Right-Wing Think Tank Praised Ireland's 'Economic Freedom' ... and Then Its Economy Crashed
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Psychiatrists tell us that grief comes in four distinct stages: denial, anger, bargaining and depression, before finally the goal of acceptance may be reached. In the last year, the country has staggered its way through that grim quartet of emotions. We made ourselves believe that the boom would last for ever, denying the facts when it became clear that it wouldn't. We then told ourselves the fallout wouldn't be as vicious as some predicted, even as the dole queues lengthened and businesses collapsed, and every single one of us had a family member or colleague who lost a job or couldn't pay the mortgage any more. Then followed the grotesque period of passivity and botched action, which the historians of 21st-century Ireland will ultimately remember as the doom of a country's self-image.
When we needed sane leadership, we got evasions and platitudes. The goodwill that people had for the taoiseach, Brian Cowen, a demonstrably decent man, was squandered. His administration came to be widely mistrusted and – I hate to use the word – loathed. We were told that we were all in it together, even as the millionaire speculators were subsidised by the taxpayer, their lavish pensions and remuneration packages guaranteed. About 300 people in Ireland continue to live like rock stars, while 4 million of us foot the bill. We have socialism for bankers, the ferocities of the market for everyone else. We are cheated and lied to, and every family is now paying. The poor pay more than most.
I was young in the 1980s. I know what a recession is. But I cannot remember the boiling anger that now exists here, the sense of betrayal and injustice. A teacher told me recently that he could think of no reason to stay living in Ireland. Many politicians of all parties are despised. The radio phone-in shows have stories that would break a stone's heart. People have been appearing in court pleading for their homes not to be repossessed. Businesses are closing. Thousands are emigrating.
The difference between Ireland and America is that the Irish get it. They understand that austerity holds no promise for them except more pain, and that the benefit will no more "trickle" down to them than prosperity has trickled down to the rest of us from the rich enjoying their tax cuts.
There are depths of economic desperation from which people do not rise, mainly because it is not intended for them to do so. Austerity is a locked gate to upward mobility. The economic message is that most people will have to get used to a far lower standard of living. And permanently, for the recipe of spending cuts and tax cuts for the top 1% has yet to yield anything but increased inequality — prosperity for those at the top, and penury for the rest of us. Given the insistence on destructive policy when all the evidence shows it to be just that, it can only be assumed that more pain, more inequality, and no remedy for either is the desired outcome. The result will probably be greater economic inequality that cements into economic injustice passed from generation to generation.
...Of course it is better to have more money, even if only a little more. But poverty is also about the quality of the local school, access to good health services and the fear of crime. Tackling poverty is clearly about money, but it is also about ensuring access to the services that promote a better quality of life, and wider life chances.
As well as being too narrow, this approach is too static. Social mobility is what characterises a fair society, rather than a particular level of income equality. Inequalities become injustices when they are fixed; passed on, generation to generation. That's when societies become closed, stratified and divided.