Not dead yet
A long, long time ago — as Don McLean said (or, for younger readers, Madonna) — I got a terrible shock while reading the morning paper. I was at university in England at the time and opened The Times to discover that I had died.
As you can probably imagine, this came not only as a shock but also, as British understatement would say, as a little bit of a disappointment. I was 19 at the time, feeling as fit as a fiddle and had been in an excellent mood.
But there it was in big black letters on the obituary page: Ian McMaster was dead. I pinched myself a few times, decided that this must be a namesake, had another cup of coffee and turned to the sports pages.
I got a similar shock at the end of last week when I saw the front cover of the latest edition of The Economist, a magazine that I have read since my university (and, indeed, school) days.
There on the cover, under a headline that was also in big black letters ("Europe's economy"), was a picture of what looked like a dead parrot. And not just any dead parrot. This bird bore a striking resemblance to my former pet and economic advisor Maynard, who I named after Britain's most famous economist, John Maynard Keynes.
In a panic, I contacted Maynard via his favourite social network, Beakbook, to see if he was OK. He laughed at me with his usual lack of charm: "Dead? In your dreams, perhaps." I wish I hadn't worried or bothered to contact him.
Indeed, on closer examination, the parrot on the cover of The Economist wasn't actually dead. Although lying on its back, it was on a drip feed. And standing next to him was Angela Merkel uttering the words, "It's only resting".
The cover was a play on Monty Python's "dead parrot" sketch, probably their best-known work. In the sketch, a customer complains in a pet shop that he was sold a dead parrot. The salesman claims that the bird is just resting.
The serious points in the main article in The Economist were that "the world economy is not in good shape" and that "the biggest economic threat, by far, comes from continental Europe".
The weekly magazine (which calls itself a newspaper) rightly identified Germany as one of the main causes of the eurozone's illnesses, as a result of its insistence on fiscal austerity and balanced budgets, and its opposition to monetary easing.
"Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, should allow France and Italy to slow the pace of their fiscal cuts; in return, those countries should accelerate structural reforms," The Economist wrote. It added: "Germany, which can borrow money at negative real interest rates, could spend more building infrastructure at home."
With reference to The Times back in 1978, I can happily quote Mark Twain: "the report of my death was an exaggeration". This means I am still around to agree wholeheartedly with the assessment in The Economist of Europe's economy: not dead yet, but certainly on its back.
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