Archive for February, 2009

I’d Prefer Not To

Slavoj Žižek’s Bartleby Politics and the Economic Crisis | The Exception Magazine

The second and most popular response to the current crisis is to blame it on the greed of the bankers and financial speculators (‘looting stars’), and to call for a more moral form of capitalism that puts an end to ‘casino banking […] murdering honest-to-God commercial banking’ and ensures ‘that capitalism will be arranged more fairly in future’. Understandable as it is, to blame rapacious CEOs as the central causal agent of the current dilemma is politically misleading and factually wrong.

Indeed, the vast majority of “greedy” managers have acted in conformity with the imperatives of the system, insofar as their primary responsibility within this system is neither to serve their customers, nor to look after the common good, but to make profit (and enough of it to stay afloat and keep their shareholders happy). Far from being a pathological preference of the individual entrepreneur, ‘the production of surplus-value, or the making of profits, is the absolute law of this mode of production’. That the bankers dealt with “toxic credits”, rather than with “honest-to-God” products, did not matter so long as the going was good. On the contrary, their financial wizardry triggered waves of rapture while the social standing of hedge-fund managers reached staggering heights.

Now that things have turned sour, we ought to abstain from the ubiquitous lament over the usual suspects – greedy managers, incompetent government, the idle rich –, step back for a moment – ‘don’t just do something, talk!’, as Žižek puts it – and turn to the elementary question why the banks were able to act so irresponsibly in the first place, knowingly dealing with “toxic assets” from subprime mortgages and collateralized debt obligations to credit default swaps and other “derivatives.” In fact, why they had to act like this.

I added the bold. ‘Bartleby politics’ sounds a bit gimmicky for my tastes, but the article is a useful corrective to getting hung up on golden circles, politicians showing manly leadership, multi-million pound pension pots for senior executives, and so on.

The Republican We

Time finally to tackle our blatant failings – The Irish Times – Tue, Feb 24, 2009

We cannot fail as a nation, as a people, in some pyrrhic victory. Let us be stark bloody naked together.

I’d rather not. There’s something about all this talk about ‘we’ ‘as a nation’ that I find mathematically offensive. Let’s say that everyone who is an Irish citizen is a member of the Irish nation. Unless we are to invoke magic, that means that any statement regarding what ‘we as a nation’ ought to do must be true of each and every Irish citizen. But to be honest, I’m just not all that comfortable about standing in the buff alongside Brendan Kilkenny, Peter Sutherland and yo mama.

Adds: thinking this through, I may be wrong. After all, if someone says ‘we as a nation need to inseminate more pigs this year’, they don’t mean a visit to the farm for everyone, just for those among us whom we have designated pig inseminators. So there is a question of context I had not addressed. But in the context of the article, the sense still appears to be that we -you, me and Enya- should stand exposed.

Specifically General

U2 on the move again after their lost decade – The Irish Times – Fri, Feb 20, 2009

It is a tribute to this album that it can be described without reference to the virtues of individual songs.

Or, the dog ate the tracklisting.

More Power To Vote Elbow

Some reasons why the Brit Awards are so uncool | Opinion | The First Post

The pandering to the public vote is completely uncool. Who gives a fuck what the public thinks? It may well afford the recipient the opportunity to get up and say with absolute ease “this award means more to me than anything…”. but the hyper-enfranchising of the public is the worst thing in modern life. “Send your tweets in now”, “be a part of the debate”, “get phoning”, “it’s your turn to get involved” – the ultimate in dread expressions. The sheer anxiety on the Brits website to reassure us that the awards are not just voted for by ‘industry insiders’! Whenever the reach of an award is enlarged to involve you the people, they carry on as though it’s the Magna Carta. You, The real members of the public! Yes you too can vote. (But only for Girls Aloud and Elbow.)

Well said.

Now You’re Stalking

For those who give a toss, I am now on Twitter. Good grief.

Let Me Count The Ways

Disappointingly, the five million ways are not enumerated. But anyway.

Ireland Today

Via Notes On The Front. Brilliant.



When Kurt Cobain in his suicide note quoted Neil Young’s ‘it’s better to burn out than to fade away’, I assumed he was being desperately ironic. I mean, he was a fairly decent lyricist himself, and hardly a stranger to deploying irony. It seemed unlikely to me at the time that he would have interpreted Neil Young’s lyric as a mere declaration of  a natural fact.  Then I remember hearing Courtney Love reading that line in the note sobbing ‘this is not true’ as though she herself, a fairly astute lyricist, considered that Cobain was being sincere. The phrase subsequently became emblematic in the popular imagination of Cobain’s character, and was adopted by generations of anguished straggle-haired teens before they went off to study accountancy and engineering. Looking back I have to wonder if I was wrong and he wrote it because that was what he really thought at the time.

Anyway, what I am wondering on the back of this is if I have a general difficulty with gauging if someone is being ironic or not. I think I may be excessively inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt on such matters, that when they use a particularly barbarous phrase, they are most likely being ironic, or sardonic. The particular example here is that of Ireland Inc. Any time until recently I have heard someone say this, I have imagined they are making some reference to the fact that what exists is not a democratic republic, but a form of capitalistic corporation, and that this is a bad thing.

But listening to the radio of late, I realise I may be wrong on this. There was someone on Morning Ireland this morning, can’t remember who, talking about international confidence in Ireland Inc. But the terms in which he made his remarks appeared to indicate he thought that Ireland Inc. was a plain fact, just as there is no irony in the facts that Paris is the capital of France, eczema is a condition of itchy skin, and so on, and that what had to be done was whatever was best for Ireland Inc.

And then I read this:


35 WHEREAS a serious disturbance in the economy and a decline in the economic circumstances of the State have occurred, which
threaten the well-being of the community;
AND WHEREAS as a consequence a serious deterioration in the revenues of the State has occurred and there are significant and increasing Exchequer commitments in respect of public service pensions;
AND WHEREAS it is necessary to cut current Exchequer spending substantially to demonstrate to the international financial markets that public expenditure is being significantly controlled so as to ensure continued access to international funding, and to protect the State’s credit rating and reverse the erosion of the State’s international competitiveness;
AND WHEREAS the burden of job losses and salary reductions in the private sector has been very substantial and it is equitable that
the public sector should share that burden;
AND WHEREAS it is necessary to take the measures in this Act as part of a range of measures to address the economic crisis;
AND WHEREAS the value of public service pensions is significantly and markedly more favourable than those generally available in other employment—

It began to dawn on me that Ireland Inc. really exists. Looking beyond the wherases, the content of what is outlined could be easily lifted from a corporate memo.

Think of a corporation with multiple divisions engaged in the production of different items. When total revenue falls, investors want to see what executives are doing to maintain profitability. This normally means making cuts on capital expenditure and jobs. If revenue falls 10%, then investors are likely to demand that jobs should be reduced by a comparable amount. Since the CEO is committed to pursuing profitability for its shareholders,  this demand is likely to be mostly met, with some room for minor exceptions and adjustments here and there, in line with business strategy.

Even if some of the divisions are engaged in healthy profit-making activities, it is still likely that the CEO will move to cut salaries and make some symbolic job cuts in these divisions, the point being to demonstrate to investors that the firm has the necessary discipline to focus on maximising profitability and cutting costs. It may be the case that such actions are in fact detrimental to the long-term viability of the firm, but the major consideration here is maintaining investor confidence.

The terms in which the CEO will frame such actions to employees will be as follows: times are tough, we need to satisfy our investors, all our people need to play their part. I personally am taking a hit of 25% (the fact that his salary is many multiples that of the average worker does not come into play), senior executives 10%, the rest of you 5%. Furthermore, whilst I realise that workers in some divisions have delivered value for the firm of late, if we do not take action, we will have to cut more jobs, and even more families will be hit by the pain. So it is only right that all our people share the burden. If we do all this, we will be all the stronger and well-placed to ride out the current storm. Needless to say, we will engage with our workers’ councils on how best these measures can be implemented, and we will renew our focus on continuing to meet the highest standards of corporate ethics in all aspects of our firm’s activity.

For ‘firm’ above, read ‘State’. That is, the State is not purely the set of institutions that serve the public, but all firms public and private that operate within its borders. This is revealed by the expressed need to ‘reverse the erosion of the State’s international competitiveness’: if by ‘State’ we mean simply public service institutions, why would healthcare or special needs education for Irish citizens need to be ‘internationally competitive’?

The main difference between a corporation and a democratic state, in theory at least, is the fact that a corporation is a tyrannical organisation serving shareholder interest regardless of worker needs, and a state is supposed to represent the interests of all its citizens. So why is the government acting and talking like corporate managers?

If it walks like a duck etc.

The Bible: Choice Cuts

Andrew Brown: Andrew Motion’s call to teach the bible will fail | Comment is free |

All these are stories which enrich the world and which children ought
to know. But is it right to teach them as literature, or to justify
them solely as stories? Here, I think Motion is on shakier ground.
These stories have been preserved by people who thought they were true,
and fantastically important, rather than merely interesting. To know
them was not just an aesthetic value, but a moral one. In particular,
they were taught because the teachers believed that you could not be a
properly developed human being without knowing them. The unique thing
about Bible stories was that they were understood to stand apart from
all other books because they were suited for everyone, as well as
necessary for everyone.

Yes, absolutely.

Wherefore David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king’s son in law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife.

Not one of the better known Bible stories, but one worth telling the kids about nonetheless, for moral reasons. So that they become properly developed human beings.

I on Twitter

February 2009