An Irish Economy Christmas Carol
Old Trichet was dead. This fact must be distinct or nothing of the wonder of what follows is to be understood. As dead as the French Franc.
Ebeneezer Draghi certainly understood it. He had helped to carry Old Trichet’s coffin, had buried him and now had his picture on the wall in his cramped office at Frankfurt Towers.
It was a bitingly savage Christmas Eve, and outside the windows the winds howled and boomed like giants at some kind of utterly destructive, savage play.
The markets, thought Draghi gloomily, they don’t like Christmas. They don’t like the idea of a day off, why any moment now –
And there it was: Shay Crachit was looking up expectantly from his desk.
“What is it Mr Crachit?”
“About tomorrow. Christmas Day.”
“What about it?”
“I was thinking perhaps I might have the morning off.”
“With pay I suppose.”
“It is customary, sir.”
“Certainly, Mr Crachit, now you mention it, you may have the whole day off.”
“Why thank you, sir.”
“And the whole week, and the whole month. I’m putting you on a zero hour contract.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“It’s what we’re giving everyone. No guarantee of work, no guarantee of pay, but you have to be available twenty four hours a day, seven days a week and no holidays. What do you say to that Mr. Crachit?”
“Sounds most fair sir, we workers must be grateful for what the bosses chose to create for us what with their creative ability to magic up wealth which we so sadly lack.”
“Less of the class politics, Shay. Besides, there’s no workers now.”
“Destroyed them all have we, sir?”
“No, we’re all taxpayers now. Except the bloodsucking idlers.”
“Like Tiny Tim, sir?”
“Quite right. Creators, consumers or wasters.”
A knock at the door interrupted their philosophical musings. With a refreshing burst of snow, young Fred Honohan, swept his annoyingly genial way into the office.
“Good evening nephew. And what prevents you from being at your desk at this hour.”
“Why it’s Christmas Uncle and I’ve come for my usual charitable campaign.”
“And what is it this year?”
“Why the same as every year. Write off the IBRIC debt.”
“Much luck with that at the Bundesbank?”
“They didn’t actually release the German Wolf-Hounds, so I suppose you could say it was an improvement.”
“Anyway, humbug to you, sir. What do you think I am, made of money?”
“Well oddly enough…”
“That’s the problem with you all,” by which Ebeneezer meant Crachit, his nephew and any and each and every one who didn’t seem to grasp that until the vast majority of people from ages from nine to 90 simply didn’t commit to working from dawn to dusk to dawn again for as very little as possible: why there would be no wealth at all.
He put on his thin coat and continued, “always the short-cut. I shall certainly not sign, charity, bah humbug.”
And he swept out.
“You might have mentioned Old Trichet’s part in things”, mused Shay, “Appealing to his kindness doesn’t seem to work.”
Ebeneezer Draghi heard the words and reminded himself he must nip that dangerously subversive note out of Mr Crachit.
Ebeneezer Draghi reached the front door of his dour, blank-windowed house in a foul and aggrieved temper.
On his way home he had been hounded, simply hounded, by a motley of Irish Economy bloggers who were making a shambolic attempt at some kind of carol service with the general air of trying for a whip round for a Second Republic, a new keg of Beamish and a website that allowed tables – they couldn’t decide which. Not only were some of them in balaclavas with the inevitable muffling effects, not only could they sing neither in harmony nor in tune, but they seemed to take a perverse delight in all starting with the same song and then seeing how quickly they could niggle, provoke and insult their way to an individual song entirely of their own choosing. Some took great delight in pushing each other off their little stage altogether.
“You see, Snr Draghi, this is a healthy multiplicity of viewpoints allowing a rich discourse. Care for a Gitane?” inquired a string-of-onion wearing, name-badged, mr paul quigley.
“Beep” said Ebeneezer, “you said ‘discourse’. You lose.”
“Have you considered reading Bourdieu on the various forms of Capital, Snr Draghi? You may find you have concentrated excessively on one only and missed on the equally important and empirically demonstrated other forms without which society can only be understood as if looking through a very constrained crack, as it were, and the individual cannot be said to truly flourish.”
“Beep, beep, beep. Have you considered getting your ar*e out of the way of my foot, sir?
Standing at the door of his house, for a moment Ebeneezer Draghi saw the face of Old Trichet in the knocker: but mummified as it might be in the grave.
“Bah”, he said to himself and vowed to read the EU Commission growth forecasts with a warm glass of milk (he’d deregulate the farmers yet). The forecasts always cheered him up with their boundless and irresistible vision that carrying on doing exactly the same thing today would wonderfully lead to a rosier tomorrow.
Indeed, he had eventually, almost, happily drifted into a future where unemployment might be, possibly, under 12% – he could dream – in a mere three years time and was just falling asleep when he heard a creek.
And then a clank.
“Is that the Chinese economy creeping up on us?”, he wondered, “They don’t bother with days off or any of those indulgences.”
But than a creek and a clank, and a CLANK, CLANK, CREEK!
What could it be? Shivering, Draghi, poked his nose out through the curtain of his four poster bed. Nothing to be seen in the darkness. Was the central heating bang out of kilter as the entire banking transmission network?
He pulled his head back in.
“I am the ghost of Jean-Claude Trichet!” howled a horrible vision, knelt up on the mattress beside him.
It was true! The head, mummified as in the earlier vision, but the whole cadaver swathed by a monstrous golden chain.
“Trichet! What has happened to you?”
“Behold this golden chain!”
“Each link, unknowing, I forged in life and now it weighs me down.”
“But gold, yes?”
“Of a terrible weight.”
“Do not mock, Ebeneezer. This fate awaits you.”
“Umm, a gold chain?”
“It’s more a metaphorical problem. Yes, in my afterlife I have have wealth aplenty, but what is that when I must carry the weight of my moral failures?! I thought I had behaved impeccably! Impeccably! Look at me now!”
“No, sorry, I can’t actually see the exact problem. Solid gold: it’s a Central Banker’s delight you know.”
“Look, the point is I’m unhappy and I don’t want you to end up in the same hell.”
“Freedom of choice and all that.”
“Tonight you will be visited by three spirits! Attend to them, Ebeneezer. And remember me! Remember me!”
“Isn’t that the ghost of Hamlet’s father?”
“I get easily confused! I’m also playing the Genie in Aladdin! The horror! Remember old Trichet!”
By this time he had completely vanished.
“Humbug”, thought Draghi, and put it down to nerves. The dogs dinner of a Banking Union he had tried to digest earlier was probably doing his insides no good and it was a very long and tiresome while, until he had counted up to nearly a thousand migrating Latvians, that he finally, truly, fell asleep.
Part Three: Christmas Past.
“Happy days oh, spirit! Happy days! Oh happy schoolroom. Look, there’s my old teacher Bob Solow! And those ragamuffins Rogoff and Reinhart playing footsie under the desk! And there’s young Philip Lane still in his shorts, I hear all about him but never see him these days. We should catch up. And, oh spirit, Christine, how beautiful she was, I mean is, well both is and was.”
“And who is that intense and handsome boy she is talking to?”
“I fear him spirit. That is the dashing Alberto Alesina, he could make you believe the opposite of anything you held to be true. See how Christine looks at him, enthralled!”
“And who is this pale, studious fellow at the back?”
“Why that is I, spirit. Hard at work. I always feared my mind was not as beautiful as the others: but I determined that dogged persistence I would make my way …. I remember this! It is the annual Christmas debate. I remember how sick I used to feel at all the other little economists watching. Look cheery old Solow is getting up. What does he say: ‘Livability is not a middle-class luxury: it is an economic imperative’? I forgot he used to say things like that. Oh spirit, I remember now. Is this the Christmas when…”
“What had you prepared for your speech?”
“Well, the value of automatic stabilizers in a downturn. That monetary policy should be used offset fiscal tightening. But, that in a depression and at very low interest rates, fiscal policy could be very effective in maintaining demand and maintaining employment. That a Central Bank could act as an effective lender of last resort. Things that were boring but true. Things that never won a prize. One year I mentioned Keynes, and they sniggered! I didn’t understand why, but I vowed never to mention him again.”
“What about Karl Marx?”
“Never mind. And see, there you are, walking up to the podium, at the front of the class. And you say…”
“And I say: And I say, right to Alesina’s face: On the spot I abandon my notes and I say, it is possible to cut spending and raise taxes in a downturn and for there to be an expansionary effect!”
“You stole his paper.”
“No, no, spirit, it was a ferment of ideas. You don’t understand. You couldn’t just say things people already knew – not and get a PhD anyway. Look, spirit, how they all admire my daring! You couldn’t just say such boring things and expect the Christines of this world….”
“Do you see her much now?”
“I’m off the IMF’s Christmas card list.”
“And did you believe in this expansionary fiscal contraction?”
“Well no one did, really. It was an intellectual game, spirit! It was just a game! Who could be the best and brightest! See they’re gathering around and clapping me on the back. See Alesina is crestfallen: I let him have the credit later.”
“Old Solow looks thoughtful.”
“I’d forgotten that, I was swept up on the dizzy intellectual froth. We were opening up new worlds. Like Russia!”
“How is that going?”
“We were in demand on the supply side! We had a toolkit and weren’t afraid to use it?”
“What was in the toolkit?”
“A tool for hiding the government’s tools.”
“And did it work?”
“For years it seemed to spirit, it seemed to. What is old Solow saying?”
“He seems to be congratulating you on your success, and whispering: but don’t forget the true aim of the welfare of the common good.”
“That doesn’t sound like Solow.”
“For the sake of the story, like.”
“Right. Right. Are you saying there’s a moral? No. Lost me there. Unless, if you’re going to steal some one’s paper you should go all the way and claim the credit? And the girl. Is that is spirit? Is that it? But that doesn’t seem right.”
End of Part Three
Part 4: Christmas Present
Ebeneezer Draghi eyes remained open of the darkness of his bedroom.
Had he really played a part in the construction of such a nightmare? It had all been such fun. Wasn’t the Euro a supreme achievement of such thinking after all? He shook himself. Bah, why was he worrying himself so? He should shake these gloomy thoughts away.
“Quite right. Christmas is no time for gloom. Any whiskey handy?”
“Santa!” Ebeneezer looked more closely. “Umm, but I thought you were jolly, round and hearty, but you seem grumpy, lumpy and bruiserish. If it weren’t for the beard…”
“The beards itchy and I’m not Santa. Colm McCarthy here and I’m serious about the whiskey, Draghi. Right, let’s go.”
“Where are we going, Santa?”
“It’s fecking Colm McCarthy and I’m only filling in because the other lad is busy.”
“How is Santa busy, Colin?”
“It’s Colm! It’s Colm! On Christmas Eve! How is feckin’ Santa feckin’ busy on Christmas Eve? What do you think he’s doing, having a bit of the usual with Mrs Claus? Chr*st what I have to put up with. Right, toddies away and here we go. Hold on to my coat – not that sleeve, I wipe my nose with that sleeve – the other one. Now look in that window.”
They were looking in at the window of the Crachit family. Ebeneezer couldn’t help notice it was a bare place with little by way decoration, except a small bust of Lenin on a set of drawers. But it was warm and busy and full of the bustle of Christmas.
“What is this, Santa?”
“It’s tomorrow. Shurrup and listen. Hic.”
Shay and Rosa, his wife, were talking.
“I won’t hear a word against Snr Draghi”, said Shay.
“But he’s a mean, old skinflint who’s part of a policy making set that has brought calamity and ruin to the lives of millions.”
“But he’s guaranteed me a job, Rosa!”
“Did you get your Christmas bonus, Shay? Did you even ask for it?”
“Oh no. For the likes of us, Christmas bonuses have been cancelled all over Europe. Snr Draghi says they are a bad incentive, encouraging feckless merriment and what have you.”
“Well, how much is you pay rise this year?”
“No pay at all. I’m guaranteed nothing. Lucky I have a job at all, eh?”
“What are we going to do Shay?”
“Join a trade union and foment protest.”
“Sick to the script, Shay.”
“Oh, sorry, well then, Rosa, I’m going to learn half the languages of Europe and you’re going to learn all the other.”
“Snr Draghi says we must be ready to fly to any part of the continent if we hear of a single job that pays money.”
“German for me then.”
“One day you may even get a minimum wage.”
“But if I go the family will be apart!”
“We’re all atomised individuals, so that shouldn’t bother us.”
“Shh, shh, here comes Tiny Tim.
A small boy, supported by a crutch and with a frail look that spoke of a weak grasp on life itself made his way into the room.
“Here Tim. Make your way to the table”, said Shay, “This year we have beans on toast from the food parcel. I’m sorry the Vincent de Paul ran out of presents this year – still at least we’re the working poor.”
“Never mind father. For at least we have each other and the safety nets welfare state will look after me so I won’t be a burden.”
“Oh no, Snr Draghi says that over. Ever the King of Holland has said it. No more welfare state for us. Mr Draghi says it’ll toughen us all up.”
“Remind me why you won’t speak ill of Draghi again”, asked Rosa.
“You know, I’m really not sure.”
McCarthy grasped Ebeneezer by the collar and pointed him towards a dark alley.
“Now look down here.”
“What now spirit, what must I see now? What is that horrible figure? What does he hide beneath his cloak? Who are these terrible children?”
“They are Ignorance and Want, Draghi. See what Want does to a child? But the worse is ignorance, look for light that should be there in the child, you won’t see it. Now Draghi, do you want to show me the European youth unemployment figures again?”
“But many are on training schemes and in education.”
“Feckin’ Jobbridge! Look at the figures man! No, stop looking at the figures! Look at these children! This is your doing man!”
“Well, there are others responsible.”
“Sure, next year we’re taking care of Ebeneezer Rehn, but it’s your night tonight! I can show you millions more children like these. That’s the point.”
“Take me away from this old Santa, take me away. You don’t find this in the Commission analysis. Yes, I shall look with my own eyes.”
“Job done then. What bars are open at this hour anyway? And Draghi, next year if you’re good I’ll bring you a properly designed Banking Union.”
“Thank you, Santa!”
“No, I mean, I Colm fecking McCarthy will design you a proper Banking… hang on, no, say you got it from Santa, they’ll probably all want a go of it then. No where’s my sleigh with its twelve, shivering UCD graduates to pull it through the snow?”
“Thank you Colin! Thank you so much!”
Part Five: Christmas Yet to Come.
A resigned Ebeneezer Draghi sat in his little bedside chair. What would come now, would come and he would face it all to the end.
“Behold the Spirit of Christmas Future!”
An enormously confident and undeniably Yankee voice filled the room.
“Nooooo. Paul Krugman! I thought I could face anything, but please spirits no, anything but that.”
“What, you don’t like the beard or something? Is it the taste in music, what’s the problem Ebbie?”
“Lead on spirit. I will complain no more. But spirit, does the OMT count for nothing?”
“Hey, you’re not the worst okay, but less of the Yadda, yadda, y’know, if we’re going to end this depression now. Let’s see, let me show you something.
“That’s the grave of Niall Ferguson.”
“Oh, that’s where I buried him. Naw, er, let’s go further forward.”
“Oh, Spirit whose name is on the grave, with its ghastly image of a cracked Euro and epitaph by Ambrose Evans Pierce. Who is it spirit?”
“Hey Ebbie, you got glasses.”
“Failed! Failed! The bee that could not fly. Oh, spirit, is this what must happen?”
“It is what may happen.”
“But you said the Euro would break before.”
“Well have you fixed the underlying problems eh, Draghi? Have you. How many votes does it take to resolve a bank again? And hey, do you want to see who gets your desk after the next calamity?”
“Nooooooo! It is you in my place! Friday night music from the ECB!”
“Well a man can dream. And this future drives those MMTers nuts. They’d love the job.”
“Please no, not MMT. And does no one grieve for me, Draghi? My old friends, the heads of Europe?”
“Why those backstabbers? Did they grieve for Trichet or the Greek bloke everyone has forgotten. Naw, they don’t do human sympathy. But seriously now, look here Draghi, remember that bit where you abandoned all those good economic stuff as a child?”
“And that bit where you took a good, hard look at what is happening to the people of Europe now.”
“Well now’s the time to get cracking, Draghi. Show em what you’re made of, and hey, you never know: this future may never happen. Maybe some one will remember you kindly.”
“Oh thank you spirit, I will, I will.”
Ebeneezer Draghi flung open his bedroom window.
The winds still howled, but the Christmas run-up had been good and the markets were sated for the moment.
“You there, DOCM, is it Christmas, is it Christmas Day!”
“Why yes, sir, Christmas morning it is.”
“And is that Goose still in the butcher’s window?”
“Well run along and buy it DOCM and bring it to the Crachit’s house.”
“For the sake of the story. But I wish to state that I have been co-opted against my will am here under duress and express no opinion on the validity of this fable.”
“Are you still there?”
Ebeneezer Draghi bustled his way to the Crachit’s House.
“Why for you Rosa, bread and roses. And for you Shay a job with actual wages…”
“With a pension, sir?”
“Watch it…. Why yes, with a pension, and for Tiny Tim, a welfare state to look after the needs of all.”
“And a more equal society? You know it makes economic sense.” Asked Rosa?
“A commitment to growth as well as inflation targeting?” Asked Shay.
“Why yes, all of these, all of these!”
“What’s that frightening noise?” Asked Tiny Tim?
“You mustn’t fear that”, said Mario, “with a new-found and economically grounded warmth in his chest – that’s just the sound of heads exploding in Frankfurt.
“Well then”, said Tiny Tim, “A Merry Christmas to you and a Merry Christmas to all and God Bless Us Every One!