Tue Jun 5th, 2012 at 08:58:29 AM EST
I think there’s some surprise at how unwilling the Irish are to rock the boat at the moment: we elected a reliably responsible and serious government, we voted to allow the ratification of the idiotic Fiscal Treaty and we haven’t had even one firing squad despite pretty severe GDP and GNP contraction and soaring unemployment.
I can’t explain it directly, since that would involve an awful lot of mind-reading, so let me present a couple of vignettes that may help to explain it.
- C is starting proper school next week and part of the presentation to parents we were at last week was about the details of the planned rebuilding of the school - a nice new modern building big enough to house all 36 classes rather than the mix of older buildings and pre-fabricated classrooms they currently occupy. It’s expected to happen in the next few years even in the current environment.
- One acquaintance who moved to a small town on the west coast a few years ago now has a job. His wife works in the public service, has suffered from the pay cuts, but things could be worse.
- Another is in the process of buying a nice house at a sensible multiple of his income. Should be moving in in a few weeks, just in time for the new baby. Mortgage lending isn’t easy to get, but they were a pretty ideal case and eventually managed to get approval.
- Business is improving for me and for many the other self-employed people I know - including people like architects who had no work at all a few years ago. One friend who used to have a practice with half a dozen staff had let all of them go and was surviving on whatever scraps of work he could scare up. He’s rehired one or two staff now. Someone I know who runs a dog grooming place in a middle working class area is run off her feet. (I do not understand this.)
- A neighbour, let go from his retail management job, has a new contract doing change management for a charity.
- Unemployment rates have pretty much bottomed out. It feels like things aren’t getting worse any more. Cuts in public spending are preventing them getting better, but they’re not really getting worse.
- Someone I know who has set up as an accounting practice seems to be doing ok on getting clients even though she has hardly started. She doesn’t have enough to make a living yet, but she’s currently run off her feet.
- The girls down the stables seem to be able to get part-time jobs when they want them.
- Helen and I were in a nice pub when she was over, which was a recreation of a traditional Dublin pub: no TV, no music, traditional decor and good beers. It was busy enough on a quiet night for pubs, populated largely by either young legal types or tech workers. There’s a big sector of international businesses that employ the middle and upper working class that are almost unaffected by local conditions.
A lot of the people above will be feeling vulnerable - even if business does pick-up or a new business is doing relatively well it may not be enough to pay the mortgage or replace the savings that have been funding you during the worse times.
I would guess, as well, that inequality is soaring - the people I know are inevitably at least middle working class. The girls at the stables are probably displacing lower working class people from the part-time retail and restaurant jobs. I believe that the lower working classes are getting screwed into the ground - they tend to rely more on public services to start with, their incomes are more likely to be dependent on welfare spending and they are more likely to be trying to make a living from retail and less skilled service jobs.
However, for the middle and upper working classes and for the middle class, things are not that bad right now, compared to the last few years. You don't revolt when you're just busy keeping your head above water and hoping that a storm doesn't descend upon you.