Ireland:

As queer as a jobless recovery

Presseurop
10 February 2011

Ireland is in “recovery”. Such is the sage counsel of NCB, “one of Ireland's largest independent securities firms” and “a leading provider of institutional equities, wealth management and corporate finance services to our clients for over 25 years.” NCB has just produced a 104-page opus entitled “Ireland Moves Forward” (IMF for short, notes Jason Walsh @newswhip). Chirpy corporate titles about going forwards often make me think backwards, but before one gets too cheeky, let’s have a look.

Well, house prices will continue to fall, Irish gross debt to rise to 113% of GDP by 2013, the banks are insolvent and illiquid but for state and EU support, sovereign debt restructuring can’t be ruled out, emigration will emigrate and employment will “contract” i.e., there won’t be any. But wait. NCB, whose “philosophy is simple and is based on a commitment to putting the interests of our clients first and Irish people last” (are you sure about the last four words? – ed), sees green shoots. “We like Irish bonds which mature before June 2013.” Pray why? “They are essentially guaranteed by the EU/IMF.” To whom the Irish state owes 85 billion euros. How will it pay?

“The potential for the State to dispose of certain of its assets is something that has been on the agenda for some time and certainly prior to the EU/IMF funding package.” Hmm, I’m not sure what that means. Could you be a bit more specific? “We identity a number of assets which could be sold including those in the areas of forestry, energy, networks and ports, the household cutlery, the shirts off your back.” (not sure about those last two items, please check – ed).

As Flann O’Brien once wrote, Ireland is indeed a queer old country, and there are a number of old expressions that denote the strangeness or the unusualness of things. One of them is, “a tree full of fish”, another – “a bottle of crisps”. And NCB, whose customers includes “major institutional investors” and “high net worth private clients” (will they fork out for a forest or a nice port? I wonder), must shake their heads at the topsy-turvy world we’re living in when in the midst of crisis “Irish exports increased to the highest figure ever recorded in 2010, increasing 7%”!

But what could be queerer than the NCB’s conclusion that we will have “a jobless recovery in 2011”, a phrase that dominated the headlines yesterday. Unlike the NCB, with its “superior service and ideas”, I am unable to conceive of the notion of recovery where there are no jobs, in the same way that I cannot imagine doctors advising patients that they can look forward to recovering, except they won’t be alive. But maybe I’m mistaken since “securities firms” like NCB produce nothing, and yet conjure up money like so many trees full of fish.