Surely we can do better than this?

Slí Eile28/05/2009

Sli Eile: Writing in the Irish Times, Michael Casey a former chief economist with the Central Bank argues that a ‘Change of Government will not solve our economic woes’. He goes on to list seven reasons why there is little an alternative Government can do:

We lack the power to devalue currency or change interest rates (just as well?)

Public finances are stuck between a hard rock and a hard place (cut and be damned or reflate and be damned, it is said)

Social partnership will not, cannot, deliver an ‘appropriate incomes policy’ (what would that look like if it included all incomes?)

Public Sector reform will take years (if not decades?) to deliver

Toxic Banking is a poisoned chalice and nobody wants to drink from it (before, during or after NAMA has run its course in 20 something)

‘No political party has formulated an alternative industrial policy’ (not entirely true actually)

‘Most important economic decisions are made in Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington’ (it used to be London, and that was a key argument for joining the Common Market’)

And there the article ends. Is that all that there is to say? One may argue with many of the above claims, but there is an underlying truth – business as usual is gone and in a post-recession world we are left standing on our own two feet. I contest that these two feet should be:

- A new economic policy based on internationally traded services and products with completely new indigenous public, private and community enterprises;

- A new social and democratic contract that will replace the existing model of partnership and ensure the provision of a basic income for all and a 21st century European level of public services.

But how will this be paid for? And how will we dig ourselves out of the present financial hole? And where will be the political momentum come from?

What has progressive economics to offer? What could contributors to this blog suggest? What have non-readers who prefer to read irisheconomy.ie to say?

What is the minimum that a progressive coalition of economists, thinkers, politicians and social commentators and activists could agree on? Let's see. How about a set of ‘contestable’ statements to start a debate:

1 Banking – get this right as a top priority. It is a complex area but you don’t need to be a financial whiz kid to arrive at an obvious conclusion – only full ownership and control of Banking by the State can save this sector and the rest of the economy. Why wait for it to happen, and then say it is our only option. I appreciate that not everyone agrees with this …..

2 Fiscal policy – public finances are in dire straits and nobody denies this (at least since the start of this year). So, let's raid the rich (and not so rich) with much higher capital, new property, local residential and high-income taxes, while closing as many of the tax loopholes and reliefs which have long outlived their economic usefulness (if they every really had any). At the same time increase (yes!) public spending in a planned and strategic way to improve public services, capital infrastructure and job-retention and training while increasing public borrowing through a brokered ‘off-balance’ approach.

3 Jobs – a fiscal stimulus carefully targeted and forensically tested could arrest at least some of the jobs haemorrhage. Although there are no magic solutions, let's accelerate a programme of investment in select areas of research and development and link these to new enterprises – temporarily nationalising those firms that still have a viable future but are about to close, aiding firms in trouble through a new credit agency, converting unused land banks into productive social use and identifying potentially new growth areas for international services such as education, health and green technology. Fine Gael have made some valuable proposals in regard to a slate of new State companies and green technology (Rebuilding Ireland - a New Era for the Irish Economy)

4 Public Services - we need more, and not less, by way of health, education and protection against poverty. We are still among the most prosperous countries in the world but we need to move from being a society of nouveau riche and haves and have nots to a society where citizens and communities share the cost of providing an acceptable level of income, nurture, care and protection.

5 Reform of Corporations and Public Services
Linked to a reformed and enhanced public service is the need to democratise institutions (as well as reform public sector institutions, work practices and responsiveness). Our education and health sectors (to take just two examples) remain profoundly undemocratic and exclusionist in spite of all the talk about customers and inclusion. Likewise, the workplace needs to become a place where skills, team-working and decision-making are not the preserve of the shareholders or the managerial elite. Openness, transparency and accountability must reach into every public, private and voluntary organisations (but especially those in receipt of State subsidies or in charge of delivering some part of public or social services).

A new deal for a new Ireland. Five principles to start a national and international/EU debate. Who is up for it? Comments, disagreements, suggestions?

Or should we resign ourselves to waiting out the storm and someone else (IMF, ECB, EIB, ECion, London, Washington) will bail us out eventually ….? Surely we can do better than this.

Posted in: Democratic accountabilityBanking and financeEconomicsPoliticsFiscal policy

Tagged with: stimulusECBpublic financesdemocracypublicservices


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