PERSPECTIVE, computer whizz Alan Kay once said, is worth 80 IQ points. The comment seemed particularly appropriate late last week when, out of all the doom and gloom, the small glimmer of light emerged that Ireland was ranked the fifth best place to live in the world.
Even by recent standards, it had been a hugely depressing few days. There was the debacle of the Donegal South-West by-election; the soaring interest rates for Irish bonds; the prediction that 100,000 people would emigrate over the next four years; the €6bn savings required in the upcoming budget and one union's resistance to a modest proposal to abolish an archaic half-hour time allocation for cashing cheques that dates back to the 1970s.
Given the unrelenting stream of negativity, it was hard not to feel that we live in a banana republic, a failed state.
But then, like manna from heaven, came the UN Development Programme report and its reminder that maybe, just maybe, life is not so bad here after all.
It found that just four countries – Norway, Australia, New Zealand and the US – rated as better places to call home than dear ol' recession-hit Ireland. Based on a whole range of indicators – including income, life expectancy, education and health – Irish people's quality of life is in the very top rank.
In the current climate, there will be much scoffing at and dismissing of these findings. And it's understandable that many people's first instinct will be to do so. But the report, while not infallible, is based on extremely sound data. And it would be nice to think that it might bring a little bit of much needed perspective to the analysis of our current problems.
Just to stress, there is no denying that the country faces massive problems. The odds on an IMF or EU bail-out are probably 50-50 at the moment. There will be enormous pain inflicted in the budget. Many people's wealth has been seriously hit by the bursting of the property bubble. And, most importantly, there are the thousands of people who have lost their jobs. They have every right to take a dim view of the UN report.
But the survey does provide concrete evidence that, relative to the vast majority of countries, we also have a lot to be grateful for. And there is a very good basis on which to build a recovery.
Of the top 10 countries in the survey, Ireland has made the most progress and improvement since the index began 30 years ago. And despite people arguing we have nothing to show for the economic boom, it is s obvious to anybody living here that we do.
The budgetary crisis is certainly as bad, and probably a good deal worse, than the 1980s. But we as a people are far ahead of where we were 25 years ago. It's not just that we are wealthier and that we enjoy more luxuries than back then. But our infrastructure is far better. Healthcare is better. People are living longer. We are eating better. More people are going on to third-level education. Inequality is still an issue but consistent poverty levels are far lower than in the 1980s. The Troubles that were claiming hundreds of lives every year have ended. There is a thriving cultural diversity brought by the hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
It's easy to forget but really important to remember that, regardless of what happens over the next 12 months, the country will come through this crisis. The idea of outside intervention by the likes of the IMF should be avoided if at all possible. Our economic sovereignty is hugely important. But life hasn't stopped in Greece or Iceland because they had to seek support. Nor would it in Ireland.
We endlessly hear comments about how the austerity budgets could end up killing the patient. That implies the economy will simply stop functioning, which is simply not going to happen.
There are tough times ahead, but we have a future.
The level of despair created by the economic and banking crisis is hugely understandable. But we in the media have to be conscious that a lot of people are switching off – fed up with the endless tales of woe.
We can't, of course, stick our heads in the sand and avoid the unpalatable truths. That would be a dereliction of duty. But when you travel to other countries – which are also facing difficult times – it is noticeable that there is nothing like the blanket coverage that exists here.
And it is important that the debate begins to focus on what kind of republic we want to develop out of the current mess. The boom times were wonderful but they were wholly unsustainable. And many of the policies that were desirable to improve us as a country were impossible to implement during such plenty.
This is a chance to start again: to replace stamp duty with a property tax and introduce proper planning to ensure that property development is focused on providing quality accommodation while investment is concentrated on productive resources; to properly fund third-level institutions by ensuring that the better off pay something for the huge advantages that a college education confers; to reform a public service that for all its many strengths has been too focused on the needs of those who work in it; to develop a consciousness that good public services have to be paid for by everybody's taxes, on a proportional basis; to tackle the obscene fees charged by the professions (medical, legal and financial) and ridiculous salaries enjoyed by some semi-state bosses; to reform our political institutions and move away from clientelist, parish pump politics; to build a genuine smart economy to complement the current strong performance of the export-led sector; to get away from boom-bust cycles that have prevailed here for decades.
Out of the crisis comes our chance to build a better republic. Things are going to get worse before they get better, but they will, eventually, get better. And there's no harm in pointing that out.