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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 1, 2009 @ 2:04 pm

    The Power of Hope (and of a little humour)

    Harry McGee

     There was a time when I couldn’t get enough of Maureen Dowd in the New York Times but I have tired of the formula, and the over-cleverality, and the devices, and verbal pony tricks.  I have switched loyalties to Paul Krugman (him of Erin go Broke fame) and Thomas Friedman in the same paper. Both are required reading, especially when it comes to the big issues like the economy, climate change, and the future of society.

    There’s a really good contribution from Friedman in this weeks NYT (read here) called Invent, Invent, Invent. The gist of his argument is that America should not, and cannot, spend its way out of a recession.

    One of the key arguments is wonderfully laid out plain as always:

    “We might be able to stimulate our way back to stability, but we can only invent our way back to prosperity. We need everyone at every level to get smarter.”

    Strangely, Brian Cowen was making the same argument during Leaders Questions this morning saying we can’t just throw money at the problem because that’s going to get us deeper into the morass.

    We have had endless analysis. And enough dismal dirges to make keening at a wake sound upbeat. We need a bit of invention, of though and of deed. People have scoffed at the Spirit of ireland but at least it’s trying to be bring positivity and energy. Much more of that is needed.

    And we need a bit of humour too. In the run up to the elections Village magazine did a question and answer session with most of the sitting MEPs, north and south.  The last question was ‘tell us a joke’.

    Most of them couldn’t come up with anything. The po-faced dull as ditchwater MEPs were Liam Aylward; Colm Burke; Brian Crowley (“I’m more of a singer than a comedian and once sang with a hard rock band called Galaxy”); Bairbre de Brún (“I’m not really a joke sort of woman.”); Proinsias de Rossa; Marian Harkin; Jim Higgins; Mary Lou McDonald; Mairead McGuinness; and Eoin Ryan.

    The only two who gave a joke were Gay Mitchell and Kathy Sinnott.

    Here they are…

    Gay Mitchell: Two Irishmen, two Scottish, tow Welsh and two English men were lsot at sea. When finally they were discovered on a desert island, the Irishmen were fighting, the Scots had set up a distillery, the two Welsh had established a choir and the two Englishment were waiting to be introduced.

    Kathy Sinnott: A man took his dot to the cinema to see War and Peace. The dog sat beside him and the audence was amazed to see the dog and his reactions to the film. When the heroine was facing dire straits the dog would howl and when thing were going well he’d bark and wag his tail.

    After the film ended a woman came up and said: “Wow your dog’s reactions were amazing!”

    To which the man replied: “I know, I’m really surprised. He hated the book. “

    • Liam says:

      Ignoring Krugman would be a good start , he advised in articles in 2002 that the Fed needed to pump up a housing bubble to stimulate growth and got a lot of flack on his blog recently, he tried to back peddle but his defence was weak. My motto is if they didn’t see it coming they won’t be able to solve it now.

    • Harry says:

      He’s joining a legion of economists who did the same.

    • Liam/Harry,

      Didn’t Krugman encourage a bubble but as a ‘stabilising counter-bubble’ against some other area of the US economy that was being inflated at the time? Apologies for laughable lack of specifics.

      Dowd has been poor as of late, I agree. Stopped reading her completely after she was accused of plagiarism by a well-known online journalist in the last few months – it was a very strong case.

      Re: Invent, Invent, Invent – needed everywhere, strange that people are calling for it now when both it and related mindsets were supposedly what was driving the boom. It’s a waste of time simply calling for it, it has to be encouraged throughout society – that means Enterprise Ireland must drop their demand that you match what they invest. It means that banks (especially nationalised ones) must start handing out entrepreneurial loans to finance the inventiveness encouraged by Cowen et al, it needs to be a long-term ideal fostered by the behaviour of those in the position to influence – otherwise it’s simply another political sound-bite, the last thing we need.

    • Harry says:

      Krugman wrote a very good piece this week about climate change especially the 210 members of Congress who voted against the congressional bill.
      He lambasted those who voted against, not for their views but because it was obvious that they had put zero thought into the problem and ahd voted out of instinct, or out of laziness or convenience.

    • Liam says:

      Mark, not sure , if you go to the Mish blog (type in google, it will come up number 1) he has been critical of Krugman for years. If you believe that Greenspan & co. was a wrecker of the financial system then Krugman inhabits the same intellectual cell.

      here is a good primer with links to what he was writing in 2002


    • Peter says:

      Cringing at the Brian Crowley quote – worthy of David Brent.

    • We do need humour in society and politics and I think that over the past few years we have seen many property developers laugh all the way to the bank and now the banks are laughing all the way to the government who in turn are laughing all the way to the next election.

    • Frank Jameson says:

      I agree with Liam about Krugman. As far as Friedman is concerned was he not America’s biggest cheerleader for Ireland’s economic bubble? If I were you, Harry, I’d go back to Maureen Dowd. At least she is not, and doesn’t pretend to be, an economist.
      HL Mencken was right when he said: “If all the economists on earth were laid from end to end they wouldn’t reach a conclusion.”

    • DesJay says:

      Harry: MoDo is OK as an occasional read, but as standard fare, stomach-roiling.

      Tom F. doesn’t know who he is, chained to his middle-aged, middle-class white man status. As a friend of Israel, he cheered on the invasion of Iraq and assured us that the Arab street didn’t matter–the Arab tea house would welcome Bush and his liberating crusaders.

      The world is not flat, as Friedman has urged us to believe, and for which urgings he has been well-compensated. Google Prof. Florida for a view of the spikey world. But Tom will sniff out the next wave and will write a breathless best-seller about it.

      As an economist, Paul Krugman is doing better than many. He, like Greenspan and most others, could not be aware of the extent of the rot eating the system from within –the actual level of sub-prime mortgages, recently estimated to have reached 20% of loans made in the worst years. Nor could he be aware, beyond a troubled hunch, of the role of greed in that, fuelled by gargantuan compensation that bore no relation to socially-beneficial outcomes (other than more compensation). Sub-primes, securitized derivatives, mutual insurance–a web of unsuspected practices–who can warn against that in the absence of government oversight? A government that believes government is bad cannot but have bad outcomes. And many are living those outcomes now.

      As others have begun to point out, Peter Peterson for example, a similar principle is at the heart of another major American problem –the healthcare industry. Doctors, the traders and brokers of this system, are paid on services rendered, not on outcomes. Office visits and prescriptions for drugs and procedures multiply. Some surgical procedures vary in frequency by factors of five to ten across regions. But who is challenging that? The AMA, the drug industry, the lobbies, and their shills in Congress will ensure that there will be little change short of a tidal wave of opinion. And Americans don’t do tidal waves, especially with the dead hand of the constitution preventing a shake-up in the Senate.

      Harry: Add Bob Herbert to your reading list.

    • Tom Hickey says:

      Krugman is very good. even if I don’t always agree with him.

      As to our own financial and political woes, we do need a new spirit to carry us forward. It’s not enough to introduce heavy taxation and reduce public spending – we need to think outside the box on where we want to go as a country – economically, politically and morally.

      Cowen is no Obama. We don’t expect miracles, but I firmly believe he needs to explain his vision for Ireland. To do so he needs to spend the summer fleshing out his ideas and bringing them before the nation. Fine Gael and Labour need to forget the blame game for now and come up up with credible plans of their own. Let’s ditch the ideological mumbo jumbo for the country’s sake.

      Of course nothing of the sort will happen. We’ll have a fudge by the Government on slashing public sector jobs and pay, taxes – both direct and indirect – will continue to grow, I fear a decade of stagnation. I hope I’m wrong, for the sake of my son who has just graduated and can’t get a job, and my daughter who will leave college in four years, I pray we get it right.

    • Frank Jameson says:

      Read what Friedman wrote about Ireland back then and see if you think he was right!!!! The link is: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/29/opinion/29friedman.html

    • You are not the only one, she makes me so angry.

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