Irish Economy: In 1986 Sir Robert Armstrong, UK Cabinet Secretary, used a euphemism for lying that had its origin in 1796 — "economical with the truth" — during a court case in Australia on the British government's request for a ban on a book by a former spy. The admission by Enda Kenny, taoiseach, this week that his past claims that Patrick Honohan, Central Bank governor, had suggested on a Wednesday in some undated week that the Army could be required to protect banks and ATM machines, from expected mobs in the streets, were not correct, appears to be an admission of a lie rather than tailoring the truth. It also highlights the corrosive impact of political spin.


Enda Kenny had said in a speech in Madrid at a conference of the European Peoples Party on 22 Oct:

We were over the edge. The Governor of the Central Bank in Ireland said to me: "it looks like this'll have to put army around the banks and around the ATM machines and introduce capital controls like they had in Cyprus." So we've pulled back from that brink.

The Irish Times reported that Kenny’s spokesman said a conversation took place with Prof Honohan “around the grave situation our banks were in and the necessity to make security plans.”

Patrick Honohan has been reported as saying all sorts of ideas were discussed when pressure came on the State’s banking system but having the Army on standby at ATM machines was “not territory the Central Bank is or was involved in.”

The Journal has reported that on 7 Oct, Kenny told attendees at a Fine Gael breakfast fundraiser in Dublin:

It was more interesting when the head of the Central Bank came in on a Wednesday and said: "I have to tell you Taoiseach that it’s probably likely that you will have to put the army around the ATM machines on Friday. We may well have to print money, we may well have to introduce capital controls, this is not going to be nice."

A warning on a Wednesday of an expected crisis involving attacks on banks two days later — and it was just a fantasy!

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), the renowned Irish-born parliamentarian and political thinker, was in poor health in 1796 when he wrote one of his letters on the French Revolution that were published as 'Letters on a Regicide Peace.' Oeconomy was the archaic spelling of economy.

In this crisis I must hold my tongue, or I must speak with freedom. Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatever: but, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an oeconomy of truth. It is a sort of temperance, by which a man speaks truth with measure that he may speak it the longer. But, as the same rules do not hold in all cases, what would be right for you, who may presume on a series of years before you, would have no sense for me, who cannot, without absurdity, calculate on six months of life.

Electorates in several countries are turning to individuals who appear to offer an authenticity that is seen as lacking in mainstream politicians. It is also true that being honest in modern politics can be a liability while some of the new prophets also have clay feet.

George Orwell, Ireland, spin, politicalGeorge Orwell (1903-1950, born Eric Blair) wrote two classic novels with totalitarianism as themes: Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

Squealer the pig is in charge of propaganda in Animal Farm, and in today's parlance would be called a spin doctor.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the character Syme is working on the definitive eleventh edition of a dictionary of Newspeak, a language of words that would not become obsolete before 2050. "'Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it," Syme says to Winston Smith.

George Orwell wrote in 1946:

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.

Michael Kinsley, an American journalist, wrote in Time magazine in 2007:

It used to be, there was truth and there was falsehood. Now there is spin and there are gaffes. Spin is often thought to be synonymous with falsehood or lying, but more accurately it is indifference to the truth. A politician engaged in spin is saying what he or she wishes were true, and sometimes, by coincidence, it is. Meanwhile, a gaffe, it has been said, is when a politician tells the truth — or more precisely, when he or she accidentally reveals something truthful about what is going on in his or her head. A gaffe is what happens when the spin breaks down.

In 2005 an almost two decades-old paper by Harry G. Frankfurt (b. 1929), a renowned moral philosopher and emeritus professor of philosophy at Princeton University, was published as a book with the title "On Bullshit."

"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit," Prof Frankfurt began and argued that bullshit is a bigger enemy of the truth than lies while some bullshit is the truth.

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction [ ] Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are. One who is concerned to report or to conceal the facts assumes that there are indeed facts that are in some way both determinate and knowable. His interest in telling the truth or in lying presupposes that there is a difference between getting things wrong and getting them right, and that it is at least occasionally possible to tell the difference. Someone who ceases to believe in the possibility of identifying certain statements as true and others as false can have only two alternatives. The first is to desist both from efforts to tell the truth and from efforts to deceive. This would mean refraining from making any assertion whatever about the facts. The second alternative is to continue making assertions that purport to describe the way things are but that cannot be anything except bullshit.

Political spin, lies and bullshit

The current Irish government is not the first one to be addicted to spin and it is reflected in policy documents where there is an aversion to acknowledging weaknesses or downsides.

SWOT analysis — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — is rare.

In an April 2013 official report on manufacturing, the term strengths appears 49 times; weakness or weaknesses got no mention. 

Michael Noonan, finance minister, said in his Budget speech this month that the upcoming centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, was an opportunity to reflect on the journey travelled over the past 100 years. "The banking, fiscal and economic crisis of recent years will rank as one of the greatest of such challenges. But we have emerged from this challenge too and we are on a new path," he added.

The historical claim of current leaders to historical ranking over the span of 100 years was bad enough but the claim of 100% credit for the recovery to the wisdom of ministers since March 2011, to the exclusion of everything else including the role of Mario Draghi, ECB president, in the dramatic fall in government bond yields, suggests that ministers with their self-belief in their Midas touch, are unlikely to waste time on challenging long-term issues.

The current bankruptcy is not one of a shortage of treasury cash but the lack of ideas and vision.

Spin, lies and bullshit will not fill this vacuum.

Irish Politics: Scraps on tax & welfare in place of vision

Ireland a low-tax country; Kenny wants radical income tax cuts

Dutch house price doubled in 350 years; Irish prices in 20 years

Pic on top: An officer of the Irish Army reads the Easter 1916 Proclamation at the General Post Office, Dublin, April 2015.