Ireland Tries To Dig Out Of Its Fiscal Hole

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writing in the Telegraph reviews the catastrophe that has befallen Ireland.

Events have already forced Premier Brian Cowen to carry out the harshest assault yet seen on the public services of a modern Western state. He has passed two emergency budgets to stop the deficit soaring to 15pc of GDP. They have not been enough. The expert An Bord Snip report said last week that Dublin must cut deeper, or risk a disastrous debt compound trap.

A further 17,000 state jobs must go (equal to 1.25m in the US), though unemployment is already 12pc and heading for 16pc next year.

Education must be cut 8pc. Scores of rural schools must close, and 6,900 teachers must go. “The attacks outlined in this report would represent an education disaster and light a short fuse on a social timebomb”, said the Teachers Union of Ireland.

Nobody is spared. Social welfare payments must be cut 5pc, child benefit by 20pc. The Garda (police), already smarting from a 7pc pay cut, may have to buy their own uniforms. Hospital visits could cost £107 a day, etc, etc.

“Something has to give,” said Professor Colm McCarthy, the report’s author. “We’re borrowing €400m (£345m) a week at a penalty interest.”

Evans-Pritchard feels that the developed countries in Europe as well as the U.S. are spending themselves into a hole from which extrication will be most difficult. He feels that the solution to the crisis needs to come through monetary rather than fiscal policy now that the time of greatest peril has passed. He even argues that while governments pursue expansive monetary policies they need to aggressively cut spending over a multi-year period.

I find myself somewhat attracted to his logic though I would probably say that it might be just a wee bit too soon to back off on the fiscal side. I guess I don’t share his conviction that recovery can continue solely with the assistance of an expansion of the money supply.

Perhaps more to the point is that we need to take the warning that the Irish experience provides as we formulate out opinions about high dollar initiatives such as health care reform, expansive aid to education and other in vogue social programs. Ireland aptly demonstrates that there is a limit to how much a government can spend and how horrific are the consequences when it is forced to pull back its expenditures.

Update: Do read Ed Harrison’s article on the connection between Ireland and California. It uses Evans-Pritchard’s observations to great effect.

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