I’ve just put this up over on Cedar Lounge, but I’m sticking it up here too. Because I can.
There has already been some mention here of the remarkable ten minute televisual feast that was Junior Finance Minister Martin Mansergh and Margaret Ward of the Irish Times debating the southern economy on Hearts and Minds last night. Available to us all thanks to Pete Baker at Sluggerotoole. Without him some of us may have been denied the opportunity to see Mansergh demonstrating that he is not cut out for the cut and thrust of frontline politics by nearly losing it. Noel Thompson’s introduction pulled no punches, describing the Celtic Tiger as “toothless tabby” and the south set to be the worst performing developed economy in the EU, as well as raising the issue of a European bailout. Margaret Ward has offered her account of the debate, and I want to pick up on some of what she said, and how it relates to the emerging discourse of crisis we discussed here.
So what was Ward saying? She accused the government of fiddling while Rome burned, arguing that its inaction was itself a form of action. Here is her own paraphrase of what she said
Paraphrasing it I basically said this was an emergency and that we were at war for our economic survial. It was
time for unity. The time for party politics is over. We all need to come together, start talking to the social partners and make cuts
across the board. Why isn’t the Financial Regulator organisation in the dustbin? All senior bank management still not gone?
People are frightened – they’re losing their jobs, emigrating, huge numbers of small businesses are failing with banks refusing to
make loans…They need some hope.” I asked him loads of questions and asked him what they were doing about it. Why weren’t
they asking for help from the extraordinarily intelligent experts we have in this country? Why weren’t they communicating a plan to
As with Eoghan Harris, John Gormley and others, Margaret Ward is convinced that there is something rotten in the state of the Irish economy, and that we are now fighting for our very life. Engaged in a war no less. I’ll come back to the implications of this argument at the end. However, unlike them she believes that the corruption scandals have hurt the Irish economy in the eyes of the world.
If you are not extremely angry about what is going on then you should be. Ireland will be bankrupt in about 12 months. We are burning through about €1 billion or so a week. Internationally, Ireland Inc. is viewed as corrupt country where cronyism is rife and that’s accurate. Are you happy with that reputation? I’m not. It’s embarrassing. We ALL have to inform ourselves about the FACTS and then take action – quickly.
She was more explicit on Sluggerotoole
No one wants to lend to us because we are seen as corrupt fraudsters. As a result, we pay more to borrow money than other countries.
The other half of her argument was that the government was not ensuring that enough money was getting to private enterprise from the banks, and that a new bank should be created by the state to loan to small business. No arguments from me about the need for a new bank, about the need to ensure that businesses do not go to the wall where possible, but of course we also need to expand this to individuals, and especially to their mortgages.
It’s fair to say that Mansergh was not best pleased with her attitude and arguments. It’s also fair to say that I find myself in the unpleasant and unexpected position of being on his side of the argument. Mansergh made the point that the government was not going to clobber the people all at once. Ward’s response was an outraged and repeated “Why not?” The implications of her question are remarkable. While trying to appear as the voice of the man on the street, alone, abandoned and ignored by government, the actual consequences of her policies being adopted are simple. She said the government needed to talk to the people, to communicate with it. That is all well and good. But what does it seem she thinks the government should actually be saying? We are cutting your wages, your benefits, your public services, your schools, your hospitals, and our commitments to you and to social welfare. Instead we are going to concentrate on ensuring that we give money to business so that if you are lucky some of this will trickle down to you (because there was no mention of helping individuals out, just businesses). This is her version of offering the people hope. Spare us.
As I’ve noted already, this argument is being made by a range of government and media figures in the language of war. Ward in fact argued that there was a danger of being “economically colonised” by Europe. Yet it never seems to dawn on any of them to ask what governments do during times of war. Do they cut public spending? Do they reduce their activity? Do they downsize their role in the economy and in the lives of the citizens? Of course not. In order to win a war, the government takes into its own hands the direction of the entire economy. It creates new factories and new jobs. It suspends political ideology in favour of the efficiency offered by the collective energies of the people harnessed by the state. Perhaps when they meditate a little more on that, Ward and co might rethink their use of the terminology, or even the supposed solutions they are offering to the crisis.