Its all down to political choices informed by values

Slí Eile16/11/2009

Slí Eile: We are in the midst of a global, European and national crisis – economically, politically and morally. Decisions made in the coming days and weeks as well as those made since the onset of this current recession will have profound effects on future generations. The roots of this crisis lie in the systemic nature of global unbridled capitalism – greatly exacerbated in the Irish case by an inept political and business class that traded short-term gain for long-term sustainable prosperity with fairness. If economics is about ‘who gets what’, politics is also about ‘who gets what’ except that political institutions should help to provide, redistribute and moderate in a mixed economy of public, private and community enterprise governed by the rules of democracy, law and human rights. A new political economy is long overdue.

There has been much public debate over the last 15 months about the nature and causes of this economic slump. There has, also, been much debate and analysis about how Governments can kick-start banking, credit, the ‘green economy’ and – here in Ireland how Governments can deal with the fall-out from a skewed taxation system, a fragmented and inadequate social security net and dysfunctional banking system. Much less attention has been given to:

- An attractive long-term vision of what type of society we wish to construct in the 21st Century
- A coherent, realistic and popular strategy to move from where we are today to where we envision a future.

Hard choices and decisions are needed at every step of the way and these will work if they are well thought out, tested and – popular. yes popular because we must trust that in the end people have a sense of fairness and wisdom and that however imperfectly in the longrun this will win out. People, communities and their elected representatives must be fully engaged with the process of deliberation, adjustment and progress. Unless a decisive and united approach is adopted the poor, migrants, women, young people, those dependent on public services and social welfare will suffer more than those at the top of the income and wealth pile who have escaped the full rigours of the market (and the law in some cases).

Currently, markets and politics tend to be value-free. Still, we have to deal with the realities of what is there now while sticking to a vision of where we need to go and how, broadly speaking, we can get there. It is proposed by this contributor, in a series of short blogs over the coming week, to outline a number of ‘non-negotiable’ points – perhaps 8 or 10 in all – of moral principle beyond which a progressive consensus should not go. Any political trend competing for a share of political economy at the cabinet table in the next one to 20 years needs to be very, very clear about where they are coming from, where they aim in terms of long-term goals and what exactly they would agree to do and put up with in any political coalition arrangement. Voters and supporters deserve to know even if (as always) the macro-economic environment continues to be very uncertain.

To use a phrase of David Begg, lets call these ‘non-negotiables’ ‘lines of decency’ beyond which nobody should go unless they have swallowed the Dublin Consensus Pill in part or in whole. Dealing with the disciplines and political realities imposed by Eurozone membership (as well as EU membership) is yet another political constraint that must be dealt with (but creatively and not slavishly while effectively prompting EU bodies on what to say). I hope to follow this up by a further series of blogs outlining up to 7 alternative approaches to dealing with the crisis from the Government’s position, on one extreme, to that of the ‘far left’ on the other and plenty of permutations and combinations in between. Views, counter-arguments and corrections of fact are, as always, welcome. Let the debate re-start if it ever properly started! And let nobody assume that the one not with them is necessarily against them. There is plenty of scope for convergence and common ground as well as differences on detail and the how and when exactly.

Posted in: Economics

Tagged with: Political Economy


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