Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Post-Celtic-Tiger errata

John Barry: Have just read Showcasing Globalisation?: The Political Economy of the Irish Republic by Nicola Jo-Anne Smith. It’s a good source of empirical data and debates about the Irish economy in terms of whether it really is 'globalised' or merely 'internationalised' and actually concentrated in terms of trade to a couple of countries - US and the UK in particular. It’s also a rather infuriating read - lots of 'on the one hand...but on the other...' and frustratingly fails to come down with any analytically insightful or normatively interesting positions.

She contests that Ireland is a 'competition state' (Irish-style), as maintained by critics of the neo-liberal Celtic Tiger model such as Peadar Kirby or Denis O'Hearn, yet does not outline what a 'competition state' is and how it differs from a 'welfare' or 'developmental' one. The book also offers the most torturous account of the persistence of inequality in Ireland, while maintaining this is not a major issue given the rise in absolute wages for most and the provision of a (bare and increasingly thread-bare) social safety net. But perhaps most frustrating of all, and which to my mind, really undermines the book's contribution, there is no discussion of the dynamics of globalised capitalism or indeed the character of Irish capitalism. It is as if one can blithely discuss 'globalisation' without mentioning capitalism!

Nevertheless, despite these criticisms, it is a good start to the debate about the Celtic Tiger, and more importantly the post-Celtic Tiger situation, not least in Smith's argument that both the 'Whittaker moment' in the 1950s (which heralded the end of De Valera-style protectionism) and the social partnership model of the late 1980s (of the commonly held features which explains the Celtic Tiger 'take off') were borne out of crisis.

Where is our 'green Whittaker now' and is there a green version of social partnership and the need to respond to the current economic (and growing political) crisis by restructuring the state, economy and civil society in Ireland?

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