I expect you have an Economics degree. You haven’t? Me neither. Which means we’re probably equally confused by the deal the twenty-six counties has just brought back from Brussels.
Michael Noonan at a press conference yesterday explained what it was and what it wasn’t. It wasn’t what Pearse Doherty said it was - kicking the can further down the road, agreeing not to pay off a huge chunk of debt more or less right now but agreeing to pay off a huge chunk of debt several decades later.
Michael used two homely comparisons that an economic illiterate like myself can at least try to grasp. The first was “Supposing I said to Pearse ‘I’ll lend you €1000 and you can pay me back next month or in forty years time' - which do you think he’d take?” I could follow that. Pearse would take the second option, because in forty years time even youthful Pearse mightn’t be around. I had a private thought that Pearse’s children and grandchildren might be around and mightn't thank him, but I pushed that out of my mind, seeing Michael hadn’t mentioned it.
The other homely analogy was with, yes, Michael’s home. He explained about how he’d bought a house forty or something years ago, and it cost him £3,000. So he paid a manageable mortgage for several decades, but when it came to paying off the principal sum, it was just a month of his wages as a teacher. Inflation, you see, after forty years, making what looks big potatoes forty years ago turn out to be small spuds today.
I found those two analogies helpful as long as I didn’t start thinking around them. The “I lend you €1000” one, for example. Great in one way - but the €1000 is still going to have to be paid off, so I’m saddling my yet-unborn children/grandchildren with my debt. Mmm. Don’t like the sound of that much. And by the way, if you get a loan from people, don’t they usually ask you to pay interest on it? My bank does, anyway. Funny Michael didn’t mention the interest. He probably forgot, what with all that chatting up and out-manoeuvring all them foreigners.
The one about the house is a good one too - even with the housing crash, we still marvel at the price we paid for our house thirty or forty years ago, compared with what even a modest house costs now. But then I began to think about the many ‘How To Manage Your Money’ columns in weekend magazines that I’d read over the years, and how they’d all urged me to get shot of debt - on my credit card, on my car, on my house - as quickly as possible, because interest piles up the longer you leave it. In fact, I remember doing a tot-up on my own house and discovering that with interest, I was paying more than twice as much for it. And I remember not too long ago - oh happy day! - when I finally got finished with the goddam mortgage, and the relief of taking that particular financial albatross from around my neck.
So I was just wondering, like: has Michael done a tot-up of how much money the Irish people will be shelling out in interest over the years? And we’re really talking years and years here - I’ll certainly be dead before the debt is finally paid, and chances are you will be too, except you’ve got a face still spattered with adolescent acne, in which case why aren’t you out having fun instead of reading this?
I’ve thought and thought about it and I’ve decided that there’s a curse on the Irish people. One minute they’re one of the richest countries in the world, the next they’re landing head-first in the financial basement. And it’s going to take until 2056, I think Michael said, before finally getting out of that basement. So here’s the thing: what did the Irish people do to deserve all this suffering and deprivation, to be handed on from generation to generation? Well, nothing really. It was the banks and the big developers who somehow landed the twenty-six counties’ people in this awful financial debt. So what else would you call it, if from earning a decent wage you’re suddenly told you’re up against the wall and you and the fruit of your loins will have to start paying huuuuuge sums, even though some other sons-of-bitches ran the debt up, not you? And the government manages to present this information in a way that makes it look like a huge success!
I think Michael should take on that curse idea as well as the lending-€1000-to-Pearse and his Me-And-My-House story. Blame it all on a wicked fairy, Michael. We’re as likely to believe that as the line we’re presently being spun.