It happened again this week. When I heard the news, I felt like the female lead in a melodrama who doesn’t want her lover to continue talking because she knows the words are empty. ”No. Don’t speak. Don’t Speak. I’ve been hurt too many times. Don’t TORTURE me with hope!” After the bumping and grinding along the bottom that the Irish economy has done over the last five years, I don’t think I could take another emotional swing. I don’t want to hear any more talk of corners being turned. The geometric progression of our recovery has turned corners in such an odd way, at this stage we must be in the middle of an Escher painting.
What happened this week was that Ireland is ‘technically’ out of recession. ‘Technically’ is always a guarded term. I often say to someone ‘Technically you’re right’ when I mean they’re wrong. And even if ‘technically’ we’re out of a recession, the margins are so fine, that even if our exports are hanging in there, surely we are just one drug-coming-off-patent away from more recession. Over the last year and a half our growth rates have been: -0.5%,+0.5%, -0.8%, -0.2%, -0.6% +0.4%. And we need to remember a small little arithmetic fact. A percentage decrease is bigger than a percentage increase. But still are there even a few green shoots forcing their way out of the crumbling brickwork of the corner?
I’m probably the wrong person to ask because a) I don’t have any expertise and b) I’m a bit of a pessimist. The Consumer Confidence Index people should probably not interview me because I’ll skew their stats. Even in 2007, when the CCI reached a peak of around 130 at the start of this century (it’s about 67 now), my “we’ll see now if I pass the exams first then I’ll know if I’ve anything to spend” attitude would probably have sent it crashing.
I don’t like to think about green shoots until they’ve matured into cash crops. To continue the rustic metaphor – one swallow does not make a summer. I won’t relax until I see flocks of swallows putting their fledglings through college and investing in second and third nests in Bulgaria. (And then rent them out to cuckoos.)
Pessimism has advantages. It’s great for small talk. One is rarely disappointed. When a disaster is avoided, it becomes a mini-triumph. It’s not a triumph for long though. A pessimist doesn’t trust triumphs, seeing them as traps laid by Murphy and his Law.
But perhaps I should at least enjoy the tangibly good things. Laud the tourism boom for what it is rather than anxiously scouring Icelandic volcano sites for impending ash clouds. (apparently there was a ‘minor earthquake swarm’ at the Öræfajökull volcano. I’m sure it’s nothing but …) Agriculture is flying. Let’s not worry for the moment about more oil shocks.
And even I can grudgingly admit that when amortisation and the exports of multinationals were taken into account, this week there was a small, seasonally adjusted, normalised, after-tax increase in good news.
The DOW passed an all-time high (albeit on good news about more pretendy money), the Bank of England raised the forecast, the German investor confidence exceeded expectations. Is this good feeling because we’ve had a good summer? There has to be some benefit to sunshine. Anyone looking at heating bills in the last month will note that we’ve got a hell of a lot of joules for free since the June Bank Holiday. Or is it just a general change of attitude? According to an early advocate of neuro linguistic programming, Prince Hamlet of Denmark, nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so. Not that he followed his own advice – preferring to focus on the negative in his life – slain cuckolded father and lost inheritance – rather than the positive: being handy with a soliloquy, girlfriend, living in a house with battlements.
Or is it simply just time? Five years in and we’ve had enough . Even the pessimist – who normal see green shoots and leaves – eventually looks at his watch and says – Ok – That’s enough misery for one economic cycle.
Time to water the shoots.
This article was first published in the Sunday Business Post on September 22nd