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News : Irish Last Updated: Apr 24, 2009 - 5:31:05 PM

Irish Economy: Comment - Cowen calls for "political will and action" on day recession is confirmed.
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Sep 26, 2008 - 8:58:59 AM

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The sign "The Buck Stops Here" was on President Harry Truman's desk in the White House Oval Office (1945-1953). On the reverse side, i.e. the side that Truman saw, it was inscribed, "I'm from Missouri". That's a short form of "I'm from Missouri. Show me". Natives of that state (a.k.a. the Show Me State), which included Truman, were known for their skeptical nature. As President Truman said, "The President – whoever he is – has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job."

The saying "the buck stops here" derives from the slang expression "pass the buck" which means passing the responsibility on to someone else. The latter expression is said to have originated with the game of poker, in which a marker or counter, frequently in frontier days a knife with a buckhorn handle, was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If the player did not wish to deal he could pass the responsibility by passing the "buck," as the counter came to be called, to the next player.

Irish Economy: Taoiseach Brian Cowen was at the United Nations in New York on Thursday, when data confirmed that Ireland is in recession and in an address, he called for "political will and action" but he was talking about an issue where he can have an almost zero impact.

President Harry Truman remarked in 1958: "It's a recession when your neighbour loses his job; it's a depression when you lose yours." One of America's presidents of consequence (1945-1953) also once asked : "How many times do you have to be beat over the head before you figure out who's hitting you?" He displayed a sign on his desk which read: The Buck Stops Here - - it would be a shock for an Irish political leader to act in such a spirit.

Truman's predecessor Herbert Hoover, had chosen the word "Depression" for the economic calamity that was ushered in at the close of the Roaring Twenties, because it sounded less frightening than "panic" "crisis" or "bust." Those were very tough times and the President who began his term saying: "Americans are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of the land,” ended it according to the final entry in the diary of his secretary/chief of staff Theodore Joslin, on March 3, 1933 - - the day before Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn into office - - in despair and hopelessness. The final line quotes the President (described by Joslin as “angry and depressed,” ) saying “'We are at the end of our string.’” Those were times without any safety net but have no doubt that while today, we are looking at a different scale, there will be/are victims of the incompetence/negligence of political leadership, in many countries including Ireland.

In today's urbanised money economy, the fear of running out of money is indeed very scary. The evocative line in Harper Lee's celebrated 1962 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, where the character Atticus Finch says to his young daughter: "If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it," was a reference to racism in the American South but it also has application elsewhere. I had some personal experience myself at the time of the dot-com bust although I hadn't bought into that false dawn, which many had fallen for.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said in New York on Thursday, that it was “nothing short of scandalous” that there are over 860 million hungry people in the world today.

Cowen was speaking at a high-level UN summit in New York today called by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon to reaffirm commitments to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

“We do not need to make further pledges if we just deliver on what we have already promised,” he told the assembled world leaders.

“The commitments and the know-how are already there. It is the political will and action that will make the difference in the fight against hunger,” he added.

Back home, his Finance Minister Brain Lenihan emphasised the impact of the international credit crisis on Ireland: "Ireland is an exceptionally open economy and the deterioration in the global climate in the past year has had a major impact here," he said.

This from the people who acted as if they had invented the free lunch!

So Cowen expresses concern about world hunger in New York, but at home there is little likelihood that he or any colleague will take responsibility for being so unprepared for a slowdown in the world economy and the misery it will unnecessarily visit on so many people.

<Irish Economy: Irish media and holding ministers to account>

Last week, Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg said on NBC's Meet the Press:"We all were happy when the stock market was going up, we were all happy when there was all this money sloshing around in the economy, and everybody could get a loan whether they could pay it back or not. When companies went out and bought other companies and people got great bonuses, it was great. And nobody wanted to say, “Wait a second, this can’t go on forever.” I’m happy to say in New York, at least, we didn’t think it was going to go on forever and for the last couple years we’ve been salting away money. I don’t know that we’ve salted away enough, but we’ve been saying again and again nothing goes up in a straight line forever."

Cowen suggests that a government should only be concerned with the short-term
"The policies which we pursued in the past, which saw growth rates in excess of the average, which saw the economy outperforming most other countries in the EU in other times, were the correct policies for those times," Cowen said in Edinburgh on Friday Sept 26, 2008.

In Ireland, planning ahead is not our style and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern who wondered in July 2007 why "cribbers" about the Irish economy didn't commit suicide, will jet to Seoul, South Korea in October to address a conference titled: Solutions on Uncertainty 2009.

Isn't it good in these uncertain times, to have a sense of humour, at least!

“Brand Ireland is not broken”
Health Minister Mary Harney said on Thursday that “Brand Ireland is not broken” - - as her political party is in the process of being wound up,  the penny hasn't dropped that slogans, which do not reflect reality, are just marketing spoof.

“The Ireland story was never about replacing crony capitalism with casino capitalism. Ireland’s 20-year-old story is not a speculative play,” she told a lunch hosted by the Irish Brokers’ Association.

“It is, and has always been, about competing in international markets,”she said.

Such efforts were not about “greed or casino capitalism”, she said, but
“honest-to-God hard work and deserved success”.

The answer to Ireland’s economic problems was “strategic resilience,” Harney said.

“There are huge markets internationally for us to compete in and win: the pharmaceutical industry, medical devices, the high-end agri and food sector, information technology, communications, financial services, biotechnology, education services,” she said.

“None of these real markets have disappeared… [So] let the message go out: ‘Brand Ireland is not broken,’” Harney said.

Thank you America for all those world class companies but Harney was happy to be a cheerleader for tax cuts during the construction boom, while lacking the bottle to push for reform. Her party, the Progressive Democrats, became defunct because it had no record of significant reform. The "crony capitalism" she spoke about is alive and well while there has been neither worthwhile reform in the "messenger-boy" political system nor the public service.

Waffle is no substitute for a barren record.

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