Colm O'Doherty: The captivation of our Fianna Fail-led government by the Milton Friedman /Chicago School policy trinity of privatization, government deregulation and reduced social spending is critically harming our well-being. Our economic crisis has allowed free marketeers to instigate orchestrated raids on the public sphere. The crisis opportunism of disaster capitalism is activated through networks of rule which underpin the governance strategies facilitating our so- called recovery. Economic ideology masquerading as technical and uncontentious adjustments has been engaged to finesse this asymmetrical relationship between power and rationality - power produces rationality and rationality produces power, but power has the upper hand in the dynamic and overlapping relationship between the two.
The hallmark of disaster capitalism - economic shock treatment - is manifested through coercive policies which decouple individual well-being from social well-being, and privilege private gain over common good. The atmosphere of crisis generated by the failed policies of successive Fianna Fail-led administrations has paved the way for an economic settlement which overrules the expressed wishes of citizens and has handed the country over to economic technocrats. As Naomi Klein puts it in the Shock Doctrine (2007,140,) “If an economic crisis hits and is severe enough – a currency meltdown , a market crash, a major recession –it blows everything else out of the water , and leaders are liberated to do whatever is necessary (or said to be necessary) in the name of responding to a national emergency”.
Thus, our recession has provided those economic zealots in thrall to the fundamentalist doctrine (Capitalism and Freedom ,1962) of Milton Friedman with an opportunity to reduce all regulatory obstacles to profitmaking , sell off all public assets , cut back funding of social programmes and keep taxes low. The dominance of this ideological vision is strongly reflected in the competiveness, securitisation and flexibility discourses filling the airwaves.
Fianna Fail and their coalition partners have articulated these political rationalities in a populist idiom - the idiom of frontier politics. Here, politics finds expression through economic sequestration of social citizenship. Abolition of social rights is viewed as a pragmatic “structural adjustment”, and the task of politicians is to follow the money from crisis to crisis. Opposition to frontier politics within the political system is finite, as Fine Gael is also in thrall to economic fundamentalism and Labour lack political muscle. Civil society is the only real opposition, and civil society in Ireland has been shaped and nurtured by the very politicians it now has to challenge and oppose. The capacity of civil society to act as a counterweight to the economic shock therapy now being administered has been undermined by the cut backs and closures imposed on community development/family support projects, and by the tightening of revenue streams for voluntary service providers.
The trade unions are the only remaining force in civil society capable of challenging the Government’s disaster capitalism doctrine, as the Catholic Church’s power has been compromised. However, the trade unions are now engaged in a form of action which is focused on some of the symptoms of our political malaise rather than its root cause. Industrial action which, in the main, impacts on fellow citizens will further weaken civil society and plays into the hands of the Government. What is needed here is a co-ordinated, strategic political campaign organized and directed by the trade union movement targeting Fianna Fail and their coalition partners. Solving our political crisis by confronting a Government who are bent on protecting the wealthy by impoverishing large sections of the population should, logically, be the first step in reforming our ailing economy.