All of this forms part of a carefully orchestrated campaign founded on the premises of the ‘Dublin Consensus’. When a particular agenda is to be pursued the standard approach is to establish a Taskforce or an Advisory Group; invite the usual suspects, prepare the ground through selective leaks, time the process (mid-July to mid-September is not a bad time) and then distance yourself from the final report by saying that Government is giving careful consideration to its recommendations. In reality the game was set months ago. The a priori basis for the exercise was and continues to be:
• All banks must be saved no matter what the cost – this is in the national interest;
• Taxes are a burden and must be kept to a minimum
• Government is spending too much and the public sector is over-staffed
• Wages and social welfare must be cut as they are higher or highest internationally
• There is no other alternative.
The latter bullet point is very important. It is essential to box in discussion along the lines of ‘if you don’t like these proposed savings propose alternative savings – we must cut by €4-5 billion this year, and same again next year, and then again in 2011,
Media pundits, backbenchers and junior coalition parties, ‘expert’ academic advice etc must be kept on message.
And everything else must wait – once we have sorted out the banking crisis as well as the ‘disorder in the public finances’ and laid the ground for a competitive repositioning in global markets – we can discuss other things. Considerations of social equity, let alone whether the Slash and Burn strategy will actually deliver, are simply not on the table.
What has emerged in the course of the last months is part of a wider picture. The important challenge now is to begin to construct a credible, costed, tested and agreed alternative programme of measures. Some positive ideas and proposals have emerged in the course of recent months from a number of political parties, trade unions and community and voluntary groups. Differences will arise on details but the broad thrust is clear:
• We cannot cut our way out of this crisis – this is where Bord Snip Nua is fundamentally wrong;
• Protecting and creating new employment is vital – we cannot afford to condemn a whole generation to prolonged unemployed and emigration;
• A selective, forensic and balanced stimulus package is essential to restore confidence and halt the loss of jobs, hope and confidence;
• Reforming banking, taxation, public spending, the public sector, corporate governance is urgent and unavoidable if a way forward is to be found;
• We must defend the weak, the vulnerable and the marginalised – it is precisely these groups that will suffer the most if the Bord Snip Nua proposals are followed through
A sketchy outline of an alternative political economy was given in a previous blog here.
Pope Benedict XVI, no socialist, has recently written in Caritas in Veritate:
….the market has prompted new forms of competition between States as they seek to attract foreign businesses to set up production centres, by means of a variety of instruments, including favourable fiscal regimes and deregulation of the labour market. These processes have led to a downsizing of social security systems as the price to be paid for seeking greater competitive advantage in the global market, with consequent grave danger for the rights of workers, for fundamental human rights and for the solidarity associated with the traditional forms of the social State. Systems of social security can lose the capacity to carry out their task, both in emerging countries and in those that were among the earliest to develop, as well as in poor countries. Here budgetary policies, with cuts in social spending often made under pressure from international financial institutions, can leave citizens powerless in the face of old and new risks; such powerlessness is increased by the lack of effective protection on the part of workers' associations. Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions.He could have been talking about Bord Snip Nua and the current state of economic, political and social crisis in Ireland inc - not to mention social partnership.
I will look at more of the specifics in this report later.