Alex Massie

“It’s a Very Bad Thing When Economists Start to be Interesting”

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Yes it is. Despite what the Irish government says, it's now surely a matter of when Ireland has a bailout forced upon it. We left "if" behind some time ago. Even the non-denial denials are specific enough to be revealing. As Shane Ross put it on Sunday, "The game is up."  Perhaps it won't happen today and pehaps it won't be tomorrow but it will happen soon.

And the worst of it is that it's not really about Ireland at all. The history of the Greek and Irish experiences (for all their differences) suggests that saving one patient merely endangers the next sickly country in the waiting room. None of the doctors seem well-qualified though perhaps none of the patients can be saved anyway.  The logic - if such there be - of the matter seems to be that once Ireland is dealt with, this grisly drama will simply transfer to Portugal and Spain where it will have a refreshed cast but much the same plot.

The Irish government is - and has been - in an impossible position. Those on the British left who've used Ireland's woes as a stick with which to beat the coalition's policy of public spending restraint might pause to wonder where Ireland might be if it had pretended nothing had happened at all. Nowhere good. Similarly, those on the British right (including me) who've admired Ireland's attempts to save itself (recently, anyway) should admit that it's not been enough and perhaps, once the banks had been guaranteed, never had much chance of being enough.

If this were a political or an economic problem there might be a solution. But it's both and for as long as politics dictates the economics it can't possibly end well. But if - as seems unlikely - Ireland were given the choice of being a ward of the IMF or the EU I think I'd take my chances with the boys from the IMF even, perhaps especially, if that meant leaving the eurozone.

This crisis offers two paths: a tighter, more centralised eurozone in which tax rates are "harmonised" (to French and German levels) or a smaller eurozone entirely, shorn of its peripheral members. The latter seems preferable to my non-economist's eye but today's tune is being dictated by politics and the desire to avoid "humiliation".

Meanwhile, the Irish government awaits the result of a by-election in Donegal that could see its majority cut to two and who knows whether it can pass a budget on December 7th? If it does then it will be because Fine Gael abstain or because the government has succumbed to blackmail from independent TDs said to be demanding a casino in Nenagh and a ring-road for Tralee. Upon such weighty interests can an entire country sink or swim.

But it's beyond me why anyone should be persuaded by Brian Cowan's assertion that the very last thing Ireland needs is the uncertainty of a general election. True, Fine Gael and Labour disagree on plenty but Cowen's view that only Fianna Fail have the credibility to cope with the crisis is manifestly absurd and anyway merely the latest demonstration of Fianna Fail's patented brand of arrogance that, with the notable exception of the Scottish Labour party, is unrivalled in western europe. It's preposterous.

An election sooner rather than later might at least allow for a cathartic reckoning and, mercifully, a fresh start. A new government won't be enough, far less the end of the matter but it might at least be a beginning.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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Topics in this articlePoliticsausterityeuropeireland