Irish Blog Whacked

Monday, May 27, 2013

IRELAND - The Old Sow Who eats Her Farrow


1. Angela’s Ashes All of the (alcohol-enhanced) merriment and tacky apparel/tchotchkes that accompany St. Patrick’s Day helpfully obscure a fundamental truth about life in Ireland: It can be pretty miserable. St. Patrick himself fled the place, only to return later to spread Christianity. (True, he was only there the first time because he was kidnapped and forced into slavery, but still...) But even God seemed to forsake the Emerald Isle—or at least Limerick, where Frank McCourt grew up in crushing poverty. His Pulitzer-winning memoirAngela’s Ashes (and its 1999 film adaptation) portrays a life that’s practically cartoonish in its bleakness. McCourt’s family lived in a shambling house—next to the street’s only toilet—that constantly flooded. As a child, he contracted typhoid and later developed conjunctivitis. His mother lost a daughter eight weeks after her birth, and his father was a shifty alcoholic who blew all of his wages on booze (then abandoned the family altogether). The church offered judgment instead of refuge, class divisions were implacable, and the weather made everything damp six months of the year. McCourt writes, “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood... Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.” Angela’s Ashes spends more than 350 pages powerfully making his case. 

2. EvelynBruce Beresford’s super-sappy Evelyn isn’t necessarily “sobering,” in that it’s such a cloying, irritating, over-the-top film that it’s best approached with a few drops of the creature in hand. Or alternately, by playing a drinking game where viewers sip whiskey every time sad-bastard protagonist Pierce Brosnan enacts a bad Irish stereotype (like getting drunk to express emotion, starting a fight, mawkishly singing Irish ballads in a pub, or exclaiming “Jaysus!” when angry), and chug whenever Sophie Vavasseur, as his treacle-sweet daughter Evelyn, references her belief that sunbeams are “angel rays.” But buried under all the aggressive heartstring-yanking is an authentically grim reality: The film fictionalizes the story of Desmond Doyle, who won a precedent-setting legal battle overturning the Irish Children’s Act. The law, established in 1941, prevented a father from keeping custody of his children without a woman’s presence in the house, unless the mother agreed to the situation in writing; in Doyle’s case, when his wife abandoned the family, the state seized his children and held them in state-run Catholic schools. Evelyn pours on the sentiment, as martinet nuns abuse the saintly Vavasseur and her fellow wards of the state while Brosnan suffers in their absence. Still, it adequately addresses the inequities of a creepy, oppressive system that assumed a cold, mechanical bureaucracy was naturally a better parent than any single father could possibly be. 

3. HungerThere’s sobering, and then there’s Hunger, one of the most brutal films on any topic released in recent memory. Viewers might check it out expecting a dramatization of the 1981 Irish hunger strike that took the lives of Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) and nine others who were protesting their unrecognized status as political prisoners. But the film’s brutality starts early and never lets up, from the horrifying “no wash protest,” in which prisoners refused to leave their cells or empty their chamber pots for months, to the unflinchingly realistic portrayal of Sands’ hunger strike. It’s made all the more terrible by the fact that it all happened, and that the political tension between Ireland and Britain was so volatile that such inhumane prison conditions persisted as recently as 30 years ago. 

4-5. Bloody Sunday/U2, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” 4-5. Bloody Sunday/U2, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”One of the most infamous incidents of the Troubles—an era with no shortage of horrors—“Bloody Sunday” occurred on Jan. 30, 1972, when British Army paratroopers opened fire on a Northern Ireland civil rights protest in Derry, Ireland, killing 14 unarmed marchers. Increasingly violent outbursts between Catholics seeking a unified, independent Irish state and Protestant unionists loyal to England led to the British Army interning, without trials, hundreds of civilians suspected of aiding the IRA paramilitaries. When that caused riots that left 20 civilians dead, the army banned all parades and marches—yet the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association still organized a march to protest the internment policy. Paul Greengrass brought his meticulous, documentary style to the incident in 2002’s Bloody Sunday, which he wrote and directed. The film captures the escalating tensions from multiple personal perspectives, compiling as complete a vision of the day’s events as possible. But it’s U2 who truly immortalized it in “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” from 1983’s aptly titledWar. Bono describes The Troubles in almost apocalyptic terms: “Broken bottles under children’s feet / bodies strewn across the dead-end street,” he sings over Larry Mullen’s martial beat and Edge’s slashing guitar. When the band performed the song during its famous concert at Colorado’s Red Rocks in 1983, Bono waved a white flag while leading the audience to chant “No more!” at the song’s midpoint.

6. My Left Foot The life Christy Brown describes in his 1954 autobiography, My Left Foot, is depressing enough—he’s dismissed as mentally retarded for much of his childhood but really has cerebral palsy, a physical handicap that doesn’t impair his brain functionality. This misdiagnosis relegates him to the bottom of the social heap, the butt of cruel remarks he understands fully. Lay this against the backdrop of the working poor in Ireland of the 1930s, and the scene becomes downright dismal: the Irish Catholic guilt of knowing every transgression will lock you in hell, the bleak economic circumstances that leave his overcrowded family of 15 desperate for coal, eating porridge multiple meals a day. Brown’s mind is trapped not only in his disabled body but also in a society where social mobility is all but impossible. Brown’s autobiography and Jim Sheridan’s 1989 film starring Daniel Day Lewis ultimately end on uplifting, inspirational notes as Brown rises to become a well-known painter and writer who ultimately finds love. Of course, a later biography charges that his eventual wife turned out to be an abusive alcoholic, contributing to his early death at 49. 

7. In The Name Of The FatherThe Provisional Irish Republican Army agreed to a ceasefire in 1997, but was still quite active in the time depicted in the biographical film In The Name Of The Father, another Jim Sheridan film starring Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s the true story of the Guildford Four, falsely convicted for a series of pub bombings in October 1974. Under immense pressure to make arrests following the explosion, the Metropolitan Police arrested Gerry Conlon (Day-Lewis), in Belfast during the explosion but actually robbing a prostitute’s flat at the time. The British police eventually make Conlon and his friend confess after intense interrogation and torture, then arrested more members of Conlon’s family, including his father (the late Pete Postlethwaite) who died during incarceration. Conlon grows from an immature thug into a morally conscious man while in prison, and eventually helps uncover the true perpetrators of the blast thanks to the help of a defense attorney (Emma Thompson) who uncovers files hidden during the trial. But the film’s “happy” ending comes at the end of a long, tragic road that has its roots in a century of Anglo-Irish warfare, corruption, and violence. Conlon might achieve some measure of peace by the end, but it comes at a terrible cost all the same. 

The Magdalene SistersSo-called “Magdalene asylums” (also known as Magdalene laundries) could be found throughout the world, but they were founded in Ireland, and the country is still most strongly associated with them, perhaps because of the influence of this 2002 film directed by Peter Mullan. The asylums were a Catholic home for “fallen” women, and the film’s four protagonists—Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy, and Eileen Walsh—have either been sexually active or are presumed to be, so they’re sent to an asylum run by Sister Bridget, who keeps up appearances but terrorizes the girls when she feels they deserve it. (As Bridget, Geraldine McEwan attracted a fair share of awards attention.) The women have been thrown into a hell of both physical and sexual abuse, simply because they live in a culture that doesn’t tolerate sexually active single women—even if they’re raped, as is the case for Duff. Magdalene closes with most of the women overcoming their adversity (save for one who spends the rest of her days in a mental institution), but the film paints an unforgiving portrait of a culture so sexually repressed that it would rather hide its problems in a hellhole than address them.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Ireland's 'austerity' is working - for profits

By Michael Burke

The Central Statistical Office (CSO) has produced its latest institutional sector accounts for the Irish economy in 2011. The title would suggest they are among the driest economic data possible - from a long list. In fact they are among the most important data available because they reveal the sources of income for all the main sectors, or classes, operating in Irish society.

This situation in Ireland is not unique and it actually represents a specific combination of general trends that apply in all the capitalist economies. The CSO has simply set these out with unusual clarity.

The chart below shows the profits of non-financial firms operating in the Irish economy (Figure 1), as well as the profit share, that is profits as a proportion of total Gross Value Added (GVA). GVA is the same as GDP, except the effects of subsidies and taxes on production are excluded.

Figure 1
12 11 10 Chart 1

The profit share has been rising since 2008. This is when ‘austerity’ policies were first adopted in Ireland. This is not coincidental. Clearly the purpose of policy is not to foster economic growth. GDP data in Ireland is highly distorted by the activities of overseas multinational corporations operating in
 Ireland who falsely book activity in order to avail themselves of ultra-low corporate tax rates.

Domestic demand (primarily personal consumption, government spending and investment) has fallen continuously for 4½ years and is now 25.6% below its peak in 2007.

The stated aim of policy is to reduce the government budget deficit. However as the separate National Income and Expenditure Accounts for 2011 show from 2008 to 2011 government current receipts have fallen by €6.3bn while current expenditure has risen by just €0.5bn, a total increase in the deficit of a little over €6.8bn despite all the fierce ‘austerity’ measures (Table 21). The current budget deficit is that part of the public sector accounts which ‘austerity’ is supposed to be addressing, yet the deficit on this measure has risen from 2.2% of GDP over that time to 6.7%. Yet this policy will be maintained even though its stated objective is not being achieved.

In fact the total public sector deficit has only stabilized because the government has cut its own investment over the same period, by nearly 60%. This has exacerbated the total decline in investment (Gross Fixed Capital Formation) which has fallen at the same rate. The decline in GFCF significantly exceeds the fall in GDP. Investment has fallen by €23.6bn in the recession, compared to a fall of €14.6bn in GDP.

This hoarding of capital - a refusal to invest - is the source of the recession. A government committed to boosting the profits of the private sector would reduce benefits and pay in the public sector in order to lower private sector wages. This is what mainstream economists refer to as a ‘demonstration effect’ . At the same time the government would reduce its own investments, say in schools, hospitals, housing or transport in order to facilitate private sector investment at a later date. This is the content of current policy.

Investment has declined throughout the crisis, even after profits have begun to recover. The chart below shows the level of investment of non-financial corporations versus GVA, and the relationship between the two which the CSO calls the investment rate.

Figure 2
12 11 10 Chart 2

But another way of expressing the investment rate is as a proportion of total profits. The chart below shows non-financial firms’ profits versus the level of investment. Profits have risen from their low-point of just over €39bn in 2009 to €46.3bn in 2011, close to the peak in 2007. At the same time the level of investment has fallen by €9.4bn (all expressed in nominal terms, not taking inflation into account).

Figure 3
12 11 10 Chart 3

To put this in perspective firms operating in Ireland formerly invested about one-third of their profits before the crisis. Even this investment rate was very low by international standards. In 2011 the investment rate on this measure was that about one-seventh of all profits were invested. This is also below non-financial firms rate of capital consumption, which was €8bn in 2011. They are producing profits but not forming any new capital.

Yet this cause of the crisis points to its own resolution. A €15bn increase in investment would restore all the output lost in the recession. A larger increase would be required to restore the entire loss of investment. The alternative is to allow firms to continue to hoard capital, with all the consequent damage to the economy, living standards and jobs that entails. At some point in the future they are likely to resume investment even on current trends. But that would required an increase in the profit rate and, with the economy stagnating, that could only arise if living standards and wages are driven even lower.

1 comment:

Eamonn Moran said...
Hi Michael
The most important sentence in your article was "GDP data in Ireland is highly distorted by the activities of overseas multinational corporations operating in
Ireland who falsely book activity in order to avail themselves of ultra-low corporate tax rates."

This is precisely correct so drawing any conclusions about the Irish economy based on the profits from these companies is almost meaningless as the vast majority is repatriated.
What am I missing?