Whingers take the stage once again


They say the most reliable indicator of recession is the increasing frequency of the word "recession" appearing in the newspapers. Perhaps this is a tribute to the prophetic talents of economic commentators; or perhaps it confirms that we invite negativity by talking about it.

If so, the escalating national rhetoric of ruination must bring us back to the 1980s very soon. For years, while the Tiger thrived, it was impossible to say "a bad word" about the handling of the economy without being savaged as a "begrudger".

Optimism was in, and "kill another chicken!" the silently-mouthed mantra that caught the national mood. Now, naysaying and whining have again become national pastimes. For the past 12 months, the national commentary has plunged into a tailspin of melancholy, perceiving portents of doom in almost everything.

Since Budget Day, the whinge-fest has reached cacophonous levels, with special interest groups clogging up the airwaves all day to attack the Government, the Minister for Finance and the unfairness of life.

Something interesting has happened to journalism also. It's an odd feature of Irish newspapers that, whereas what you might call the engine and chassis of the vehicle is provided by solid economic commentary of an orthodox, market-centred nature, the bodywork is of an entirely different cast. Most of the so-called " stars" are people who in the old days would have described themselves as socialists and who remain - as though eternally hoping for a red-corner comeback - of a left-leaning disposition.

It is remarkable that, for all the changes of the Tiger years, this style of chewing-your-loaf-while-eschewing-bread Maan! journalism is still utilised by market-driven newspapers to seduce readers.

Back in the 1980s, it was the height of fashion. We all gave it a lash because it's so easy. All you need do is adopt a pessimistic attitude, predict the worst possible outcome for any given area of public policy and, above all, accuse the government as often as possible of being wrong-headed and incompetent.

Back then the country was in such a state of chassis that it was impossible to be excessively pessimistic. But the journalistic doomsters were extremely chagrined by the arrival of the Celtic Tiger. Not only was it neither expected nor predicted, but its arrival, and more especially its timing in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, seemed to represent for the doomsters an accusation, suggesting they had been wrong about everything.

For years they had been insisting upon the intrinsic unsustainability and amorality of the capitalist system and predicting the final meltdown of the Irish economy. Now, far from melting, the Irish economy was confounding everything they said and believed, right in front of their eyes. They had no choice but to button it.

Things would have been lean had it not been for the tribunals, but Flood and Moriarty provided an opportunity to transmute the doomsters' ideological pique into a kind of post-modern fiscal puritanism, allowing them to maintain a continuous high moral tone during a period when their portfolios of opinions were otherwise at risk of redundancy. (I use the word "ideological" loosely for, although this pique comes dressed as ideology, it is founded on a far less tangible kind of misanthrope, mainly unresolved anger at a society which the doomsters imagine has short-changed them).

THUS, the nature of Irish journalism altered fundamentally in the Tiger years, manifesting a dearth of criticism of economic policy, or of issues of societal justice and fairness in a contemporaneous context. Gone were the old journalistic standbys like attacks on cutbacks in public spending, appeals on behalf of "the less fortunate in society" and the polemic against incompetence in high places.

A new tune was created: All Politicians Are Crooks And Shysters. Interestingly, this new score related purely to times past and issues of an allegedly moral nature, avoiding other than passing and often tortuous reference to the contemporary management of the national affairs, which appeared so unassailable that the doomsters had no choice but bite their pencils.

But now, with the chill winds ablowing, they are back with a vengeance, berating and predicting like it was (early) 1989. They have rapidly relaunched their us-and-them hobby-horse, recreating the old, much-favoured division between the political and business classes and "the rest of us".

They are essentially the same people: richer, rounder, but singing the same old song. But whereas once they were faintly amusing, nowadays the standard rarely rises above the yah-boo-sucks level. Some of these guys think nothing of writing a thousand words to accuse politicians of not telling the full truth during the last election campaign. Just wait'll they find out about Santa!

And yes, almost unbelievably, the doomsters still trot out phrases like "the vulnerable in society", throwing in references to "the rest of us" to associate themselves with the hardship of the underprivileged, undaunted that they now earn the guts of a hundred grand a year.