The road to recovery
Now that things are supposed to be getting better for the Irish economy, what exactly is the definition of recovery?
You’ll be reading those words or words to that effect everywhere in 2014: we’re on the road to recovery. The prime indicators are pointing to Irish economic growth of some hue, you’ve had a stream of references to Ireland’s renewed economic independence after the departure of the troika (just about stopping short of declaring a national holiday to mark the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank reps handing back their minibar keys at the Merrion Hotel) and the good times are, apparently, just around the corner.
However, as Fintan O’Toole notes in his recent piece for the New York Times, there’s an element of smoke and mirrors to this spin. After all, most people reading this still probably feel the exact same now as they did 12 months or two years ago and are probably wondering about this recovery thing that keeps popping up in the news lexicon. Is this what recovery feels like? Kind of like the same only more doleful and sceptical?
The austerity measures undertaken by the Fine Gael and Labour coalition government to steady the ship are still affecting our everyday lives and are likely to be around for some time to come impacting on health, education and social welfare services. Meanwhile, emigration is still very much a way of life for many families as people to elsewhere in search of jobs and opportunities which don’t just exist here. On this note, have a read of Una Mullally’s fine post from last week on the knock-on effects of disappearing twentysomethings from Irish streets.
But let’s park all of those day-to-day concerns and issues for a moment and concentrate on this idea of a recovery. What sort of a recovery are we talking about here? Are we looking for a return to the crazy, crazy, crazy days of a decade ago when the economy was allegedly roaring and all of us were supposed to be partying? Is that when we know we’ll have reached our destination?
Will we know that the recovery is in full effect when the property market begins to drive the national economy again and we start flipping houses to make a few hundred grand again? Will the recovery be when Morning Ireland and other radio shows are chockablock with reports about commuters giving out about their commute to work, a staple of the old days? Or will we know that everything is as right as rain when everyone who has left in the last few years has come back again?
The problem with a recovery in an Irish context is that we don’t really know what we want. We know what we don’t want – austerity, cuts in services, unemployment and emigration are the big four issues most of us would like to cure – but beyond that, the idea of recovery goes into the realm of fluffy clouds. Naturally, we all have different ideas and notions of what this recovery will mean and look like depending on where we stand and our place in the political spectrum. As a society and economy, though, we’ve no idea what we want.
Let’s be honest, some would probably welcome a return to the good old days, especially those who made out like bandits flogging us luxury goods and services which we probably know look back on with considerable regret, chagrin and empty wallets. However, the bulk of us, from positive Ireland boosters to would-be protestors on the streets to everyone inbetween those two extremes, know this is probably not sustainable or probable or even welcome.
Perhaps the recovery will be seen in other ways. Ross Maguire from New Beginning had an interesting piece in the paper over the weekend about Ireland’s relationship with failure and the schadenfreude which often occurs when those who’ve embarked on a venture hit the wall.
Whatever about your opinions on this – and many would feel that those who take a risk, be it a mortgage or a new business venture, should know what they’re getting into and stand over the consequences – there’s no doubt that Irish society has a very conservative view when it comes to dealing with failure. Despite all the guff to the contrary, we do not really have an entrepreneurial culture and most prefer to keep their heads down and work for someone else rather than go it alone. The bust which followed the boom probably amplified this for many.
Yet if this road to recovery that we’re supposed to be on is to be sustainable and not run out of track, risk and new ventures have to be every much part of the equation as the troika leaving town. We’ll know that a road to recovery is in effect when such a sea-change occurs and takes hold and that it’s not about simply playing lip service to the notion. For many, doing it themselves will be the only way to do what they want to do as this recovery mantra gets louder and louder.