From top: Stephen Collins; Julien Mercille
For the establishment the choice is simple.
Stability or ANARCHY.
Dr Julien Mercille writes:
Stephen Collins is the Irish Times political editor. I see him in effect as a de facto government spokesperson [so closely do his views mirror those of the coalition].
His latest article on the upcoming elections conveys the government’s message. It is entitled “Stability or Chaos is the Choice Facing the Irish Electorate”
The alleged choice between “Stability or Chaos?” is one you will hear repeated often in the coming weeks. The claim is that voting for mainstream parties will preserve stability, while voting for independents and anti-austerity parties will bring chaos.
But this is a propaganda trick. Of course, we think of “stability” as a good thing and “chaos” as a bad thing. Therefore it’s supposed to make you want to vote for Enda Kenny again.
But the reality is this: the “stability” that Collins longs for is in fact the “stability of the Irish establishment”, which he thinks must be protected. “Chaos”, on the other hand, is anything that disrupts the establishment and takes away its prerogatives.
A few illustrations may be found on the website of the Nevin Research Institute, which produces two documents every three months that are must-reads for anybody who wants to understand the economy: the Quarterly Economic Observer and the Quarterly Economic Facts.
They give a picture of the economy and present key indicators about the state of the economy in a language that is easy to understand. It just released the documents for the Autumn quarter.
What kind of “stability” have the mainstream parties given us, and would logically continue giving us if re-elected?
– As David McWilliams’ excellent documentary The Great Wealth Divide showed, wealth is still very concentrated in Ireland. The top-20% of households own 73% of the country’s wealth. The top 10% own 54% and the top 1% own 15%. Stability means this won’t change.
– The budget is still focused on cutting taxes, which are regressive and unnecessary as Ireland is a low-tax, low-spend economy, which prevents investment in public services. This gives us the stability of poor public services.
– We have a 21% rate of unemployment and under-employment combined (under-employed people are those who would like to work full-time but are stuck in part-time jobs). For the last 5 years, that number has remained very stable indeed, oscillating between 330,000 and 475,000 people.
– The unemployment rate is still at nearly 10%, rather stable as well, as it is not falling very rapidly.
– The youth unemployment rate (for those under the age of 25) is still at 21%. Stability again.
– The deprivation rate is still very high, at 31%. Stability here too.
Sure, you could counter that whatever the poor state of the economy, we are now in recovery mode, so things are getting better. This is true, things are getting better and the recovery is becoming more real. But unless we adopt the low standards of Fine Gael-Labour, we should quickly point out that things could be much better if the government made better decisions.
What are those better decisions? They are policies that Stephen Collins would call “chaotic”. But in fact, they would actually improve our quality of life and the economy.
For example, there are a series of projects that could be accomplished:
– More investment to upgrade our poor-quality infrastructure. This will raise economic productivity, among other things. IBEC, the employers association, agrees and calls for €1 billion extra investment in the upcoming budget. The population also agrees and wants more spending, not tax cuts, as revealed by an important Irish Times opinion poll just released.
– Wealth tax on the rich. Even a small tax could raise about €300 million according to the Nevin Institute. You don’t need to be a member of the hard left to call for this. David McWilliams did in The Great Wealth Divide, just like economist Stephen Kinsella in the Sunday Business Post, along with many others.
– Invest in better public services so we can catch up with other countries. This will lower our cost of living (for example, thanks to cheaper public transportation and health care costs) and would increase employment take up and retention (for example, if the state provided better childcare services, parents would find it easier to work).
– Don’t cut taxes: Ireland is already a low-tax economy, and in any case, the tax cuts proposed by the government in the upcoming budget are regressive, meaning that they will mostly benefit the better off.
There are many more possibilities explained in the Nevin Institute’s documents, and in Unite the Union’s Budget 2016 submission, which can be found here.
In short, the choice is not between “stability” and “chaos”. It’s between supporting the establishment, or supporting everybody else.
Julien Mercille is a lecturer at UCD. His book Deepening Neoliberalism, Austerity, and Crisis: Europe’s Treasure Ireland is out. Follow Julien on Twitter: @JulienMercille