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The finance minister might as well be standing in Pompeii and saying that actually the volcano wasn’t really worth mentioning. Just a little lava!
February 3, 2011 10:44 AM   Subscribe

When Irish Eyes Are Crying - an article on Irish economic woes by Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair.
posted by exogenous (67 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ireland is now a vassal state of Germany and France.
The EU and Euro have locked them into a position where they can't even work through their financial crisis on their own. They are now owned by their neighbors.
posted by Flood at 10:54 AM on February 3, 2011


This ought to be good. He wrote a totally hilarious and very informative article on Iceland's collapse.
posted by Dasein at 10:57 AM on February 3, 2011


Ireland is now a vassal state of Germany and France.
The EU and Euro have locked them into a position where they can't even work through their financial crisis on their own. They are now owned by their neighbors


I guess a lot of countries are regretting joining the Euro right now as they won't be able to let their exchange rate drop to boost exports.
posted by atrazine at 10:57 AM on February 3, 2011


Oh, man, he did the Greece article, too. This guy is a jem.
posted by Dasein at 10:58 AM on February 3, 2011


Also, the Germans like it even less.
posted by atrazine at 10:58 AM on February 3, 2011


This article suggests that Iceland's decision that the banks were not, in fact, too big to fail might have been the correct choice and that Ireland's contrary decision is not working out particularly well.

It's interesting, but I have no insight into finance.
posted by adipocere at 11:04 AM on February 3, 2011


Ireland is now a vassal state of Germany and France.
The EU and Euro have locked them into a position where they can't even work through their financial crisis on their own. They are now owned by their neighbors.


Yeah, well, the problem was created by Irish banks in the first place, and the Irish government fucked up by agreeing to support the banks, and by protecting bondholders and investors from "taking a haircut" and the expense of the Irish populace.

All this talk of "vassals" and neo-colonialism tends to ignore the facts.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:07 AM on February 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


Gary Keogh rocks.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:09 AM on February 3, 2011


“What happened was that everyone in Ireland had the idea that somewhere in Ireland there was a little wise old man who was in charge of the money, and this was the first time they’d ever seen this little man,” says McCarthy. “And then they saw him and said, Who the fuck was that??? Is that the fucking guy who is in charge of the money??? That’s when everyone panicked.”

posted by atrazine at 11:17 AM on February 3, 2011


Previously on MeFi: Greece; Iceland; and Joe Cassano.
Bonus link: Mutant's comment on Iceland in 2008
posted by vidur at 11:19 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ireland is now a vassal state of Germany and France.

Ireland doesn't have to take Germany's sweet, sweet money, or EU farm subsidies, or any of the rest of the EU lolly scramble. I wouldn't be surprised if rather a lot of German taxpayers would be entirely happy if they didn't.
posted by rodgerd at 11:20 AM on February 3, 2011


All this talk of "vassals" and neo-colonialism tends to ignore the facts.

Tend to ignore what facts? Are you saying that Greece hasn't slipped into vassal state status, with respect to the rest of the Eurozone? I don't think so, you're totally wrong if you think anything else is the case. A short trip to Greece would help clear this up for you.
posted by phaedon at 11:21 AM on February 3, 2011


I don't get this Ireland crisis at all. Why don't they just sell off some pots of gold?
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:30 AM on February 3, 2011


What, did the Irish banks all invest in potatoes? (historical reference joke)
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:35 AM on February 3, 2011


Don't want to be a "vassal"? Leave the EU and default on your debt.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:44 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your glib comments are insulting KokuRyu. "Ireland" is not some abstract entity, and Irish sovereign (formerly bank) debt was not run up by most of the people here you see fit to address your snide comments to. Most Irish people are absolutely furious at what has happened, and feel entirely disempowered. Please lay off.
posted by stonepharisee at 12:12 PM on February 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


Leave the EU...

Is there a legal framework for doing that? I was under the impression it was effectively impossible, from a practical point of view.
posted by aramaic at 12:14 PM on February 3, 2011


Your glib comments are insulting KokuRyu. "Ireland" is not some abstract entity, and Irish sovereign (formerly bank) debt was not run up by most of the people here you see fit to address your snide comments to. Most Irish people are absolutely furious at what has happened, and feel entirely disempowered. Please lay off.

Sorry if I sounded glib, but my point was that it's the government and the banks that are at fault, and not the people of Ireland. Why not elect a government in your upcoming elections that reverses the decision to bail out the banks?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:19 PM on February 3, 2011


The Lisbon treaty explicitly allows member states to leave the EU:
The treaty introduces an exit clause for members wanting to withdraw from the Union. This formalises the procedure by stating that a member state must inform the European Council before it can terminate its membership. There has been one instance where a territory has ceased to be part of the Community (Greenland in 1985).
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:19 PM on February 3, 2011


> Why not elect a government in your upcoming elections that reverses the decision to bail out the banks?

The only party of any size that advocates that was, not so long ago, in the business of robbing banks the old fashioned way. They are very close to thuggery still. We don't have any realistic choices worth making in this election. Most people are not terribly sorry that our affairs are now being run by others. Our home-grown politicians are very obviously not up to the job. But many of the reasons one has a nation state in the first place are now moot, as the money that should be providing health and education is poured into the bottomless pit.

There are no quick fixes to this mess.
posted by stonepharisee at 12:28 PM on February 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Well, there is the option of defaulting on the debt, as in Argentina in 2002. The problem is then that it becomes very hard for the government to borrow more money in the short term, and will have to pay higher rates on future borrowing even in the longer term.

However, I'm surprised that this option doesn't get talked about more. It's bad, but the current plan is also bad. I haven't seen any serious cost-benefits analyses that try to work out which is worse.

I suspect a lot of players may be too scared to talk about it in case just the mere speculation panics the markets.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:37 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I read somewhere though that "the EU" (ie, Germany) was extremely pissed that Ireland had decided to bail out banks and protect investors and bondholders. It was an unusual move, although I recall reading someplace else that the UK owned a major stake in the Irish banks, and would once again (after Iceland) be taking a bath.

The politics in Ireland seem pretty hopeless, but, then again, it's just a country of 4 million people, presumably with an economy the size of a European or North American average-sized metropolitan area, and not a nation-state.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:43 PM on February 3, 2011


> it's just a country of 4 million people

There is a serious problem of scale. We punch above our weight in literature, but not in governance.
posted by stonepharisee at 12:47 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ireland doesn't have to take Germany's sweet, sweet money, or EU farm subsidies, or any of the rest of the EU lolly scramble.

We're pretty close to being net contributors right now. The vast majority of EU money goes to farmers, and the benefit to our farmers has IMHO mostly been cancelled out by the way the fishing industry was completely sold out.
posted by kersplunk at 12:52 PM on February 3, 2011


Don't want to be a "vassal"? Leave the EU and default on your debt.

Why not elect a government in your upcoming elections that reverses the decision to bail out the banks?

KokuRyu your comments reek of "WHY DIDNT ANYONE ELSE THINK OF THAT!?" smugness, and it sucks, I mean, how far away from this situation are you?

We are talking about huge sums of money here, and meaningful sociopolitical arrangements. If these countries were to bail out, it would have an effect not just on the countries themselves (for generations), but for potentially everyone else in Europe. And it would be felt by the markets world-wide. And could potentially lead to a military conflict, if not in Greece, then between democratic countries. All you have to do is look to Egypt to see what "people standing up for political change" looks like.

The argument du jour is that the Greek are lazy and don't make anything so they need to tighten their belts. The justification for these "austerity measures" will be tested this year, and we will see if Greece can partially pay back its loans or if they bail, because they certainly cannot suffer much more than they already are. Greeks have been fat and lazy for thousands of years. You cannot blame the situation entirely on that. This is flat-out economic serfdom.

The Greeks meanwhile did not "go to the polls" in November to eject the yes-man they have as a prime minister; rather they turned out in historically low numbers because - that's right - the people perceive themselves as existing in a neo-colonial system. The prime minister, by the way, who spent almost his entire life outside of Greece but came back to claim his position as the son of a former prime minister. Sounds familiar?

It basically doesn't matter who is in office anymore. Brussels says "get a haircut," the Greeks say thank you sir, may I have another. If this isn't modern-day feudalism, I don't know what is.

This would be an interesting forum to hear people share their experiences, if you weren't being so cut and dry about the whole damn thing.
posted by phaedon at 1:02 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why not elect a government in your upcoming elections that reverses the decision to bail out the banks?

Why not abort a 10 year-old kid? Why not unbake a cake?
posted by kersplunk at 1:09 PM on February 3, 2011


I was interested to learn from the FPP that the identity of some of the bondholders has come out. This should have been bigger news, and the various political obligations and interest conflicts should yet be scrutinized forensically.
posted by stonepharisee at 1:11 PM on February 3, 2011


Sorry for sounding smug, but it's the internet.

All right, how come there is no political will to reverse the decision to bail out the banks?
posted by KokuRyu at 1:13 PM on February 3, 2011


It's not the internet, it's MetaFilter.
posted by Mick at 1:33 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Non-Irish people may not be aware of this, by the way:
There’s no such thing as a non-recourse home mortgage in Ireland. The guy who pays too much for his house is not allowed to simply hand the keys to the bank and walk away. He’s on the hook, personally, for whatever he borrowed.

...

When a bank forces an Irish person into receivership, a notice is published in a national and a local newspaper—ensuring the bankrupt’s widespread shame. For as many as 12 years the person is not permitted to take out a loan for more than 650 euros without disclosing his bankruptcy status or own assets amounting to more than 3,100 euros, and part of whatever he earns may pass to his creditors at the discretion of the court. “It’s not like the United States, where being bankrupt is almost a badge of honor,” says Patrick White, of the Irish Property Council. “Here you are effectively disbarred from commercial life.”
posted by kersplunk at 1:40 PM on February 3, 2011


Also, 12 years is the minimum bankruptcy period, not the maximum.
posted by kersplunk at 1:42 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


A friend relocated to Ireland a year or two ago from the US and reports that home prices there remain extremely high despite the economic situation. He thought the reason was no public record exists of sales prices (unlike most or all of the US). So, sellers are convinced that their place remains worth what it was during boom times because there is no convincing evidence to the contrary. I guess the lack of non-recourse mortgages also contributes - owners literally cannot afford to sell for less than they owe.
posted by exogenous at 1:48 PM on February 3, 2011


KokoRyu: All right, how come there is no political will to reverse the decision to bail out the banks?

A more likely outcome would be a debt restructuring affecting all Irish government bonds, forcing bondholders to take losses. That's why the rates on Irish bonds are currently at 8.8%.
posted by russilwvong at 1:48 PM on February 3, 2011


This paper [PDF] examines the issues of secession and expulsion from the European Union (EU) and Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). It concludes that negotiated withdrawal from the EU would not be legally impossible even prior to the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, and that unilateral withdrawal would undoubtedly be legally controversial; that, while permissible, a recently enacted exit clause is, prima facie, not in harmony with the rationale of the European unification project and is otherwise problematic, mainly from a legal perspective; that a Member State’s exit from EMU, without a parallel withdrawal from the EU, would be legally inconceivable; and that, while perhaps feasible through indirect means, a Member State’s expulsion from the EU or EMU, would be legally next to impossible. This paper concludes with a reminder that while, institutionally, a Member State’s membership of the euro area would not survive the discontinuation of its membership of the EU, the same need not be true of the former Member State’s use of the euro.

Written by Phoebus Athanassiou and published by the European Central Bank in 2009
posted by chavenet at 1:50 PM on February 3, 2011


Why not elect a government in your upcoming elections that reverses the decision to bail out the banks?

Why didn't I think of that? I'll just vote for the guys who will fix all this in the upcoming election. Now that would be... hmmmm... let me see... Oh, Fuck.
posted by Elmore at 1:51 PM on February 3, 2011


I was in Ireland in the spring of 2007. There wasn't a way you could face in Dublin that didn't include a view of construction cranes. Everything on television and in the papers was go, go, go! Now I can only wonder how many of the those buildings were ever finished and if they're even occupied.
posted by tommasz at 1:51 PM on February 3, 2011


Of course, we all know who started all this. That's right, Haughey.
posted by Elmore at 2:03 PM on February 3, 2011


There’s no such thing as a non-recourse home mortgage in Ireland. The guy who pays too much for his house is not allowed to simply hand the keys to the bank and walk away. He’s on the hook, personally, for whatever he borrowed.

This is true in most of the world. Non-recourse mortgages are uniquely American. The US also has extremely debtor friendly bankruptcy laws (I've heard that this is because so many immigrants to the early US were running away from debt and debtor's prison in the UK)
posted by atrazine at 2:08 PM on February 3, 2011


Of course, we all know who started all this. That's right, Haughey.

Telling us we were living beyond our means while living an extravagant lifestyle financed by 'donations' from prominent businessmen and 'loans' from banks he had no intention of paying back. Screwing us with a punitive rate of tax while letting his mates keep their money stashed away offshore. What a guy.
posted by kersplunk at 2:16 PM on February 3, 2011


Don't forget dipping into Lenihan's cancer fund. Not that I was ever a fan of Lenihan, or his offspring. God, I wish Dermot Morgan was still alive.
posted by Elmore at 2:31 PM on February 3, 2011


Personally, I just thought the title of the article was really dumb.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:32 PM on February 3, 2011


I thought about using "Lehman’s: they have testicles everywhere" for the post title, but figured it was a little much.
posted by exogenous at 4:07 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is flat-out economic serfdom.

Bollocks. I am Irish and think Kokoryu is right on the money. Irish people ran up a heap of personal debt, and re-elected the same government that got them into this mess despite the then prime minister being at the center of a major corruption inquiry at the time of the election.

Leave the EU? right, this couldn't possibly hurt our trade balance. As it happens, I remember what life was like before the advent of the Euro, all the way back to the 1970s when we used to deal with economic ups and downs by devaluing the currency and similar tricks. It sucked.

We had recessions and booms and busts before we joined the Euro, you know. the reason for the lack of rage is that a lot of people got overconfident and borrowed too much money. The banks did too, but that doesn't make it entirely their fault. Do you blame the bartender or the brewery when you wake up with hangover? No, you moan softly, brew a cup of very strong tea, and begin a painful review of your drinking habits.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:54 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, not to seem as though I'm wimping out, but my intention was not to pin it all on the people, as though there were some sort of need for collective self-flagellation. The government and the banks failed Ireland. With the chance to elect a new government, I just don't understand why you have to continue to protect bondholders.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:08 PM on February 3, 2011


We are talking about huge sums of money here, and meaningful sociopolitical arrangements. ... All you have to do is look to Egypt to see what "people standing up for political change" looks like.

It looks like... people successfully standing up for political change, delegitimatizing their regime, and making world headlines? Did I miss something?
posted by shii at 8:28 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought about using "Lehman’s: they have testicles everywhere" for the post title, but figured it was a little much.

Oh, the POST title is cool. But -- "When Irish eyes Are Crying"? Seriously?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:43 PM on February 3, 2011


On a personal note, I bought a tiny row house in Ireland for 50,000 pounds (pre euro) in the late 80's, and sold it 5 years later for the same amount, losing a ton. But when friends told me even a few years back that it 'was now worth half a million euro' I could not but laugh.

In the 'Tiger' years, also, the Irish became very smug and seemed to forget the poverty that had wracked the country up through the 70s. Now, let those folks eat... potatoes.
posted by Molly Burke at 10:59 PM on February 3, 2011


You know, the international Irish diaspora are nothing if not proud of their heritage. Ireland could exploit this by offering citizenship to the descendants of Irish expats.

There are a lot of them, and a hefty percentage would gladly--very gladly--sign on. Then, once they're in, Ireland could tax the bejeezus out of 'em. And when the new citizens realize Ireland isn't quite as romantic as they'd expected, and they go back home (keeping their Irish citizenship, mind), Ireland could continue to tax the bejeezus out of them.

Free money!
posted by Sys Rq at 12:39 AM on February 4, 2011


It looks like... people successfully standing up for political change, delegitimatizing their regime, and making world headlines? Did I miss something?

Yes, you did miss something. My comment was a response to KokuRyu's asking why haven't the people of Ireland voted in a different party that would reverse the bailing out of the banks. I replied that this was an overly smug way of looking at things. My response was something like, "Things are not that simple. The system is resistant to change. If you want to look at real change, look at Egypt."
posted by phaedon at 1:18 AM on February 4, 2011


Having previously tried to pin the Icelandic financial crisis on the elves, Michael Lewis now tries to pin the Irish financial crisis on the pixies:

“Irish people actually believe in fairies?,” I ask, straining but failing to catch a glimpse of the typical fairy ring to which Ian has just pointed. “I mean, if you walked right up and asked him to his face, ‘Do you believe in fairies?’ most guys will deny it,” he replies. “But if you ask him to dig out the fairy ring on his property, he won’t do it. To my way of thinking, that’s believing.” And it is. It’s a tactical belief, a belief that exists because the upside to disbelief is too small, like the former Irish belief that Irish land prices would rise forever.

He doesn't actually say, 'Irish people are bog-ignorant peasants and should never have got involved in matters of high finance', but the implication is there, just as it was in the Iceland article ('Icelanders are among the most inbred human beings on earth' -- remember?).

I like Lewis's writing, but I wish he wouldn't make these patronising asides about funny Europeans and their quaint old-fashioned beliefs. The Irish financial crisis can be quite adequately explained in terms of flawed decisions by bankers and politicians without having to look for flaws in the Irish national psyche.
posted by verstegan at 2:19 AM on February 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


How disappointing that an article which could have provided an insight into this situation for those outside of Ireland or even Europe degenerates into arrogant twaddle betwixt trite inaccuracies.

> no serious protests of any kind

That's strange, I marched with between 50,000 and 100,000 just a few months ago, if we perform his trick of multiplying by 100 to Americanise these numbers that's 5,000,000 people at the lower end of the estimate - in one march alone.

> Walk the streets at night and, through restaurant windows, you see important-looking men in suits, dining alone, studying important-looking papers

I'll could accept an image like this as rhetorical flourish but I walk the streets of Dublin every night - this is complete bollocks.

> He sent his piece to the small-circulation Irish Times

The Irish Times is the main quality broadsheet in Ireland - the Irish paper of record - it certainly isn't "small-circulation" (need we multiple by 100 again...?), this is very misleading: the Times has a far higher section of the "Middle Class" market, it is much more widely read by those in business and "power" (political or otherwise).

> The Irish insistence on their Irishness—their conceit that they’re more devoted to their homeland than the typical citizen of the world is—has an element of bluster about it, from top to bottom.

This passage on Irish patriotism and the Irish language is so condescending as to defy any response frankly — and I say that as someone for whom the "Irish question" is extremely problematic. Similarly as pointed out above the mention of fairy rings is astoundingly stupid.
One could go on and on nitpicking, but it would be pointless. I cannot understand the confusion in some writer's minds between the setting of the sociopolitical stage and the promulgation of uninformed clichés and stereotypes—and to do so in such a way as to seemingly deliberately demean an entire population is simple ignorance. What a shame.

I won't lie, this has made me angry. I don't plan to stay in Ireland, I'm leaving this summer; the heartache of seeing a state and a people with such promise slink from reactionary status as a Vatican vassal, to an accomplice of the lowest form of political and economic kitsch is simply too much to bear. Those of you upthread laughing at us, don't soon forget how you yourself are viewed, or the pain of being branded with the stain of decisions which were not yours and which you have fought your entire life. If this is the window into our current situation that the world has then we truly are sunk.
posted by nfg at 3:19 AM on February 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


Even in an era when capitalists went out of their way to destroy capitalism, the Irish bankers set some kind of record for destruction.

Somebody had to do it. Now everyone can plainly see how it works. Maybe when people are done picking up the pieces, we'll see an answer to "So where’s the rage?" With 25 to 50% of the youth unemployed worldwide and more and more of the "repairs" being taken out of their futures, London and Cairo are only the beginning.
posted by Twang at 4:04 AM on February 4, 2011


Lewis hasn't seen Father Ted.
posted by hawthorne at 5:21 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nicely put nfg. (And gratuitous Father Ted references are not going to soothe any ruffled feathers.)
posted by stonepharisee at 9:04 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I lived in Ireland during the boom years of the mid '90s, and while it's interesting to read about what led to the collapse, I was left breathless by the veneer of cultural stereotyping in this article. A lot of how he characterizes the Irish is based on American stereotypes, and ask any expat, those stereotypes are fucking frustrating to have to deal with. They have nothing to do with modern-day Ireland and the Irish per-se, and trotting them out in an attempt to make sense of Ireland's recent economic woes is....well, dumb and misguided. And accusing the Irish of empty jingoism is even worse. And I say this as a Canadian.

I remember noticing an enormous gap between the decision-makers and the people, with syncophants and lobbyists often acting as gatekeepers to the decision-makers. You didn't even have access to the politicians unless you belonged to the right group. The decisions made were therefore often based on advice that benefitted some particular group, sometimes so laughably contrary to reality that it made you want to shake your head. And unless others heard about it in time, and rose up in anger in large enough numbers, the decisions passed and that was that. Lewis alludes to this in the piece, but then chooses to try and shoehorn it into this americanized version of Irishness. I wish he'd just reported facts, in this case.
posted by LN at 12:59 PM on February 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd be wary of this article, as the feature he did on Greece was problematic and judging by some of the comments of Irish Mefites he seems to have stayed his course. Try to imagine 'The end of Wall Street's boom' had he written it for another country.
posted by ersatz at 5:19 PM on February 4, 2011


Actually the Greeks on MetaFilter enjoyed the article on Greece. Don't take the uninformed kneejerk reactions here so seriously.
posted by shii at 7:40 AM on February 5, 2011


I doubt there were that many of us in that thread and I wasn't exactly impressed by it.
posted by ersatz at 12:29 PM on February 5, 2011


I was there and was somewhat impressed by the doubters and sceptics, who didn't really seem to be addressing Lewis's points. In both articles, he is describing a kind of national attitude that excludes large parts of reality and can only be changed by catastrophe. Their loud patriotism is a cargo ship for their doubt is just one Lewis' many incisive gems. Fairy Rings? The metaphor has to go far to explain what actually happened.

In Greece it was nobody has to pay taxes and its all in the family, and that piece of land the monks owned was worth billions. In Ireland (here Lewis is at his best when he describes the nation's trajectory from vassal state of the Vatican to vassal state of France and Germany, with no normalcy in between) it was let's sell ever-bigger houses to each other! Our p/e ratio is better than Googles!

I heard Lewis on Tom Ashbrook last week:

Michael Lewis on the Financial Crisis Panel: Needed “Waterboarding Power” | WBUR and NPR - On Point with Tom Ashbrook.

Because we got a statas-quo solution to the latest financial crisis, he is very doubtful of any real progress (see reactionary rollback of regulation) until the next one.

Smart guy, lots of experience, good writer.
posted by psyche7 at 3:50 PM on February 5, 2011


I'm Irish and don't have a problem with his article - although it has some shortcomings of accuracy, but not very serious ones - or his descriptions of the Irish national character. But hey, what do I know.

However, I don't really go for this 'vassal state of the Vatican' thing. Just because the country used to be solidly Catholic, that does not follow. Ireland was literally a vassal state of Great Britain for many centuries, and fought its way free with a mixture of politicking and revolutionary terrorism. Like most former colonial possessions, we then celebrated our new-found freedom by having a civil war so that we could finally fight each other instead of always wasting our fighting skills on tricksy foreign invaders.

This notion that we're the helpless tool of Machivellian continentals is sort of patronizing really - as a small country we're always going to have to make alliances and do deals to get along with other countries many times the size, but we're quite good at it and we're capable of owning our own mistakes. Like I said, if you wake up with a hangover it doesn't mean the bartender's at fault.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:09 PM on February 5, 2011


I was there and was somewhat impressed by the doubters and sceptics, who didn't really seem to be addressing Lewis's points. In both articles, he is describing a kind of national attitude that excludes large parts of reality and can only be changed by catastrophe. Their loud patriotism is a cargo ship for their doubt is just one Lewis' many incisive gems. Fairy Rings? The metaphor has to go far to explain what actually happened.

In Greece it was nobody has to pay taxes and its all in the family, and that piece of land the monks owned was worth billions.


The monks had byzantine imperial edicts to a piece of lake that was a natural reserve and therefore unusable and of zero value. Then the area lost its reserve designation and the monks traded it for prime real estate in Thessaloniki, the second most important city of Greece. The Church wields considerable political influence, especially in the north, and was collaborating with politicians to change the status of the lake and get the real estate in return. The wife of a minister was involved in all of the land transactions.

Out of this story Lewis mainly seems to express his admiration for the monks for being shrewd, renovating their monasteries of somesuch nonsense without caring about the political links. On the one hand he claims the Greek citizens are too selfish, but he lauds the same behaviour when the monks do it. His article is based on this false dichotomy and misleads readers in favour of having a more compelling story. See for instance using the combined government and pension debt as if they are the same.

Besides, there are a million Greeks with tertiary education living abroad who presumably aren't down with the national attitude he describes. His points about tax evasion, nepotism (don't remember if he included that one) and "got mine" are valid, but when he emphasises points that look good on paper and at times aren't fact-checked while overlooking real bits of corruption, I'm more likely to point out what's wrong rather than what isn't.
posted by ersatz at 9:04 AM on February 6, 2011


- The lessons of Ireland
- Ireland's lessons for Spain

also re: youth unemployment, Egypt's Revolution: Coming to an Economy Near You - "Consider a tweet that made the rounds this weekend. 'Youth unemployment: #Yemen 49%, #Palestine 38%, #Morocco 35%, #Egypt 33%, #Tunisia 26%'. It sounds staggering. But youth unemployment rates are 20-40% across Europe. And in the USA, estimates range from 20-50% depending on how you count... The challenge of the democratic, developed world is a quieter rebellion: against a bankruptcy not just of the pocketbook, but of meaning."
posted by kliuless at 10:10 AM on February 6, 2011


Kliuless, youth unemployment rates are meaningless if you don't take the demographics of the youth population into account. The older the median age of a country is, the fewer people that are affected by youth unemployment.

Without a norm to judge against, it's hard to estimate the significance of youth unemployment, and the conclusions one draws can be misleading. Note, for example, how the ratio between youth and adult unemployment is highest in Scandinavian countries with relatively low Gini coefficients. Does that mean they're likely to experience political instability? no, because the aggregate rate is much lower than in other countries with lower ratios.

In other news, US unemployment is starting to fall significantly (ie by more than the margin of error) and consumer demand is up considerably. I think there's a chance that the unemployment rate is down to 7% by year-end.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:02 PM on February 7, 2011


cf. The Young and the Restless: Population Age Structure and Civil War :P

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 4:28 PM on February 7, 2011


So if you know that, why are you just reposting Umair Haque's absurd blog fluff?
posted by anigbrowl at 4:35 PM on February 7, 2011


begging the question, cuz i don't think it's absurd blog fluff?
posted by kliuless at 4:44 PM on February 7, 2011


Then answer the points I made above instead of just waving your linkage around. Otherwise I will have to conclude that you do not understand the material you are reading and just like sticking your tongue out at people.

Why should we take Umair Haque's thesis seriously when he shows himself completely indifferent to the facts of demographic distribution, to the point of not even mentioning it? Why should we expect any sort of raising in political consciousness of countries whose median age is so much higher that even high rates of youth unemployment affect a much smaller proportion of the population? why does Haque not bother to mention the unemployment trend?
posted by anigbrowl at 5:19 PM on February 7, 2011


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