“In fact, I’d say the real war was a war over swibbles.  I mean it was the last war.  It was the war between people who wanted swibbles and those who didn’t… Needless to say, we won” (Philip K. Dick, ‘Service Call’ 1955).

In Philip K. Dick’s short story ‘Service Call’ the world is (about to become) policed by biological telepathic organisms encased in mechanical housing.  These entities called ‘swibbles’ were developed and sold as a way of stopping conflict ensuing from ideological differences.  When a swibble comes across an individual that holds an ideological perspective different from the mainstream they are literally ingested by the machine.

'Service Call' by Philip K Dick available in Volume 4 of the Collected Stories (Gollancz)

Therefore people install swibbles in their homes to monitor their thought process and ensure they do not stray from the established ideology, a way of demonstrating their adherence to the hegemony.  As the swibble repairman in the story proudly proclaims:

“There won’t be any more conflicts, because we don’t have any more contrary ideologies.  It doesn’t really matter what ideology we have; it isn’t important whether it’s Communism or Free Enterprise or Socialism or Fascism or Slavery.  What’s important is that every one of us agrees completely; that we’re all absolutely loyal.  And as long as we have our swibbles… You know the sense of security and satisfaction in being certain that your ideology is exactly congruent with that of everyone else in the world.  There’s no possibility, no chance whatsoever that you’ll go astray – and some passing swibble will feed on you”

Dick’s story offers a science fiction metaphor for what Foucault terms the practice of ‘Governmentality’.  Governmentality accounts for the range of practices and discourses that are encompassed within the apparatus of the state.  Part of this process involves the construction and prescription of ‘truth’ which are produced through tactics of governing, and reproduce systems of power.  Foucault argues that the emergence of modern government has resulted “…on the one hand, in the formation of a whole series of specific governmental apparatuses, and, on the other, in the development of a whole complex of knowledges [savoirs]”.  (more…)

Gillian Tett, in her book on the global financial crisis entitled “Fool’s Gold”, points to the concept of a social silence (a concept outlined by French anthropologist/sociologist Pierre Bourdieu in his work Outline of a Theory in Practice) as a possible factor in facilitating and perpetuating the global credit boom that eventually burst with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Bourdieu’s social silence, as Tett explains, allows an elite group to control society not just by controlling the physical means of production but also by influencing the cultural discourse. Crucially, influencing the way society talks about itself also influences what is left unsaid – i.e. that which is regarded as impolite, taboo, boring, or taken for granted. Such silences can arise through overt strategies, but often come about less deliberately through social conformity or shared ideology and assumptions. According to  Bourdieu, all that is required for the ideology to establish itself in this way is a complicit silence. Tett speculates that such a social silence may have been pivotal in the general acceptance of the idea that financial markets could regulate themselves. What is more, the opacity that surrounded seemingly sophisticated financial instruments, deterred non-specialists from gaining a fuller understanding of the workings of the financial markets and created a self-contained silo of financial activity and knowledge that only financial experts could penetrate.

To what extent could this idea of a social silence explain the perpetuation of the Irish property bubble and reckless banking  practices of the late 1990s and early 2000s? After all, there does seem to be a general feeling of “we all saw it coming” yet only a handful of commentators warned of the dangers (and they were roundly dismissed as “talking down the economy”). Of course the social silence analogies don’t stop there: it could also be argued that, in the subsequent bust, the quality of debate over the Irish bank guarantee of October 2008, the implementation of NAMA, the capital injections into our ailing banks, whether or not to wind up Anglo Irish, and the risk of an Irish sovereign default has been anaemic at best, with only pockets of academics and media commentators really grappling with the details of these policies (in part, as illustrated by the difficulty in assessing the cost of winding up Anglo Irish bank,  due to a lack of full information).

So, are we trapped in an Irish social silence? And if so, how do we turn up the volume?

Declan Curran

The front page of this mornings MetroHerald ran with a story claiming that the government had issued a “tacit threat” to Passport Services that the division could be outsourced if proposed strike action continued.  The article claimed “Passport Services could be shifted to another department or even outsourced, top Government officials warned yesterday”.  Tucked away on page 5 was a story about Brian Cowen’s backing of the board of Anglo’s decision to give salary increases to 78 staff.  The front page of the Irish Independent advertised two opinion pieces: One by Martina Devlin titled “My passport nightmare” and another by Brendan Keenan titles “Nursing the banks back to health”.  The rhetoric implied by these headlines is another example of the current trend of pitting ‘public’ and ‘private’ sectors against each other.

The image of Irish society that this paints is disturbing.  Are we living in a country where the ‘audacity’ of the public sector mobilising any sort of union power to assert their grievances is met with veiled threats, but where an obscenely inept bank which has guzzled tax-payers’ money to the extent of state ownership is allowed to give its staff pay raises while the same Government steps politely aside?  Responding to appeal by Eamon Gilmore to halt this salary bump, Brian Cowen suggested that “The board have my and the Government’s confidence”.

But what, pray tell, has inspired this ‘confidence’? Is it that the bank operates in the loosely defined ‘private sector’ and, like NAMA, can be trusted to make its own decisions with regard the mechanics of its operations?  Meanwhile, because Passport Services operate in the realm of the ‘public sector’ they must toe the line or face dissolution and privatisation.  Within the current climate of bail-outs and cut-backs just what actually defines the line between ‘public’ and ‘private’ sectors?  As suggested here recently, the Government’s position is disingenuous: on the one hand extolling the benefits of free market neoliberalism and on the other correcting any free market mistakes with tax revenue.  Perhaps if Passport Services was to be outsourced, the unit would then be in a position to dictate its own rates of pay, resist cut-backs, and siphon Government spending.  The inverse logic of this boggles the brain. The horror, the horror.

Cian O’ Callaghan

In Tuesday’s Irish Times, writing about the recent announcement of the closure of Postbank, Fintan O’ Toole suggests that the Irish Government has a “strange definition of ‘systemic importance’”.  Contrasting the apathy with which the impending closure of Postbank (jointly owned by An Post and BNP Paribas) has been met, with the €30 billion of taxpayers’ money pumped into embalming Anglo’s corpse, he writes:

Let’s consider this proposition. Postbank has deposits of €450 million and 170,000 customers. It has 70,000 savings and 35,000 current accounts, 90,000 insurance policy holders and 10,000 credit-card customers. It does what banks used to do – provide financial services for ordinary people in their own communities. (more…)

As has been reported in the media over the past couple of years, unemployment and Live Register recipients have been increasing rapidly as the recession deepens.  To date though we have little detailed knowledge of their geography which prompted us to try and map Live Register data at the Social Welfare Office scale.

Unemployment is measured by the Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) which provides details on both the number of unemployed people and the unemployment rate at national and regional levels. According to the QNHS the number of unemployed people in Q3 ’09 was at a staggering 279,800, up from 102,600 in Q3 2006 (an increase of 173%). According to the CSO the QNHS classifies unemployed people as “those who, in the week before the survey, were without work or were available for work within the next two weeks, and had taken specific steps, in the preceeding four weeks, to find work”. Based on this classification the overall national unemployment rate has increased from 4.7% in Q3 ’06 to 12.7% in Q3 ’09. The QNHS also provides details at the NUTS 111 regional level. This gives a useful insight into the broad spatial trends across the country but the survey is not designed to allow an analysis at a sub-regional spatial scale (see Figure 1a and 1b).

Figure 1A and B: QNHS Unemployment Numbers and Percentage Change

Figure 1A and B: QNHS Unemployment numbers and percentage growth

An alternative method of analysing the spatial patterns of unemployment is to use the unadjusted Live Register at Social Welfare Office level. The Live Register is compiled from returns made by each local welfare office to the Department of Social and Family Affairs and passed onto the Central Statistics Office. It comprises of persons under-65 years of age in the following classes:

  • All Claimants for Jobseekers Benefit (JB) excluding systematic short-time workers
  • Applicants for Jobseekers Allowance (JA) excluding smallholders/farm assists and other self-employed persons
  • Other registrants including applicants for credited Social Welfare contributions but excluding those directly involved in an industrial dispute.

The Live Register is not specifically designed to measure unemployment as it includes part-time (those who work up to three days a week), seasonal and casual workers entitled to Jobseekers Allowance or Jobseekers Benefit.  It does, however, allow an analysis of employment trends at both a county level and also at social welfare office level.  142 Social Welfare Offices are listed on the CSO website, data is however not available for all offices on a continuous time series basis as some have been closed for a number of years while others have been replaced by new offices. From September 2006 the number of offices has remained relatively stable with the exception for the Carrigaline Office which opened in Nov ’06 and the North Cumberland Street Office which was replaced by the Swords Office and King’s Inn Street in August ’09 – this data is not included in our analysis.  For the purposes of this analysis we will use 122 Social Welfare Offices open since September 2006.

In September 2006 there were 151,440 signing on the Live Register, this figure increased to a total of 436,936 in January 2010 (latest data available) representing a percentage increase of +188%.  The Live Register figures fluctuated marginally between our starting point (M09, 2006) and the end of 2007 with the percentage increase at 6.7% in November 2007. Figures steadily began to increase at this point and hit a peak of +187% in August 2009. Figures reduced slightly during the last months of 2009 but increased to hit a new high in January 2010 (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Unadjusted Live Register Growth: 09 '06 to 01 '10

The scale of this increasing trend varied across the country with some areas experiencing much higher percentage increases in job losses than others. Figure 3a below details the number of recipients per Social Welfare Office in September 2006 and Figure 3b highlights the percentage increase in each office to January 2010. The vast majority of offices witnessed an increase of greater than 100% with many in excess of 300% (these patterns are clearly shown in the animation below).

Figure 3A: Live Register recipients at Social Welfare Office 09 '06 (Offices are sorted from left to right by NUTS 111 Region (Border, Midlands, West, Dublin, Mid-East, Mid-West, South-East and South-West) and by number of recipients per office in 09 ‘2006. The animation below will provide more detail on the changing patterns.)

Figure 3B. Live Register Recipients by Social Welfare Office: % Change 09 '06 to 01 '10

In order to visualise the trends from our base date we have mapped Live Register growth at approximate Social Welfare Office catchments (see animation). At present the areas served by Social Welfare Offices do not correspond to specific geographic boundaries and registrants at a given local office do not necessarily reside within a precisely delineated area (e.g those signing at the Ballyfermot office do not necessarily have to live within the Ballyfermot area but may be from surrounding areas such as Palmerstown and Ronanstown that might be nearer to another office).  We have therefore created catchments for each office based on the assumption that a recipient will register at the nearest office to their residence.  The areas then are approximate catchments, wherein the vast majority of people live within the designated area, but a relatively small number of claimants might live beyond its bounds.

For a higher resolution animation please visit the NIRSA site (click here).

(a very pale area represents a decrease in Live Register claimants below the Q3 2006 rate, yellow 0-10% increase, pale brown 10-25% increase, light brown 25-50%, mid-brown 50-100% increase, dark brown 100-150% increase, red 150-200% increase, purple 200-250% increase and turquoise 250%+ increase).

What the animated map shows is that Live Register recipients fluctuated up and down for most of 2006, but from the start of 2007 started to increase rapidly, first in the south west before spreading nationally.  From the beginning of 2008 the first areas reached a 150% increase from the Q3 2006 figures, quickly followed by increases of 250% above the Q3 2006 figures in the south west, and increases of 200 to 250% in the commuter belts around the cities. By the end of 2009, most of the country was above the +150% rate with only a few peripheral areas such as parts of Waterford and the Atlantic fringe under that rate. As the Live Register figures continue to increase, those areas in red are likely to shift to purple and turquoise.  For our post on the microgeographies of the Live Register click here.

Justin Gleeson, Rob Kitchin, Matthias Borscheid

We are now long past the point at which the analysis of the present crisis in Ireland has to switch from focusing purely on the economy and the banking and property sectors to focus on the underlying Irish economic model.

To date, what has emerged in Ireland is analysis that tells a relatively straightforward story which runs thus.  Ireland’s economic peril is part of a global economic downturn caused by the creation of a sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US that triggered an international credit crunch leading to an international banking crisis.  This crisis has been exacerbated in Ireland by a switch from an export-led economy to a property-led economy in the early 2000s, with the banks competing to over-lend to developers as land and property prices spiralled ever upwards, with the government and financial regulators doing little to intervene in poor banking practices.  As the property bubble burst, the over-exposure of the banks became apparent and the resulting crisis led to a contraction in the wider economy with the drying up credit, markets and tax, leading to a huge hole in the public purse, rising unemployment, collapsing house prices, and so on.  In other words, the story is one of, on the one hand, an unfortunate trigger that was beyond Ireland’s control (the global crisis), and on the other, poor economic management. (more…)

There were two reports in today’s media covering analysis by Alan Bridle, head of economics at Bank of Ireland Northern Ireland (Belfast Telegraph and Irish Times).  He suggests that the Northern Ireland economy will be in a ‘twilight zone’ this year, neither in recession (well not technically) nor experiencing sustained recovery. He forecasts that it will take years for the private sector in the North to recover after the recent slump, particularly in manufacturing, and that unemployment, business failures and house repossessions will continue to grow until at least the second half of the year.  We haven’t discussed how the economic crisis is affecting the North to any degree on IAN; we’ll try and rectify that over the coming months.

Rob Kitchin

The last couple of days in the media have seen the usual retrospective look back at the year just gone and the forecasting of predictions of the year to come.  Neither have made particularly pleasurable analysis.  2009 was the year that Ireland got its just desserts for the follies of the government, banks and property developers (and it has to be said, the general population who were also caught up in the credit party).  2010 is going to be more of the same, with the situation getting worse before it gets better.  (more…)