Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Fetishists of Farmleigh

Colm O'Doherty: The conceit at the heart of the Global Economic Forum at Farmleigh was that it lacked the will and resolve to make any alternative to "more of the same"realistic. It is hardly surprising that it elevated "celebrity crisis management"over a genuine inquiry into what Irish citizens want from capitalism.Our current political crisis has been aggravated by economic growth which binged on consumer credit.

Advice from rich entrepreneurs only serves to validate a complacent self-serving worldview where growth for its own sake without any judgement of its wider value in society is promoted.There is a general awareness amongst most thinking people that this recession was triggered,to a large degree,by profligate consumerism-and the mountain of debt that accompanied it.

Farmleigh should have been an opportunity,therefore,to consider the case for a less consumer-oriented society. Instead of fetishising money-capital growth -"Ireland needs to monetise its culture businessman Dermot Desmond told the conference"(Irish Tines, 21/09/09)-we should be thinking about whether we want less consumption and more and better public services. Ironically one of the key note speakers, Dr.Craig Barrett, former head of Intel, did argue for more investment in a public service, education, but only so that it could be the lackey of the self-serving growth for growth's sake merchants.In order for a real debate to have taken place on what kind of ireland we want to live in the Forum needed the participation of social scientists from disciplines other than the dismal science of economics.

The social sciences can and should contribute to a greater understanding of the workings of our society and the dynamics of Irish social life. In so doing, they provide us with a mirror upon which we can gaze in order to understand not only what we have been and what we are now, but to inform ideas about what we might become.

Economists are not only incapable of this - they reduce everything to crude instruments of value - but they break the cardinal rule of social scientists by being prescriptive at every turn. They do this continually because they assume that they can predict human behaviour with certainty, ignoring the fact that a necessary condition of human freedom is the ability to have acted otherwise and to imagine and practice different ways of organising societies and living together.


Tristram said...

The Rev Laurence Sterne makes a passionate plea for the true value of art in society.
Enjoy and discuss

Martin O'Dea said...

Colm, that's an excellent piece. There should, of course, have been a representation of ideas and perspectives aside from experience in making money on display.

I argued on this website recently that as technological change is growing exponentially and so the world of five years time will have changed as much as the change of the previous ten and so on that this constant increase in technology will have the effect of empowering more and more people and will ultimately increase global wealth and global standards of living.

In this environment the old purely capitalist ideal of some keeping much which can be seen, perhaps as a gradual evolution from feudal times, is becoming less and less relevant. If in a world of advanced nano-technology we can fundamentally alter materials at such basic levels that we can eliminate much of resource shortages what then do we need a government to do if not to listen to billionaires talk of earning mechanisms and monthly profits! Also evident from the omnipresence of information technology is that blogs like this which allow expression for so many and highlight the general intelligence beyond what is assumed by the governing class should be mobilised more so that they can feed into the political process in some way. Again, thanks for excellence observations on farmleigh