And so, out with the old, in with the new. According to insurance giant, Munich Re, 2008 has been one of the worst ever for natural disasters. Overall global losses ran to around $200bn, with uninsured losses totalling $45bn, about 50% up on 2007. In a dry understatement, a spokesman commented: “Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes”.
And as we all know by now, the global economy hasn’t been in this bad a shape since the early 1930s; the difference this time is there are way more people in the world than was the case seven decades ago, and also, the highly globalised nature of trade and economics generally mean that the very strength of globalisation – its high level of interconnectedness – is now seen as its greatest flaw. As the virus of financial collapse spreads, there are few corners of the world with even the slightest immunity to the contagion.
The latest joke among financial types in the City of London runs thus: ‘what’s the difference between Ireland and Iceland? One letter and about six months’. Lest we forget, Iceland has this year been bankrupted, its entire financial system has been shredded and its economy now lies in ruins. Frantic government attempts here to shore up Anglo-Irish Bank seem like an extraordinarily stupid way to whitter away the taxpayer’s rapidly shrinking reserves.
Though I’m not a major fan of economists, you have to hand it to Morgan Kelly, UCD economics professor, when he wrote in the Irish Times: “The bailout of Anglo Irish follows a compelling political logic. Anglo Irish funds developers, and developers fund Fianna Fáil. By any other criterion, a bailout of Anglo Irish is senseless”. Bingo. Kelly deftly dissected the get-rich-quick scheme at the heart of Anglo Irish, as exemplified by its once CEO, and now former chairman, Seán Fitzpatrick.
Had Fitzpatrick been at the helm of a US bank, at least now we would now have the consolation of knowing he was in a federal facility, his personal assets having been seized by the IRS. But hey, this is Oirland, and the Fitzpatricks of this land will likely slip quietly back to their dinner parties and soirees hob nobbing it at black tie events with the property developers we taxpayers are now in the process of bailing out and the government ministers and flunkies who just love to be in the company of these financial titans.
The Sunday Business Post yesterday had an excellent piece explaining precisely how the government bail-out immediately made Fitzpatrick personally wealthier to the tune of at least €800,000. You’d have to laugh, really. The Irish taxpayers’ exposure to the dodgy dealers of Anglo Irish actually goes as far as us having to pick up the bill for Fitzpatrick’s nefarious ‘loans. As the Business Post put it: “This could even include some of former chairman Sean FitzPatrick’s €87 million in secret loans, if he fails to pay the money back and the security on the loans is not up to scratch”.
The screwing-over we are all in for as a result of the threesome involving Fianna Fail, our biggest property developers/speculators and banks like Anglo Irish will only become apparent by the middle of 2009. Expect Brian Lenihan to gaze dole-fully into the cameras telling us that ‘if only we knew then what we know now, we would of course not have sold you suckers, sorry, taxpayers down the swanee.’
On the bigger picture, with Copenhagen due next December, and Obama’s inauguration just three weeks away, it was heartening indeed to see our Pope display such profound moral leadership a couple of days ahead of Christmas. No, sadly, it didn’t involve him sacking Bishop John Magee of Cloyne for his complicity in keeping a clerical paedophile ring in business. Hell no, the former Hitler Youth member had far bigger fish to fry on his crozier.
“Saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction”, was the pontiff’s considered, nuanced contribution to two debates which, up until that moment, I and I suspect many other people, felt were entirely, utterly and completely separate. But hey, I’m not infallible, then which of us is? Quentin Fotterill did an excellent job the other day of nailing papal mendacity. In the closing line of his piece, he writes: “Some advice for the pontiff: fix your own child protection policies and let the rest of us worry about protecting the rainforests.” Well said, sir.
Despite mounds of evidence to the contrary, I cling to the belief that 2009 represents the best, probably last, chance for humanity to finally confront the crisis that’s been tapping on our shoulder for at least the last decade, but we were far too busy making paper money and totting up our paper wealth to have paid much heed. Now, perhaps, now we’re ready to sober up, snap out of our collective slumber and get serious. Here’s hoping anyhow.
Happy New Year!