Michael Burke: There is a clear disparity between the economic policies of the Irish government and those of the other industrialised countries. While every single country in the G20 adopted in some sort of stimulus measures last year and (with one exception) will do so again in 2010, Ireland's unique contractionary experiment continues to depress activity and tax receipts, boosting only the unemployment level and the budget deficit.
Supporters of government policy argue There Is No Alternative, having learnt their economics from Mrs Thatcher. But, clearly the G20 have a myriad of alternatives, even though many have deficits as large as Ireland's and most still have higher levels of government debt. Separately it is argued that adding to the deflationary trend in the economy is good for business, helping to improve competitiveness.
But Sean Quinn is the latest serious business leader to bemoan the fact that government policy is depressing activity and forcing a revival of mass emigration. He also argues, in complete contradiction of government spokespersons and their supporters, that wages are not an issue and speaks of his own experience with a highly competitive workforce in re-orienting to export markets: "Policymakers should focus on investment for the creation of sustainable jobs".
This follows an intervention by Jim O'Hara, general manager of Intel in Ireland, who has previously criticised the downgrading of Irish manufacturing capacity and argues that the key to competitiveness and new job creation is investment in education and in R&D. "We are competing in a global market to create, attract and retain the highest quality jobs. Unless there is the foundation of a highly educated workforce and an internationally recognised commitment to and reputation for research and innovation, Ireland will not be considered competitive."
As the heads of two of the largest employers in the country, one multi-national and the other indigenous, you would think their views might hold sway with a pro-business government, or at least with IBEC. But that isn't the case.
IBEC has over 7,500 members, very few of them as large or as dynamic as Intel or the Quinn Group. It has led the calls for across-the-board wage cuts, which stand in sharp contrast to the representatives of major firms such as O'Hara and Quinn. In effect, IBEC represents the views of comparatively small producers; a shopkeeper mentality that hopes to stay in business by pay cuts for the shop staff. It was disastrous for 1,406 insolvent businesses last year, with barely a murmur from IBEC.
The current government represents an alliance of these forces with those of the property speculators and their banks. Their disastrous showing in the opinion polls suggests they have, for now, been numerically reduced to these layers along with some of their traditional rural base. Their supporters are the minority.
For all progressives, the key task is to build an overwhelming majority around the axis of 'Investment, Not Cuts'.