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.