17 August 2011

When the black herds of the rain were grazing

Good news everyone, according to today's Irish Times: "A dramatic rise in the price farmers are receiving for beef cattle has meant prices paid here have exceeded the average European price and are within 2 per cent of UK prices". You know what this means?

All our national problems are solved!

So confident am I that today marks the beginning of the end of our long national economic nightmare that I will now happily predict the events of the next few years with unerring accuracy (with a little help from our post-Keynesian chum Hyman Minsky):

Stage One – Displacement
Beef prices rise slightly due to slightly higher demand as consumers console themselves over the worthlessness of their property by enjoying a nice steak dinner every now and then. They may not be able to ever holiday abroad again but they'll be damned if they go back to eating potatoes and cabbage. Small groups of well-heeled epicures buy shares in individual cows raised to high organic standards and suburban dinner parties are organised to collectively consume the resulting beef.

Stage Two - Boom
The first articles start to appear outside of the farming pages in the newspapers about the rise in beef prices. Irish cattle prices top those in the UK, the government heralds this as a milestone in the development of our nation, the Taoiseach declares that "the drovers have become the graziers", to a bemused country after watching Baz Luhrmann's 'Australia' the night before on the telly. After an evening in with her galpals in Ranelagh, Róisín Ingle writes about the new trend in Ritzy Sixy for organic cattle co-ops and pop-up dining, "Beef is the time, is the place, is the motion," she gushes, "Beef is the way we are feeling".

Cattle prices rise by an astonishing 50% in twelve months. The race to get on the Cattle Ladder is on.

Stage Three – Euphoria
Cattle co-ownership is no longer the exclusive preserve of the chattering classes. Local authorities controversially rezone vast swathes of land as Agricultural, and herds spring up across the country. Desperate to get on the Cattle Ladder and driven on by television shows like "Lactation! Lactation! Lactation!" (which helps young couples find their first dairy herd), people find themselves taking out 100% loans on individual cows in larger herd schemes, buoyed by the certainty that they can resell the cow, or 'Tip' it, for a profit in a matter of months. Cow Tipping becomes the national obsession, the default conversation between two strangers at dinner parties and ladies' luncheons the length and breadth of the country. More seasoned farmers try to warn that Beef Cattle are slaughtered after two years, "A cow can only be tipped so many times", they say. They are ignored.

Farmers can no longer find enough Irish workers willing to put in the long hours and low pay required to tend the herds. Waves of Argentinian cattlemen start to arrive, first a trickle, then a flood, lured by the prospect of a better life. Ryanair announces new routes with four flights a day to La Pampa (though actually arriving in Peru). Supermercados spring up on streets across the country offering a wide range of yerba-mate, dulce de leche and other tasty snacks. No Irishman ever steps foot inside. The Sunday Independent sounds the alarm bell over the rise in Nuevo Irish, Brendan O'Connor speaks from the heart, "Where I come from the word "Gaucho" doesn't mean someone of any specific socio-economic or ethnic background. It means someone who behaves in a way that society abhors." At the same time the Sindo urges people to buy cattle abroad, declaring that India will be the next boom market despite having almost no history of cattle ownership.

David McWilliams releases his book, "The Papal Herd", chronicling the rise of the beeferatti, Ireland's new middle class economic dynamo, "We can be the new Argentina!", he declares in The Sunday Business Post.

Stage Four - Profit Taking
The first cracks start to appear. 70% more beef is produced in a year than can actually be physically eaten by every man, woman and child in the country, if they ate nothing but beef three times a day for the rest of the year. The Minister for Finance reassures the market "what we do know is that the underlying demand for beef remains strong, driven by a relatively young population and continued inward migration." With supply far exceeding demand, farms start to let their workers go, vast numbers of Argentinians return home and the country suddenly realises that they alone accounted for more than 30% of beef sales.

Pre-boom cattle barons quietly start selling off their excess stock to those few citizens still desperate to get on the Cattle Ladder. Cheap credit and a media-generated fear of being left behind fuel one last heifer-buying hurrah, even as foreign commentators warn of an over-heated market and an imminent collapse.

Brendan O'Connor writes in The Sunday Independent, "If I wasn't already massively over-exposed to the dairy market by virtue of owning a reasonable farm, I'd be buying cattle... The really smart and ballsy guys are the guys who are buying herds when no one else is".

Stage Five - Panic
The Taoiseach declares "I think it's important to point out that the underlying fundamentals of the economy remain very strong". Prices plummet, the cattle market enters free flow, the bubble has finally burst.

Cattle owners can no longer afford the upkeep on their livestock, and find that setting them loose to roam the land unattended is cheaper than sending them to the slaughterhouse. Vast ghost herds blight the countryside, a tragic reminder of man's shortsighted greed.

The nation awakens from its bovine bacchanalia to discover that it is destitute, and the only people to make any significant profit from the Friesian frenzy of the previous years were the handful of large farmers who already controlled 70% of the industry prior to the boom, and who have significant financial and social ties to the ruling political party that inflated the bubble with myopic tax policies and light-touch regulations.

CAP in hand we go to Europe begging to be saved.

David McWilliams declares that he was a vegan all along, and asks why no-one listened to him.

Stage One – Displacement
Hey, has anybody noticed how many empty cow sheds there are all around the country now? I bet you could buy them for next to nothing, convert them into apartments, and sell them off quickly at a tidy profit...


On second thought maybe we aren't saved after all.

The lesson to be taken from all this is that any nation that listens to the likes of Brendan O'Connor, David McWilliams or even Róisín-bloody-Ingle on a regular basis deserves everything that they get.

(I feel compelled to mention that Brendan O'Connor is one of the most loathsome creatures the right-wing press have ever spawned in Ireland. The Gaucho quote above is actually something he said about Travellers back in 1997. He has written more than a few times about why it should be okay to use racial slurs, particularly about Travellers and folks of African descent. He really is a nasty piece of work. Just one more reason why I never read the Sunday Independent.)

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At 5:45 pm, Blogger lusciousblopster said...

Amoozing post!

At 5:49 pm, Anonymous Niall said...

A work of sick genius. I applaud you.


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