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|IMF fail to fix what ails Ireland|
When I was about ten, I was diagnosed with asthma. I was given an inhaler, one of those tubes you have to blow into to measure your lung capacity, and an amount of information and fact sheets along the lines of “So, you’ve become dust’s bitch” that would have stunned an ox. There was just one problem: I wasn’t asthmatic.
After the initial diagnosis my health was getting worse if anything, and every time my mother and I protested as much, I was fussed around by confused doctors like I was The Six Million Dollar Technology: “We can rebuild him, we have the technology...we just have to give him more asthma stuff.” Eventually we just decided to unilaterally stop using the inhaler, the lung capacity thingamajig and everything else, and sure enough, I got better.
Turns out I had just a standard level of childhood sickness for a kid with glasses as thick as mine, but after I was diagnosed something weird started happening. Loads of children who I knew from school also started being diagnosed with asthma. Like, loads of them. It seemed if you had a cough, splutter, took a drink and a bit went down the wrong way or got a bruise in the shin, asthma was probably the problem. People started to wonder what the hell was going on.
Why am I telling you all this? Because it feels like some of those childhood diagnosticians have given up medicine for economics, and ditched their MDs in favor of the IMF. Recently it was announced that the International Monetary Fund, Ireland’s economic proctologist, wanted more cuts to social welfare payments, child benefit, raising a property tax and, their most bristly resolution, removing the automatic right for old age pensioners to have a medical card.
The IMF was set up after World War 2 with the intention to help and invest in countries in perilous economic situations. In more recent times, it has become the ultimate arbiter of asymmetric free market policy, the adherents of which believe they are the only show in town. So, when the IMF detail countries to make such structural changes, they do it not entirely out of sheer bean counting necessity, but ideological prerogative and zeal. Ireland is sick alright, but asthma medicine isn’t going to make us better.
What Ireland has needed for years and needs now more than ever is wise investment made in the right areas. The free market notion that if you throw enough money at it things will cascade into their natural positions is simply not viable or practical. Every decision made at government level effects many others and all a cut in the dole payments will do is make it harder for people to live rather than easier for people get a decent job, because the investment simply isn’t there. A wiser use of the government’s time and money would be to make the social welfare system more comprehensible. As it stands, if I was on the dole but got a couple of weeks of stand-alone, temporary work, I wouldn’t have my money deducted for the few weeks, as would be the rational thing to do. Instead, you have to sign off, and then undergo the whole desperate rigmarole again when you’re done as if you’ve never been in the office before. It’s a small example but one that exemplifies the wider logic gaps and inefficiencies of that department, and the government as a whole.
To paraphrase the Hippocratic oath, “first do no harm”. But, in even given the IMF’s best intentions, their fundamental wrong-headedness in dealing with economic crisis is doing just that. Cuts, hikes and universal entitlement revocations is the wrong medicine for the wrong symptoms, at the wrong place at the wrong time. I truly hope the IMF will realize that flinging an inhaler at us will not solve all our ills, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.