Slí Eile: If the experience of the past 30 months has shown us anything it is how unstable, unpredictable and volatile the domestic economy is and, along with it, domestic politics. The range in GDP or GNP forecasts is one such indicator. It is easy (and convenient for some) to forget about 'turning the corner' and 'green shoots' around this time 12 months ago. Times move on. In terms of GNP the latest forecasts from the IMF indicate continuing contaction all the way up to early 2012 where they forecast an extremely modest growth of 0.8%. The Central Bank is more upbeat projecting 1.5% growth in GNP in 2012 following more contraction this year. Behind this headline figure are three significant underliers:
* Falling consumer demand up to the end of 2011 followed by scarcely any volume growth in 2012 (+0.2%).
* According to the Central Bank investment (Gross Fixed Capital Formation) will slump in 2011 and decline modestly in 2012 and
* government consumption will continue to decline in 2011 and 2012. All of this is according to the Great Four Year Plan.
You have guessed where the leap comes from - exports. They are set to grow by around 5-6% per annum this year and next following a big spurt in 2010 at 8%. This is very much driven by a recovery in world trade - at least for now.
Economic policy has become a one-hand-clapping strategy = WAGE CUTS = COMPETITIVENESS = EXPORTS = ECONOMIC RECOVERY. That's the message plain and simple. Sorry about unemployment, poverty and emigration. There is no alternative. And silly any politician who tries to negotiate on the overall size of the deflationary strategy (as distinct from the composition and timing of this) - the received wisdom is that beggars cannot be choosers and we have no cards left to play. We just have to take it on the chin and keep driving wages and public spending down until market confidence is restored. But, you can fool some of the markets all the time and all the markets some of the time. But, you can't fool all the markets all of the time. Hello Eurozone crisis II.
If the IMF and Central Bank (and ESRI) happen to be right then the prospects for employment and consumer spending and infrastructual investment look very bleak indeed - and these along with exports are vital to recovery and debt-reduction in the long-run. In political terms the authorities have chosen to 'default' on the home labour market with high numbers out of work and emigrating rather than 'default' on private debt now transferred to citizens' debt.
To argue, as some do, that deposits and bonds are on an equal footing in Irish law is outrageous, If this stands up in any court then change the law. People as in children, the sick, the young unemployed as well as everyone else come before man-made laws.
In relation to forecasts, it would be more accurate to describe these as technical working scenarios based on a particular set of assumptions (which are not always spelt out in public). In other words, the foreseen future is based on past relationships and future extrapolations based on particular chosen assumptions. Nothing fundamentally wrong with that - but lets not imagine that anything in this world quite behaves and reacts like the way macro-economic forecasting says it must. Markets, Governments (and the weather!) have a mind of their own. And so do voters later this month.
What is so desperately needed now, today is a coherent set of agreed policies on a wide range of key issues that can command a progressive consensus. Such a consensus needs to spell out the 'non-negotiables' - the red line issues beyond which no party to the agreement will go into Government or support a Taoiseach. One may not transform Ireland in four years and achieve well-being, prosperity and fairness all at once - but it is the direction of movement that matters and the soundness of any strategy to address the twin scourges of unemployment and debt (all types of debt and not just governmental and corporate-banking).