Photo: erniecernst via Flickr
BILL HICKS, a chain-smoking comedian, loved to ridicule the “eternal-life fantasy” of the non-smokers in his audience. “Non-smokers die every day,” he jeered. “And you know what doctors say: ‘If only you smoked we’d have the technology to help you. It’s you people dying from nothing that are screwed.'”This twisted logic seems now to apply to one of Europe’s most troubled economies. Ireland looks like an abstemious jogger that has suffered a heart attack. The yield on its 10-year government bonds neared 7% on September 29th, a record spread of 4.7 percentage points above those of Germany. Ireland has tried hard to fix its problems. Public-sector wages have been slashed and new taxes raised. The economy is already flexible. As its troubled banks eat up ever more cash, it now seems short of options to return it to health.