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Economic woes aren't economic at all, they're moral


The root cause of our economic woes isn't economic at all, it's moral -- based on a lack of self-control
I START with a tale from last weekend's Phoenix Park mayhem told by a taxi driver unlucky enough to pick up two teenagers on their way to the Swedish House Mafia concert.
Our two teenagers, already drunk hours before the concert was due to begin, each had with them a large plastic container filled with vodka.
One container had a lid, the other didn't.
The taxi driver said they couldn't get into his taxi with the lidless container. The response from the teenager in possession of said container? He drank it on the spot.
By the time the taxi reached the Phoenix Park, the teenager fell out of the taxi and collapsed on to the ground unconscious.
Another, less dramatic tale. A friend who lives out Castleknock way was on his way home on a bus at about 2pm. Upstairs all he could hear was bedlam. Most of the top deck was already several sheets to the wind. Along the roads were more drunks.
You reckon this country has a problem with alcohol?
It does, but it's a much bigger problem than that. This country has a problem with temperance, period.
Oops, did I really use a word like that? Who talks about temperance in 2012? Didn't we stop using that word circa 1950?
Okay, if temperance is too much for you, how about self-control? Still too much? Oh well.
You reckon the economic problems of this country were caused by bad economics, by a runaway free market, by excessive public spending?
Those are all secondary causes. The real problem was intemperance. This is a country that does everything to excess.
We drink intemperately. In the past, we were intemperately Catholic, intemperately anti-British and nationalist. Now we're intemperately anti-Catholic and intemperately 'liberal'.
Intemperance is what drove the boom to gargantuan proportions.
The more we had, the more we wanted and so we kept borrowing. It never occurred to us to moderate our desires.
Household debt escalated. Business debt escalated. The Government kept spending. It couldn't say no to anyone.
What Enda Kenny said at the Davos economic summit a few months ago was correct: we went mad during the boom.
We didn't like him saying that. We preferred him saying it wasn't our fault. However, what he said in Davos was right, not what he told us in his address to the nation last year.
Of course, we didn't all go mad, we weren't all intemperate.
But just as a single gambler can drive his entire family into debt and ruination, so can a minority of gamblers drive a nation to ruination.
And we had a big minority of gamblers. In the end, everyone pays the price if enough people are intemperate because we're all linked together in the one society, like it or not.
We now look to our politicians and to economists to lead us out of this mess.
And so they must, even though they can't agree on how to do it -- which only adds to the mess.
But if we don't properly analyse what led us into the mess, we're only going to get into it again.
We have to realise that the root cause of our current economic woes isn't economic at all it's moral, based on the vice (yes, 'vice') of intemperance, and intemperance can destroy a socialist economy as easily as it can a capitalist one.
Are we prepared to learn this lesson?
Perhaps not. We're impatient with moralists, especially the old-fashioned variety. We don't like being lectured to.
Also, we associate the virtues with religion even though they have no necessary connection with religion.
In fact, a century or so ago in Britain secular-minded educationalists launched a campaign to teach the virtues in British schools instead of teaching children the Bible.
We also think of those temperance movements. Weren't they full of kill-joys, Bible-bashers and prudes? We don't want to go back there.
The result is that very few parents consciously and explicitly teach their children the virtues of temperance (self-control), prudence (good judgment), justice (deal with other people fairly) and fortitude (courage).
How many teachers do so? More likely our kids are being taught about their rights and self-esteem.
Haven't we also been taught since before we could walk that it's unhealthy to suppress our desires, and that if it feels good, do it?
There wasn't much repression at the Phoenix Park last weekend, that's for sure, but it didn't seem too healthy.
In fact, a very quick route to ill-health is via intemperance.
So, are we prepared to learn the real lesson of the Celtic Tiger or is our horror of old-fashioned moralism so great that we'll refuse to do so?
Like it or not, however, we have to learn the virtue of temperance because if we don't we'll end up in economic trouble all over again.
In fact, what we really need is a new and modern temperance movement, and this time aimed not only at drink, but at intemperance in all its forms.
- David Quinn
Irish Independent
 

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