“An accident could happen to these oysters, a grain of sand could lie in the muscle and irritate the flesh until in self protection the flesh coated the grain with a layer of smooth cement. But once started, the flesh continued to coat the foreign body until it fell free in some tidal flurry or until the oyster was destroyed. For centuries men had dived down and torn the oysters from the beds and ripped them open, looking for the coated grains of sand.” – The Pearl, John Steinbeck
Like Kino, the Mexican pearl-diver at the heart of John Steinbeck’s parable about the corrupting nature of wealth, people all over the world are desperately seeking what they are told to value by their financial masters.
The dream of the good life, complete with material possessions and the status they afford is chased endlessly and promoted through advertising and politics. Having been driven to the peak of capitalism the people of Ireland are now lumbered with a debt to investors who put their money into banks for the purposes of profit generation.
For generations to come this money will be owed to the fat cats who could not be allowed to lose money in their gambling. This whole rotten system is backed up and orchestrated by the IMF and the EU. All that concerns these institutions is that neo-liberal capitalism continues to be the economic and political system in as many places on earth as possible.
Just as a piece of grit becomes a pearl by an accident of nature, so the Irish property market, in combination with the American and European trading markets, became shining beacons of trend-busting money generation. They shone a light that seemed to bathe all people and dazzle them with supposed beauty before being exposed as frauds and tricks of the light.
Those at the top end of the trough had made their money while the taxpayers in many nations, Ireland foremost among them, carried the can and were left with the bill.
Europeans like President Obama. In many cases they like him more than their own leaders. When he visited Ireland this week the people of the nation turned out in force to welcome him.
He continues to represent and embody his message of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ for many people. When he told the people of Ireland, “Is Féidir Linn!” it was a nice showman-like flourish but maybe the question should be asked, yes we can what?
In the middle of May this year, another perception of President Obama found voice in the United States. The prominent moral philosopher, Cornel West, who had campaigned for Obama, described him as “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats”.
Coming from West, a long advocate of the struggle for equal race rights in the United States, this is an utterly damning indictment. Under Obama, the United States remains actively involved in wars abroad and murdered a man on Pakistani soil in recent weeks in breach of international law and a nation’s sovereignty.
Little has changed since the days of Bush and the military spending has helped the US national debt reach $14.3 trillion, or roughly the equivalent value of double the amount of gold ever extracted from the Earth since man began to mine it.
This again raises the issue of value and where it lies. The British government controls inflation from time to time using a system known as ‘quantitative easing’. This essentially means printing more money and letting it out into circulation. This stimulates the people to spend again and oil the system of capitalism, which the political classes view as the lifeblood of the nation.
When Obama told Irish people this week that Ireland’s “best days are still ahead” he was envisioning a future where the broken system of capitalism was once again in a healthier state. That is a nation of happy consumers buying products and services, owning property and accumulating debt. These are the things good citizens do in modern ‘Western democracies’.
While money can be printed to shore up the system it cannot for the purposes of addressing issues around poverty, education and health funding. Similarly, it is not tackling the appalling inequality of income and quality of life that exists in the country. Ireland is not alone in this.
A recent report from the High Pay Commission stated that if current pay levels continue, the inequality levels in Britain will reach Victorian levels by 2030. I’m sure research in Ireland would reveal a similar trend because the system is the same.
The Fine Gael/Labour coalition would dearly love to be able to tell the people of Ireland that green shoots of recovery have sprouted. They have slashed the public sector, cut public services and followed the instructions of their IMF masters to achieve this.
As the public pays the price for the recovery in the form of lost services, the private will be idolised. The popular avarice of the Dragons Den will be praised and the attitude in business on display in The Apprentice glorified. Those who care for ill relatives, those who teach and those who work for the common good will be trampled under the boot of ‘progress’.
A little pearl in the form of capitalist achievement will be shown to the people and they will be told to value it and agree to anything to gain it for themselves. It only has value because we are told it has value and so through the market forces of supply and demand a thing can be imbued with value where none is inherent.
If, on the other hand, we look at issues such as equality, fairness and decency in society, most people will agree that there is something very valuable there.
It is difficult to imagine this kind of soul searching taking place on a national level when the Government remains on message regarding the all-consuming importance of the neo-liberal, capitalist agenda and promoting the twin scourges of avarice and the supremacy of the self.