“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…)

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…)

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…)

Whenever I see headlines like, “Ireland now the darling of the US right?” from this week’s Irish Emigrant, it sets off alarm bells.  For the past decade Ireland has exported its development model, a kind of hybrid American neoliberalism (minimal state, privatisation of public services, public-private partnerships, laissez-faire planning, low corporate and individual taxation, light to no regulation, clientism) meets European social welfarism (developmental state, social partnership, welfare safety net, high indirect tax, EU directives and obligations).  Now, it seems, we might be exporting the worst elements of how we’re dealing with the flaws in that economic model.  When Mary Harney stated that “Geographically we are closer to Berlin than Boston.  Spiritually we are probably a lot closer to Boston than Berlin”, she’d have probably been delighted that the Celtic Tiger phenomenon would become the darling of the US right (which undoubtedly it did).  I’m not sure US citizens would be delighted that we still might be their darling.

Rob Kitchin