, secure, despite all the uncertainty and anguish of our newly discovered potency, that we are invulnerable. First love, first sex, first high, first everything, passion and longing and idealism savouring everything with an intensity that keeps you awake till dawn, drunk on joy and friendships and ideas and possibilities, dancing in the moonlight. And for me, mixed up inextricably in all this, Dublin, dear dirty Dublin, Strumpet City, a Viking-Irish-English melange of a town over a thousand years old which has seen everything; love and hatred, betrayal and heroism, sanctity and corruption, poverty and prosperity, birth and suffering and murder and ecstasy and death in every generation and survived them all.
But that joy and passion of youth is not unalloyed – it is mixed with uncertainty and insecurity and can be easily hurt and disappointed. In the middle of the eighties, in a first flowering of disillusionment, I left and a few years later that vibrancy which I had always sensed broke out in a flowering of creativity and optimism, shared by the whole country. The nineties were the early Tiger years when there was still something real behind the hype; the Mary Robinson presidency, the liberation from the heavy deadening hand of religious and nationalist tradition, imagination and enterprise bringing sweeping, heady growth, change and prosperity, Ireland finally taking a confident place among the nations of the earth. I remember coming back to visit during that period and being surprised and delighted at what was happening. Finally, I thought, at last …!
And then the century turned, the millennium came and went and optimism mutated to hubris, creativity became greed as the baby of public morality and essential groundedness and common sense was thrown out with the bathwater of dead tradition. A dangerous bubble was growing, being blown up by expectations, speculation and an atmosphere of invincibility. In the old dockland area of
The result is well known and the pain is now only starting. I was out in
But then a few days later, walking back to where my parents live on Saturday, shortly before midnight, there were many young people on the street, laughing and joking with each other, having fun. Alcohol was certainly fuelling some of it, but then it always did, didn’t it? Passing them, exchanging a short greeting, it struck me that nothing important had really changed much. For all that has happened since then, prosperity won and possibly lost, global networked connectivity and smartphones and twitter and family holidays in Florida (now perhaps a thing of the past), they could still be me, thirty years ago. You are only young once and you take your youth when and where you get it.
I got mine in
Inversnaid by Gerald Manley Hopkins is probably known to every Irishman or woman who has attended secondary school for the past forty years, for about this long, the poem seems to have been part of the syllabus for the Junior Certificate in English. I was reminded of it today when
While reading it, the scenes in Stephen Frear’s The Queen, where Her Majesty, brilliantly played by Helen Mirren, drives off in her Land Rover from
Looking at large areas of the so-called developed world one would be inclined to answer yes. We have learned from the past, have imposed higher standards for environmental safety and tolerance. Salmon are swimming up the
And there is a large amount of short-sighted, self-righteous hypocrisy contained in our position in the developed west.
Let’s look at coal-mining. In countries like
To some extent there is a minimal validity in the argument that in Western Europe, since the Industrial Revolution really got underway more than two hundred years ago, we’ve mined out all the coal that’s easy to get at so that it costs more to exploit the reserves that remain. But this is only a very small part of the reality. The basic fact is that coal-mining has become so expensive in the developed world because safety-standards have been continually raised – and enforced – in the past fifty years and because social developments led to mine workers being paid decently to do hard, dirty, dangerous work. An hour’s work for the few West European miners who are still around costs employers twenty euros or more. In
Let’s follow the production chain a little further. Two weeks ago, a dam at a toxic waste reservoir in
Beggars can’t be choosers. It’s a global jungle out there and the developed world is at the top of the food chain. One of the main reasons we in the West can increasingly look after our environment is because we can afford to. Having gone through our dirty phase, used it to reach a good standard of living for our societies and to achieve the position of global top-dog, we use that very position to profit from others who are farther down the prosperity scale. Having been the first to crawl out of the pit, we are now in the enviable position of paying others to dirty their hands and homes in a way we don’t have to any more. What’s more, it doesn’t even cost us that much because our demand controls the global markets and there are enough others farther down in the pit who will be quite happy with pittances; it’s better than the alternative – which is nothing at all.
This is one of the things which make global climate and CO2 emission discussions so intractable. It’s one thing for western nations to get all moral about global warming and the need to cap carbon waste production. From the position of the developing countries this seems more than a little disingenuous; having got to the top of the tree, the developed countries are saying that there’s not enough room there for everyone and if those farther down don’t become less greedy they’re going to bring the whole tree down. In the
Inversnaid, the stream and waterfall in the Scottish highlands which inspired
I don’t know any easy solutions for all of this. I like my living standard here in the west, I like being able to jump in my car and in fifteen minutes being able to reach a number of streams nearly as beautiful – if not quite so spectacular – as Inversnaid. But I have the feeling that if we want to protect the millions of Inversnaids worldwide (and enable everyone to be able to enjoy them) we have to find different ways of doing things. And, in a world in which our global interdependence is becoming ever more deeper and complex, I suspect that we don’t have the luxury of going on as we have done and ignoring the questions – otherwise our whole lifestyles are going to fall down around our ears. My generation may be able to escape the worst of it, my children and grandchildren certainly won’t.
Last Saturday being John Lennon’s 70th birthday, I put up a link to “Imagine” on Facebook. A few hours later, Ian, a friend of mine in England (one of those virtual ones I referred to here recently, whom I haven’t yet met) added a one word comment – “Overrated.”
Overrated? I thought. Bloody too-clever-by-half, elitist English gobshite! How could John Lennon be overrated? That’s as unimaginable as … as … as a bishop abusing little children! And then, having overcome my shock at this expression of heresy most dire, I started to think about it. Has the world, have I overrated John Lennon, one of the few heroes I have had in life?
Ever since I became aware of modern pop and rock music, sometime around the age of ten, the Beatles were always right up there at the top. Even then, my feelings of admiration and awe for them was intensely mixed with one of deep regret that I had been born too late, discovered them too late, for they were already part of the past; they had broken up in acrimony and there seemed to be little concrete chance of a reunion, although you could always hope.
The quartet from Liverpool were all fab in their own way; Ringo was funny, George was a cool guitarist, Paul wrote great songs (although there were some niggling problems about Paul I’ll come back to directly) and John, well, John was in a league all of his own, somewhere near God (actually, in his own controversial words, more popular than Jesus). Witty, intelligent, idealistic, rebellious, irreverent – the combination was irresistible. Let the girls swoon over the sweet love-songs of the apple-cheeked Paul, John was the soul, the mind, the conscience of the Beatles, the one who, more than all the others, took the Fab Four out of the realm of simple pop singers and made them into something important, something significant for society at large.
Or so I saw it back in the early 70s, a few years after the break-up. Today, with more distance, more knowledge, more hindsight, I can see how much of this viewpoint was itself the product of legend, a projection of my own desires and wishes onto my hero, a simplification (at least) of a much more complex reality. But, of course, I was not alone in this simplification, it was one shared by millions of Beatles and Lennon fans worldwide.
The conventional story of the final Beatles years was pretty simple (if not always completely consistent), involving a distracted hero, a supporting actor – in turn striving desperately to save the group as well as occasionally succumbing to megalomania – and a villainess. John, of course, was the hero, Paul the supporting man and the villainess – well, that one’s easy; Yoko Ono was born for the role. If only that strange oriental had not seduced John, making him try to have her accepted as the fifth Beatle (forget for a moment that this role was already occupied by, variously, Brian Epstein and George Martin), the group would still be together, making marvellous music while the sun shone down from a diamond sky upon Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields.
The truth is somewhat different. In retrospect, I would suggest that the Beatles as a group had been slowly dying on the vine since they gave up performing live in 1966, the release of Sergeant Pepper, their masterpiece album and the death of their manager, Brain Epstein in 1967. They were all maturing and developing individually; musically and personally and the group was simply becoming too small for all of them. This is, above all, true of Lennon. Even prior to the advent of Yoko (who first turned up in 1968 during the recording of the White Album), he had, I believe, simply started to lose interest in the group, at least musically. He had entered into a period of personal development involving much confusion, including extensive use of drugs, among others LSD and heroin. He needed to find his own way, dealing with his own demons as he did so, and this way led beyond the Beatles and would have done anyway, even without Yoko.
All this leads me to a first hint about what made John Lennon artistically and musically important; there are few artists in the pop and rock area who have been able to use their talent so openly and honestly to portray their own inner struggles – Johnny Cash is an honourable exception who comes to mind – most not getting beyond lyrical descriptions of unhappy or terminated love-affairs (not that I would deny the intensity of significance of such events when we are involved with them). But songs such as Mother, which explores the fraught relationship between himself and his mother (“Mother, you had me, but I never had you …”) or Cold Turkey, which describes his withdrawal from heroin, have a quality of universality which goes beyond strict musical categories. His relationship with Yoko Ono, as much as it can get on one’s nerves, serves as an inspiration for many compositions and his song for his son Sean, Beautiful Boy, released on the Double Fantasy album a few months before his death, contains one of the greatest and wisest lines ever included in a pop-song; “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Then there’s the whole corpus of music which exists under the label, Lennon and McCartney. Every Beatle fan knows that, while all songs are credited to both of them, the ones Paul sings were written mainly by him, while John sings those songs on which he did most of the work. In the later Beatles years, when the atmosphere between the two was increasingly tense, their collaboration was, in most cases, minimal. But they still usually performed their ideas first before each other and there generally followed a phase of suggestions, corrections and amendments. Looking at the Beatles song catalogue, it is striking that the greatest popular hits, and most of the songs that could be described as having become part of the general world cultural musical heritage, like Yesterday, Hey Jude or Let It Be, are McCartney songs (in terms of their primary composition). Paul’s feeling for a catchy tune was always greater than John’s. Still, it was often Lennon’s acerbic wit which saved McCartney’s songs from maudlin sentimentality. In this context, I’m reminded that the working title for Yesterday before the lyrics were written was “Scrambled Eggs” – a real Lennonism, if ever there was one – and I can still break up in laughter at the thought of McCartney, his big, drooping eyes dripping sincerity, hunched over the piano, soulfully singing, “I said something wrong, now I long for scrambled eggs … I believe in scrambled eggs.” And if they had still been collaborating in 1977, I am convinced that a few clever Lennon amendments would have saved McCartney’s biggest selling hit, Mull of Kintyre, from its tendency to drive diabetics into sugar shock.
Still, despite all the caveats and reservations, the Lennon/McCartney catalogue has to be considered as a whole as the combined work of both composers. It is interesting that even in the phases where the relationship between both was at its most acrimonious – apart from a few niggling comments – neither of them ever seriously questioned the collaborative attestation of their music. And, following the Beatles break-up, Lennon himself produced some fine songs like Jealous Guy, Working Class Hero, Watching the Wheels and, of course, the sublime Imagine.
But, in the end, the ultimate reason why it is impossible to regard Lennon as “overrated” is his symbolic role as a public cultural avatar for the second half of the 20th Century, a role finally set in stone by his assassination on December 8, 1980. John Lennon, his music, his utterances and his life became the incarnation of so many of the themes, memes and concerns of the baby-boomer generation that he became a cultural receptacle, a popular icon. He shares this role, along with the Beatles in general, only with Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan in the musical sense, and in terms of the whole range of broader cultural themes, particularly many of those which occupied the public consciousness in the 60s and 70s – drugs, war and (especially) peace, protest, rebellion, relationships, feminism and the roles of women and men, etc. – he stands above all the others. If he had not died, ironically, it would probably have been different. Today he’d be just another filthy rich, ageing pop/rock superstar like McCartney, Phil Collins, Mick Jagger and all the others. Certainly, he would probably have added considerably to his musical portfolio and it is slightly interesting to speculate about how he would have reacted to many particular events and issues – could Bob Geldof have talked him into a Beatles reunion for Live Aid in 1985 (possible), would he have given his name for commercial sponsorship and advertising as Pink Floyd and the Stones, among others, did in the 90s (unlikely), would he have split with Yoko or had an affair with Madonna (unknowable), etc? It remains speculation, because John died, or rather was killed in the quintessential way so typical for his adopted homeland, the USA, in treating its anointed heroes, particularly those of the 60s, and so achieved sainthood in a moment, along with King and the Kennedy brothers, or Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and various other rock and roll heroes.
No, Ian, neither John Lennon, nor the Beatles, are overrated. Musically he and the others remain giants, even if others, many others, could sing and play their instruments better. But above all, John Lennon cannot be overrated because he was made into a legend, a symbol for the hopes and dreams – for the very identity – of a whole generation. A symbol who achieved immutable immortality by dying young and thus taking himself beyond the inevitable relativising reality which would have come with time and age. Still, I’m thankful to you for raising the question, for forcing me to think about my own unquestioned idols – even if I choose to leave this one on his pedestal. And I take the gobshite back. J
My friend Neil is someone I have never seen. This is something he has in common with Chris and Molly and Gabby and Ashok and Ed and quite a few others. For they are all friends I have made on-line in the past couple of years. And I use the word “friend” here quite deliberately. It is a word which has suffered under a peculiar kind of inflation on-line, particularly since the burgeoning popularity of Facebook and other social networking sites in the past few years. One of my “friends” on Facebook (and he is someone I do actually know) has nearly 4,000 friends there. Nobody has 4,000 friends, at least not in the sense in which I understand friendships; people you know, acquaintances, certainly, but not friends. To be fair, I will immediately add that the person I am referring to is self-employed in the entertainment industry, so that social networking and business networking are one and the same for him and he needs to hustle to make a decent living, therefore I can understand why he uses Facebook the way he does. But me, I couldn't even begin to keep track of my news feed with that kind of volume and friendships for me involve a basic mutuality, an interest in what my friends are saying and doing as well as me telling them what I'm up to.
And there is a little more to it as well. While I know that, practically seen, there are many of my virtual friends whom I will never meet in the “real” world, the hope that I will be able to develop at least some of these relationships face-to-face is very real. Last year on holidays in the Netherlands I was able to spend some time with Allan, who up till then I had only known on-line, and I certainly hope to meet with him again. And Ashok, among other things, organises excursions into the foothills of the Himalayas and, if everything works out well, I have plans to be part of one of those next year. Largely due to the efforts of my mother, Clare, I've made contact with branches of her family, the founders of which left Ireland for the USA over seventy years ago and there's a wonderful deepening of relationships going on in that area at the moment. The boundaries between “virtuality” and “reality” are permeable – and that's the way it should be.
For me it has worked in the other direction as well. Through the internet I have been able to re-establish and maintain old friendships, some of them going back to my childhood. And when I visit Ireland for a couple of days in a few weeks time, I'll be meeting some of them too.
Like most major revolutions in life, most of us have become so accustomed to (and dependent on) the internet so quickly that we now take it for granted. Yet for nearly everyone, all this has happened in the last 20 years. A few figures and dates make this clear. The term World Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 (the year the Berlin Wall fell) and the Web made its public debut in 1991. At the end of 1995 there were 10 million world internet hosts, today there are over 700 million. Also in 1995 (the year O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of double murder) Microsoft released its Internet Explorer 1 and Yahoo!, Amazon.com and Ebay went on-line. In 1998 the Google search engine hit the web (Bill Clinton denied he had “sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky) and Wikipedia appeared in 2001, the year the twin towers fell. Facebook and World of Warcraft were launched in 2004, the same year the Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami killed around a quarter of a million people. YouTube has only existed for five years.
Maybe it's just that I'm getting older, but all of this seems to have happened only yesterday. In common with Google, I've been on-line for twelve years and during this time the internet has become an important part of my life, for all sorts of things from banking to shopping to finding and booking flights (and, in the past year or two, checking in as well). In retrospect, getting broadband a couple of years ago really boosted my use of the web – and can you remember what it was like with a dial-up modem, waiting for ages for that loading-bar in the corner to finally turn completely blue?
Of course, like any other major technological advance in human history, the internet has had its victims too; large areas of the retail industry, or travel agents, for example. The newspaper business is in trouble in many areas and is having to painfully reinvent itself to avoid going the way saddlers did after the invention of the motor-car. And spare a thought for those people who used to sell encyclopedias door-to-door, they seem to have disappeared as completely as the dinosaurs.
And that's no wonder, because one of the most significant effects of the internet has been the availability of simple information. The verb “to google” has entered many languages in the past few years and, for most of us, unlimited information is only a couple of mouse-clicks away. Of course, information is not knowledge let alone wisdom and the whole issue of the truth of that information is another big question. With the plethora of information instantly available, we have needed and continue to need to develop new skills to filter and find what we are looking for. And to try to be aware of when and how we are being manipulated. Everything we do on-line leaves a trace and we leave all sorts of information about ourselves “out there” which others can use for all sorts of things. Shopping and consumer profiles, for example. Or future employers. Or criminals. Or governments.
I live in Germany and Germans are very touchy about personal privacy and data protection. Google Street View, for example, is having huge problems being launched here, because many people are insisting on their right not to have pictures of their homes available on the web and Google has been legally obliged to pixelate the faces of any individuals photographed to make them unrecognisable. While I don't share the extreme views of many of my German friends (some of which I frankly regard as paranoid), I am very glad that this critical position is well and eloquently represented as a counterweight to those who seem to have no compunctions in this area at all.
But, in the end, the most important thing about the internet for me is the amazing avenues it opens for communication, for “talking” to each other. Of which blogging is just one. The fulfilment of a desire to let others know what one thinks about things, to reach out, to make contact. Mixed, of course, with many other motivations (for nothing that we do is simple); the need to create something, something good perhaps, the need for the approval of others, maybe a desire to influence the thoughts and opinions of others and thus to have some tiny, minuscule effect on the way the human world turns. I plead guilty – on all counts. But, in my own case, there are also a few other reasons. Curiosity about myself, about my own capacity to take a particular form (the essay) and see what I could do with it. A need to test my own ability to keep my self-chosen project going, to see where my instincts for creativity would bring me and whether I would be able to reach others, to get them to join me, for a little way, on my own journey. About a month after I started it, I installed a counter here and since then this blog has had nearly 8,000 visits. Eight months, fifty posts and an estimated 70,000 words (and that's a good half of a decent-sized book) later, I'm content enough with the result to keep going.
So, my friends, new and old, tarry a while with me on my journey. Let us wander together the ways between real and virtual, and virtual and real. There are themes and subjects enough. Let us share ideas, and thoughts, and feelings, carried in bits and bytes, bringing us together in the most real of all worlds – the world of human interpersonal encounter.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
W. B. Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …
The famous beginning of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities comes to my mind when I think of the two countries which I regard as home,
Following the euphoria of reunification, Germany looks back at twenty difficult years, dominated by the effort of paying for it and adjusting the country’s economic system to cope with the effects of globalisation, at the end of which (despite increased strains on public finances as a result of the events which began with the collapse of Lehman Brothers two years ago) it is enjoying healthy economic growth and falling unemployment. Ireland looks back at eighteen years of unprecedented prosperity followed by two years of increasing stress as it has become clear that the Celtic Tiger was constructed entirely out of paper and that this paper consists entirely of IOUs, the economy, such as it is, in free-fall and unemployment rocketing.
At the beginning of the millennium,
At the beginning of the millennium, the Celtic Tiger was really getting into its stride. Given a kick-start by generous structural funding from the EU at the beginning of the 90s,
By around 2003, the Social Democrat/Green coalition in
I’m not going to get into a discussion of the specific issues and measures involved in the Agenda – many of which I am decidedly critical about. I won’t even begin to comment on the creation of a new caste of working poor, the dismantling of whole areas of basic workers’ rights, the continuing structural weaknesses in the former GDR. I will remain silent about the growing gap between rich and poor in the country. We went through hard years and there are many – very many – who still have it tough. But (seen at least from a classical economic perspective) the cure worked. The price for those who pushed it through was high; the Social Democrats faced a party split with many of its more left-tending members leaving to join a new left-wing party formed together with the remnants of the former East German communists, and Gerhard Schröder, the SPD Chancellor who championed the reform, lost power in 2005.
Throughout the first decade of the century,
It was a classic bubble scenario, but the few voices of warning were ridiculed. In an overheating economy, wages were rising and – following Ireland’s accession to the Euro zone – the conventional strategy for controlling such a bubble (basically allowing interest rates and inflation to increase) wasn’t possible; the European Central Bank was keeping interest rates low to stimulate growth in the rest of the zone, where it was stubbornly sluggish, and to keep inflation down. The competitive edge which had started the tiger roaring in the 90s was long gone. Seen from an international perspective,
Few people in
Nobody, as it turned out. Most of the money flying around was being lent on the basis of notional profits, generated by complex financial schemes nobody understood. When the crash came, the Irish financial institutions and the Irish people were left holding the baby. It was like a game of musical chairs when the music stops and there’s no chair left for you. The property market crashed and the revenue which it had been generating – which had been keeping
Like nearly every other country in the world,
Europe will bail
But one of the many pounds of flesh which will be demanded involves a central aspect of Irish economic policy, one that has been a thorn in German eyes, in particular, for many years; Ireland’s low rate of corporation taxation (12.5%). Transnational corporations have found
Irish politicians have stated in the past few days that
“You ask about tax increases, I do not want to take any precise stand on an issue which is for the Irish Government to decide, but I would not rule out any option at this stage.”
It may, in the long term, even be a blessing in disguise. For the past forty years,
 Quotation retrieved from the Irish Times, http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2010/1002/breaking6.html