Jim ‘The’ Power and The Benign Dictatorship of the Invisible Hand

Jim ‘The’ Power, economist, and regular panellist and expert in Irish broadcast media, including public broadcaster RTE, gives his assessment of the lows of 2012:

“Budget 2013, you know, had to be the low point, from a number of perspectives, you know, we’re taking three and a half billion out of an economy in recession, and with a lot of that money going to pay debt that was built up as the result of the collapse of the banking system, so that was pretty depressing, but what I found even more depressing about it was the reaction to the budget. It caused me to sort of question if this country has actually become ungovernable, and it also causes me to question if we actually have too much democracy in this country. Is it way too diluted [sic]? Would we be better off with a little bit of benign dictatorship? Em..not a very popular view, but it is going to be increasingly difficult I think for whatever government is in power to actually do the things that need to be done.”

The first thing that strikes me on hearing this is the apparent contradiction.   

To expand on what Jim ‘The’ Power says in the first part of his assessment, Budget 2013 meant cuts in public spending -spending on health, education and social welfare, among other things- inflicting unbearable burdens on many of the weakest people in Irish society. That is, people who had no part in the collapse of the banking system are being forced to pay with blood, sweat, tears, and even their lives, in order to maintain the health of a financial system that ensures unaccountable and unelected elites enjoy decisive political power. And, as establishment politicians never cease to remind the population, Ireland has lost its sovereignty and must submit to the will of the Troika. Whatever this is, it is not democracy. 

So, there appears to be a contradiction: how can Jim ‘The’ Power (whose public profile as an economist rose during the property boom, when he worked for a firm that sold insurance packages to mortgage buyers, a fact that was no impediment to him being conferred the status of impartial expert by RTE) lament the absence of democracy and then, seconds later, complain that there is too much of it? 

The answer is that Jim ‘The’ Power is not lamenting the absence of democracy. Rather, he is giving voice to a loss of national-corporatist pride, in terms of divine punishment. 

Recall that economists have replaced priests in Irish public life as the impartial voice of guidance and instruction, viz.

Power’s reasoning goes something like this. Ireland is a small open economy. We are a small open economy. There is a thing called the free market. It is guided by an invisible hand. When it lifts us -we, the economy- up, it is because we have been good. When it strikes us -we, the economy- down, it is a cause for penitence, not for insubordination. 

When the invisible hand, or God, for short, inflicts His punishment, it is because you have done something bad. Punishment is not cause for joy, but for sorrow. But since God’s love is eternal, any punishment he inflicts is in the interest of our redemption. 

That is why Jim ‘The’ Power thinks that the reaction to the budget was worse than the budget itself. We are not supposed to complain. We are supposed to accept His verdict unquestioningly, lest we incur His wrath further.

The curious thing is that there has not been a great deal of insubordination. A few protests, maybe, and a social media moral panic, but no strikes or anything like that. Union leaders are happy to work for a better, fairer way according to God’s Word (which also entails accepting His punishment). So not much much there that might give God cause for concern. 

But don’t take my word for it; just check out God’s verdict as expressed in Ireland’s benchmark bond yield. And yes, it would be blasphemous to entertain the thought that a billionaire bond trader called Michael Hasenstab is the Son of God.

So what is going on then? Is Jim ‘The’ Power a turbulent priest? The problem of a democratic surfeit is as old as economics itself, and whilst Jim ‘The’ Power might have a clodhopping tongue, he is clumsily articulating what other popular economist clerics in the priestly caste are too smooth to give voice to, but maintain nonetheless: that Democracy is but a temporary concession from the Invisible Hand.

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