Irish Economy
Ireland: Government's spin and lies damage the economy
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Jan 19, 2015 - 8:01 AM

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Ireland: Six years ago last week Anglo Irish Bank was nationalised and as the belated Oireachtas Banking Inquiry trundles along mainly rehashing old news, enduring government spin and lies that damage the economy, were also on display. By Saturday, old-style Irish political journalism, which has much in common with the sports variety, was also on display, and Stephen Collins, political editor of The Irish Times, judged that the governing coalition had recovered its "nerve."

"The message from Kenny and his senior ministers was that the economic recovery has provided the Government with a strong message to sell but they need to do a much better job of it," Collins wrote.

Update: Ireland: Government explains how it understates recession job losses

It did not matter to Collins and others that Enda Kenny, taoiseach/ prime minister, could say:

  • On March 13, 2014 that the Government planned to achieve full employment and replace "all 330,000 jobs lost during the recession with new jobs by 2020" - the 330,000 which came from an official report refers to 2008-2012;
  • On January 13, 2015:  "Two hundred and fifty thousand jobs were destroyed in just three years" — this suggests the period 2008-2010. The 2011 general election was held in February;
  • On January 14, 2015: “Our goal is that all of the 250,000 jobs that were lost during the recession will be able to be restored and that’s why, at the suggestion of both myself and the tánaiste, Cabinet agreed to bring forward plans from 2020 to be implemented by 2018 to achieve full employment.”

It appears from the official press release and the print media reports at least, that there was no explanation as to why a) the 250,000 total conflicts with Central Statistics Office (CSO) data b) the rate of unemployment that implies 'full employment' and why the rate would be higher than in the bubble period.

We covered this issue last week and we're awaiting an official explanation as to how 80,000 job losses could be magiced away.

Some ministers lie when they claim that Double Irish tax-avoidance related services exports reflect "competitiveness" but when jobs data is manipulated to fit a revised full employment target, wonder how many members of last Wednesday's so-called "Jobs Cabinet" had anymore information than members of the public?

Why would any political party use honest election manifesto cost data when a  government behaves like this?

We know too why Michael Noonan, finance minister, refused to give the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council any role in costing election proposals.

"Lies, damned lies, and statistics" is a phrase popularised by Mark Twain (1835-1910), the American writer, and distortions caused by the foreign multinational sector can give political charlatans some latitude.

In the US the National Bureau of Economic Research‘s Business Cycle Dating Committee which decides on when a recession starts and ends doesn't just rely on GDP (gross domestic product) data contractions in two consecutive quarters.  It also looks at other indicators and in Ireland's case, in 2008-2011, employment was lower in each of the four years compared with the preceding one while it was flat in 2012.

Ireland: Kenny gets sums wrong on jobs - missing 60,000 - almost 60,000, based on Finfacts research.

The idiot/ eejit's guide to distorted Irish national economic data

Last week we also provided an example from trade where ministerial spin is damaging to economic development, with its emphasis on self-congratulation coupled with agency chiefs who seldom stray from the official line, in a system where there is little evidence-based decision making.

Ireland has 4,000 exporters, Denmark has 30,000

Spin and lies

The Sydney Morning Herald reported last May that in May 2010, Tony Abbott now Australian prime minister — then opposition leader — was being interviewed over a promise he had made not to increase taxes — a promise he then broke in a budget reply speech by pledging to fund his paid parental leave scheme with a new tax.

[Lathered in sweat and frustrated with O'Brien's relentless pursuit, Abbott uttered the now immortal gaffe:

"I know politicians are going to be judged on everything they say, but sometimes in the heat of discussion you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark," he stammered.

"Which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth are those carefully prepared, scripted remarks."]

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.”

Spin and the big lie are not new but spin has earned a toxic reputation for conventional politicians.

Adolf Hitler was a practitioner of the big lie and in his book 'Mein Kampf' noted:

that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily, and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods."

George 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.

What George Orwell described in 1946 as "euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness" can be found in the common use of the term "world-class" in Ireland, which was vividly illustrated by an Irish Times report on 10 Oct, 2010 titled: "Fás board to agree plan for new 'world-class' skills body".

A year before, the heads of Trinity College and University College Dublin announced an innovation alliance with bromides such as: "world-class ecosystem," "world-class graduates" and "visionary job creation plan."

The putative alliance was in fact still-born despite the bullshit!

As for "excellence" and the ubiquitous "centres of excellence," this vague terminology is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.

George Orwell 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."

The enduring addiction to spin in Irish politics, also reflects a lack of confidence and self-belief.

George Orwell, bullshit and 2015 New Year resolution for Irish Government


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