Tag Archives: Austerity



A look at the facts surrounding the Greek bailout that has supposedly saved the country’s economy.

TeleSUR English posts on social media:

The IMF and the EU nearly destroyed Greece with its financial bailout. Now, the country is going to market and being sold piece by piece, as almost every industry becomes private.

TeleSUR English


Mind the austerity gap.

Darragh Quigley writes:

‘Why do you use a food bank?’ asked the nice, well meaning, well spoken senior policy adviser from the ‘left leaning’ think tank, over coffee, paid for by another senior policy adviser.

For once lost for words I mumbled something about not having any food left before my dole comes through and and that I didn’t have any food sometimes.

What I didn’t say was, what the fuck? Here we have a person who advises on public policy who through the way in which our society is structured has never had to sit down with some body surviving on the sharp edge of the public and political policy he advises on.

…This cultural divide along monetary and gulf in life experience is where the ‘Ah shure it’s just an extra few euro a week.’ Mentality comes from. People so deliberately and in an incredibly calculated way were shielded and still are protected from even having to glimpse the ‘vulnerable’ way of life.

Hands up how many middle class people knew the college Joan Burton visited on that faithful day in Jobstown is also a food bank?  Hands up who’s seen someone cry after being handed a tin of beans, some yogurt and pasta at a food bank? Hands up who told them they have done nothing wrong and it is a spiteful, shameful society who fucked up there, not you.

…This is how austerity works, quietly, efficiently and hidden behind economic policy and political decisions: live are destroyed, but slowly and strategically while firstly stripping people of all pride and dignity. ‘They’re less likely to fight back that way.’

At the height of a suicide epidemic what does the government decide needs to go? The bereavement grant, young men don’t usually have life insurance.  The most vulnerable, private, sensitive moments offer no escape from the constant suffocating pressure of austerity. The kind of pressure which goes unseen, when the stress and turmoil we all experience with a bereavement also involves anything from not being able to afford clothes to simply not having the money for a funeral.

…The officer class desperate to believe the recovery narrative, terrified to look the cold hard data and facts in the eye. Austerity has failed, for us, for the 80 people who own half the world’s wealth, media, and exert huge political and economic power, it has been a fantastic success. Its also ideology, austerity is a belief system there is no ‘science of economics’ behind it.

Even economists don’t believe the austerity model, as discussed with Bill Black at Kilkenomics only about 10% subscribe to that school of thought, i’ts a way of thinking which is rewarded by our society and those 80 or so people who own half the worlds wealth.

Economists, academics and journalists have been kept in tenuous positions and easy to control. The herd behaviour our great commentators fretted about ended up applying to them, too afraid to question the dominant ideology they went along with the gang. With The Irish Times reading like a string of middle class people afraid to lose their jobs, fall through the cracks and end up in the public system.

Austerity restructures society in such a way that policy makers can’t even conceive the effect of their policies…(more at link below)

Why do you use a food bank? (Dara Quigley, Degrees of Uncertainty)


This afternoon.

Anti-Irish Water and austerity protesters in solidarity with Greece outside Leinster House, Dublin this afternoon.

Earlier: Tsip Happens

(Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland)



Julien Mercille (left) and Owen Jones at the Sinn Fein Summer School last weekend

Syriza has to be broken, or so the EU great powers decided long before it was even elected. But how? First: compel it to impose another dose of disastrous austerity, in violation of the party’s clear electoral mandate. This would inflict on it the same fate as the Greek social-democratic party Pasok, which so alienated its support base that its vote plummeted from 44 per cent in 2009 to 4.7 per cent by 2015.

A second possible strategy: strangle Greece’s economy until the people decide that the lesser catastrophe would be to resign themselves to endless austerity within the eurozone. This is the current course of action.

The third strategy: force a default and drive Greece out. However, this might expose the eurozone’s Achilles heel. A precedent would be set: the eurozone would no longer be an indivisible currency union, but a club that weaker members can leave or from which they can be de facto ejected. Italy, say, could find itself the subject of extreme market speculation….

The elites are determined to end the revolt against austerity in Greece (Owen Jones, New Statesman)


Paddy Ferris writes:

If you want to know how bad a certain amount of people in this country are suffering due to austerity, one need only take a look at adverts.ie today as a person asks ‘Please help?’ He is looking for a loan of €200 for ‘food for my kids.’ Shockingly sad, and an indictment of the economics that our government still advocate.

Please Help (Adverts.ie)

UPDATE: Ad since withdrawn. Go figure.

tubridyRyan Tubridy during Friday’s Late Late Show

Further to Friday night’s Late Late Show.

Julien Mercille writes:

Last Friday Paul Murphy TD of the Anti-Austerity Alliance was on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show where Ryan Tubridy questioned him about the water charges protests that have sprung up throughout Ireland recently.

Many on social media have noted how Tubridy was biased against Murphy, showing that he disapproved of the protests, or at least the ones that involve civil disobedience.

Another way to see it is that Tubridy was pretty good from the standpoint of protecting government interests. He’s paid handsomely for that. His current salary is €495,000, and in 2011 it was €723,000. He asked all the right questions to try to discredit the water charges protests and Paul Murphy by:

– Bringing up the protests that left Joan Burton in her car for two hours during which she was apparently ‘intimidated’ and asking multiple times whether this was ‘appropriate’ and saying the protest should have been more ‘civilised’.

– Asking whether Paul Murphy gets a ‘thrill’ from being arrested because this allows him to get in the media.

-Bringing up the protest against President Michael D. Higgins and suggesting it was wrong because the President shouldn’t be challenged.

– Asking why would anyone protest the water meters closer than 20 meters if the courts said they should stay beyond 20 meters.

– Trying to picture Paul Murphy as being ‘anti-everything’ but not proposing any positive alternative.

Those are standard tactics of a media establishment that fears real democracy. Real democracy involves more than voting for two or three similar parties once every few years. It is about people being able to make decisions that affect their own lives and participate in policy at the national and local level.

The problem with that from the establishment’s viewpoint is that the policies that would be favoured by the majority of people would often turn out to be completely different from those that have been imposed on us over the last few years of austerity.

For example, who, other than the government, would want to implement policies that have forced 31% of the population into deprivation, up from only 12% in 2007?

Who would cut violence against women programmes by 38%? Who would cut health care spending by a mind-boggling 27%? Or community development by 44%? Or drugs programmes by 37%?

The media used rather flimsy arguments to try to cast a negative light on those who protest. We’re still talking about Joan Burton’s feelings while in her car, but less so about those who have suffered from the cuts.

The strongest reason gathered to oppose protesting the President is that… well, he’s the President, after all. If you oppose cutting government services, you must be doing so for personal glorification, not because you care about people. Or maybe you just reject everything like an immature child.

The sole mention of civil disobedience brings hysterical reactions, even though it’s been used around the world to resist immoral policies. Howard Zinn, the celebrated American historian, put it this way during the Vietnam War (Hollywood’s Matt Damon read those lines in a video here):

‘Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty.
Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem. We are going to need to go outside the law, to stop obeying the laws that demand killing or that allocate wealth the way it has been done, or that put people in jail for petty technical offenses and keep other people out of jail for enormous crimes. My hope is that this kind of spirit will take place not just in this country but in other countries because they all need it.
People in all countries need the spirit of disobedience to the state, which is not a metaphysical thing but a thing of force and wealth. And we need that kind of declaration of interdependence among people in all countries of the world who are striving for the same thing.’

Those thoughts should enter the media debate in Ireland.

@JulienMercille is lecturer at UCD and the author of The Political Economy and Media Coverage of the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland. He will provide evidence to the Banking Inquiry {in March] on the role of the media during the housing bubble years.

Earlier: The Paul Murphy Takedown

itToday’s Irish Times


Les we forget.

The media have not been shy about announcing their role in convincing the public that austerity is good for them.

At the outset of the crisis, in November 2008, an editorial the Irish Times, called for a campaign to ‘educate’ the population about the need for austerity and ‘civic discipline’.

The problem was that Irish people did ‘not appreciate the possible extent of the economic downturn’ because only 10% of them thought the budget should be tougher while two-thirds thought it should be less tough, according to a national poll.

The editors thus concluded that ‘the Government will have a major job to do in educating public opinion about unpalatable economic realities and the need for civic discipline’.

The media have helped the government extensively in that task. One reason that explains why only about 12% of articles oppose austerity is that a large majority of writers come from elite institutions that favour austerity.

Excluding regular journalists, 29% of the authors of opinion articles in the press on austerity are mainstream economists, 28% are working in the financial or corporate sector, and 20% are political officials in the three main political parties, which have all supported austerity.

The media’s favourable view of fiscal consolidation can be assessed through the following sample of article titles published since 2008: ‘Commitment and Stamina are Required for Fiscal Consolidation’ (Irish Times), ‘New Budget will Prove Tough but Necessary’ (Sunday Independent), ‘Austerity Vital to Maintain our Economic Sovereignty’ (Irish Times), ‘We Need to Stop Living in Denial and Cut Costs Even Further’ (Sunday Independent), ‘We Must Suffer the Pain Now—Or Else we will Blight Future Generations’ (Sunday Independent), ‘Bill is Tough but Necessary’ (Irish Times), ‘Tough Budget Would Restore Confidence’ (Irish Times), ‘Supplementary Budget can Begin Urgent Task of Restoring Depleted Tax Revenues’ (Irish Times), ‘Budget May Cut Wages and Raise Taxes to Restore Competitiveness’ (Irish Times), ‘[Austerity] Budget Will Restore Confidence and Hasten Economic Recovery’ (Irish Times) and ‘Tough Budget Needed to Stave Off Grimmer Future’ (Irish Times).

Dr Julien Mercille

Relentless Cheeleaders For Austerity (Julien Mercille, Social Europe)

Previously: Relentless Cheerleaders for Austerity



Luke ‘Ming Flanagan MEP

We don’t really expect much. An odd good summer and for the children not to have to take the boat when they’re reared. People are being told that things are getting better. People are not stupid. It’s getting worse.

I had to use a ‘local’ A&E the other night. We got a letter from our GP and headed for our destination with a screaming 7 week old child. Before we left we explained to the baby sitter that our other two daughters were not to use the tap water when brushing their teeth due to it being contaminated with cryptosporidium. We arrived at the hospital at around 7pm to be met by very helpful staff. We got in line. Baby still screaming. After an hour we got to see a very helpful nurse and were then sent back into a waiting room. After another two hours we were brought into an area to see a doctor. Baby still screaming. It was wall to wall with people on trollies. Some had been there for two days.

So what eh! Sure this is normal. After all things are improving! The war zone hospital scene in front my two eyes is this governments idea of improvement. Even Terry “twist it” Prone couldn’t find a collection of words to make this place look acceptable. The people on the trollies looked both sick and sickened. When you are sick you want at least to be buffered from stress. All I could see and feel was stress. Doctors and nurses trying to manoeuvre around a maze of trollies packed into corridors. Howya Ming said one man. “Ashamed” I said. We didn’t need to elaborate. Another man approached me and said “my wife tried kill herself last night with tablets”. The first line of treatment for this couple in unimaginable trauma was to be subjected to even more. Not even a space to themselves. I had felt more dignity the evening I was committed to Castlerea prison.

At this stage we needed to call home as our other two children would be worried. We called but failed as there was no signal. I went out to the middle of the car park until I finally got one but I still couldn’t ring as our baby sitters mobile was out of range. You see unless we leave the phones in one particular part of our house then they can’t be contacted. By the way we live in the middle of a town.

As it turned out our daughter was fine. With cryptosporidium in your water supply you never know. No matter how vigilant you are as a parent there’s always the worry that somehow the child’s bottle has been contaminated. The basic instinct of being able to run something under a tap to give it a clean is turned on it’s head.

We travelled home that night and both my wife and I spoke about the services in this country. You can’t drink the water. If your child does and gets sick then they must endure the torture of an overcrowded understaffed A&E. That’s if you can get there on time. You can’t ring home with news because the phones don’t work. When you try to get to and from the A&E you must put up with diabolical road conditions. When we got up the following morning we sent our children to a school with a pupil teacher ratio so high that crowd control is the best the teacher could possibly achieve. You basically have to teach them yourself when they come home. I pity the committed teachers who are expected to work in these conditions.

I hear the cry from government deputies that it is easy to be in opposition. No it’s not. It’s torture. It’s torture to watch everything falling around our ears while at same time our government tells us things are getting better. We are a warned about the sinister fringe. How much more sinister can it get than the way things are at the moment. While we struggle to provide basic services for our citizens we at the same time continue to bail out the European banking system. The interest alone on the odious bank debt is €1.6 billion per annum. So even when you pay to get services there are cut to the bone because the banker must be paid first.

The last few weeks have been inspirational. I have a hope that people are starting to expect more. Why shouldn’t you? Keep expecting and eventually you will get it. Keep it up. Bring on December 10th and bring this government to its knees. The alternative is to accept that barely surviving is the new thriving. Accept it now and you accept it forever.

Luke Ming Flanagan (Facebook)

(Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland)


[The UNICEF report] found Irish families with children have lost the equivalent of ten years of income progress. The child poverty rate rose by over 10% to 28.6% between 2008 and 2012.This corresponds to a net increase of more than 130,000 poor children in Ireland.

There you go now.

UNICEF report finds 10% rise in child poverty in Ireland (RTE)


Dreamboat Senior Lecturer in Economics in the Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick, Ireland Stephen Kinsella and Professor of Geography at NUI Maynooth Rob Kitchin joined Colm Ó Mongain yesterday on RTÉ’s This Week.

A Daft report released this morning which shows that asking prices in Dublin rose 10.6% last year while, outside of Dublin, asking prices fell in every other county at an average 5.9% over the same period.

Colm Ó Mongain: “[To Stephen Kinsella] You wrote recently about your fears that another bubble will be allowed to inflate. Tell us on that scheme, tell us what the Minsky Cycle is.”

Stephen Kinsella: “Well the basic idea of the Minsky Cycle is that, following a collapse, like we’ve just experienced, things tend to calm down and people forget, essentially, that things have gone so spectacularly wrong. And, eventually, banks begin to start lending out again. And once they’ve lent out a bit and got a bit more back in interest, then they increase their amount of lending, the credit cycle takes off, asset prices rise, people get euphoric again, we start to see the kind of ridiculous stuff that we saw during the boom: people queuing outside of half-finished housing estates, all that sort of stuff. Eventually something goes wrong and the whole system collapses and this cycle is just part of developed economies, it’s just what has happened for at least the last 200 years.
My big fear is that we’re gonna forget just how bad things were four or five years ago and we’ll kick off again, because we haven’t put in place any of the regulatory changes to forestall the next crisis when the kids Rob [Kitchin] was just talking about there, grow up and want to start buying houses again.

Ó Mongain: “One of the key conditions though, in terms of inflating a bubble, you would think would be credit, when we’re talking about mortgage lending being at 40-year lows, it doesn’t really seem to be a factor. I mean estate agents are now talking about half of the property market being made up of people paying cash?”

Kinsella: “Yeah, I mean one of the biggest worries actually is that the rate of credit expansion which used to be a really, really good indicator of how strong a boom was, that’s no longer such a good indicator because so many people are buying in cash. I’d like to talk to some of these people actually, I don’t know any of them but the question is: where is this cash coming from? Is it being driven by an expectation that prices are just about to rise.
So, in other words, if you thought that the price of houses was gonna increase by 10% in Dublin next year, would you buy a house right now? Yeah you would of course. You’d like to do that. It would also explain why the supply is so low, because obviously nobody wants to sell, if the thing’s on the floor.”

Ó Mongain: “Will the market, left to its own devices simply sort that out or should we be looking at some sort of intervention? And if so, I guess, is that going to be very difficult to do when you have essentially a market running at two speeds in Dublin and the rest of the country?”

Kinsella: “The core lesson of the boom is that the market left on its own creates massive crises which the taxpayer has to eventually recoup. That’s the core lesson here. So, what we need to realise is that, left to their own devices, markets boom and bust and the bust generally lands on the taxpayer.
So we need to put in place a situation where we never see 100% mortgages again, where we never see the crazy kind of speculation that happens again, where we never see the kinds of incentives that are still there in the system, that are incentivised by the policy structures that we have, to buy houses, hold them for a while and flip them on. The idea of housing, housing as the primary investment, needs to go away, or at least we need to understand that there’s a large risk associated with it.”


OptimismbetterFull Eurobarometer study here

Dublin’s housing market well ahead of the regions (Irish Times)

JulienDan[Dr Julien Mercille, of University College Dublin, top, and former Irish Times Economics Editor Dan O’Brien, above]

You may recall Dr Julien Mercille, who researched the role of Irish media in the property bubble and whose most recent research studied the coverage of austerity between 2008 and 2012 in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Sunday Independent.

On foot of this research, Dr Mercille and the newly-appointed chief economist at the Institute of International and European Affairs and Irish Independent columnist Dan O’Brien, joined Colm Ó Mongain to debate the media’s attitude to austerity on RTÉ Radio One’s This Week with Colm Ó Mongain

Dr Julien Mercille: “Basically, the main Irish newspapers, they overwhelmingly support fiscal consolidation and austerity. There is only a minority or articles that go against it, to propose alternatives or to propose cuts or something like that. And, really, it’s about 10/12%, depending on how you count it, of articles, that oppose austerity. Basically, going in line with the Government view. So it reflects, the media reflect the viewpoints of economic elites and political elites. So, in a nutshell, that’s, that’s it.”

Colm Ó Mongain: “And what’s the reason behind it, according to your research?”

Mercille: “The reason is that, the media, they’re big corporations. And it’s only to be expected that their interests therefore will reflect those of the corporate sector, they’re a part of it.”

Ó Mongain: “Dan O’Brien, what do you make of that contention?”

Dan O’Brien: “I think it’s a little like saying that because most articles in newspapers now say that global warming is happening that the media is being taken over by the green movement. I just don’t think it stacks up. I also say that if you look at the number of elected representatives we have in this country. At the last election, there was only one political party that said ‘no austerity’, ‘no fiscal consolidation’- that was United Left Alliance. It has 3% of the elected representatives. Sinn Féin accepts that, it wants to do it in a different way. So if you add Sinn Féin up with all of the other main parties, they account for 90% of the elected representatives. What goes on in the media basically, more or less, reflects people’s political views.”

Mercille: “Well that’s simply not true. I mean global warming, it’s not true that media is completely saying…”

O’Brien: “I didn’t say completely…”

Mercille: “…there’s global warming, and the reason why popular opinion is let’s say favourable to consolidation or whatever, well, part of it, is because the media talks only about that.”

Ó Mongain: “So, as you see it, the media forms the opinions that, in turn, leads to people voting for parties who are in favour of consolidation?”

Mercille: “Yeah, not completely, I mean people have their own independent opinions. Sometimes they reject everything but if the media only says one thing, first of all, that doesn’t present alternatives so it’s harder for people, let’s say, who don’t have an economics background to come up with alternatives, and sometimes convinces people that there’s no alternative, as Dan just said.”

Ó Mongain: “Dan, that idea that politics is overwhelmingly a product of what people, their political choices are informed by what they read in the media, what they absorb through the media?”

O’Brien: “Yeah, I think that there is, certainly, some element to that but I think people get information in a whole range of ways and they form their opinions in a whole range of ways. Like some people believe that your political opinions are based around personality characteristics and there’s some evidence for that, it’s about the family you were brought up in, the sort of political history of your family, the background that you have, what you study. I think the notion that, you know, the media is all run by big business and gives one view and that brainwashes people is just the sort of conspiracy theory nonsense, frankly.”

Mercille: “Well, “the conspiracy” is something you hear all the time when people don’t know what to say against your arguments. The fact that news organisations are a big business is a fact, it’s not an interpretation. I mean, you just look at their numbers, they’re big businesses, nobody can deny that. They can deny other things but not that. That media brainwashes people, nobody says that. What I’m giving is an institutional analysis of the media, based on the fact that they are big businesses. And that’s a fact, you look at their annual report and look at their revenues and their profits: they’re big businesses. We don’t have a problem talking about the…”

O’Brien: “Well I think the media is made up of, it’s not just made up of a couple of giant organisations. Your study seems to focus on two of the bigger media organisations. You go around the country, you will find there are local papers all over the country, there are local radio stations, you know, your kind of view that the media is only big business is just not correct. There are a lot of small media organisations, there are a lot of micro media organisations, so you know, I, just again, I think this all smacks of a conspiracy theory: that there are big corporate interests that are determining how people think. Speak to a lot of people in business and their view of the media, including the Irish Times and the Irish Independent, is that these papers are actually very left-leaning and are full of left-leaning commentators. So a lot of people in business would take exactly the opposite view and they would say the media is too left-leaning.”

Ó Mongain: “Isn’t that a point, Julien, perhaps that if the media is keeping everyone unhappy all of the time, they must be doing something right, to be keeping that many people unhappy at the same time?”

Mercille: “Well the media sometimes does many things well. That’s, nobody denies that. The fact that big business criticises the media means basically nothing. I mean it’s interesting to have this discussion in Ireland. Ireland is very unique in Europe. It doesn’t have a left-of-centre media organisation. I mean there’s no Guardian here, there’s no XXXX Diplomatique (go to 5.20)??), there’s only centre-right media.”

Ó Mongain: “And from your point of view, should the political debate in terms of left and right be replicated amongst the media, or should the media try and strive towards the middle ground?”

Mercille: “Well the media should tell the truth. That’s very simple. So when you say things like ‘history shows that in an economic downturn, you need to cut spending’ – well that’s just not true. So, things like that. Or, let’s say, ‘we need to save all the banks’ in 2008, that’s just not true, there are alternatives, there were alternatives, it’s a very simple principle as a journalist, you should just tell the truth. So, if poverty is rising because of austerity you should report that. If Enda Kenny says we need more fiscal consolidation after five years and you clearly see that it doesn’t work, you should say that. And show the alternatives, based on history, based on other countries in Europe.”

Ó Mongain: “Dan?”

O’Brien: “Well, Julien uses words like objective, reality, truth – I wish it was as simple as that. But, you know, people have different interpretations of what the truth is, what reality is.”

Ó Mongain: “Before we go on, just on the broader point Julien was making Dan. This idea that fiscal consolidation came in, when austerity was being discussed, did the media interrogate it sufficiently enough to look at alternatives, were enough voices brought to the fore that might have informed the public into what they might demand in the political system?”

O’Brien: “Well I think there are two things here in this country. One is that, from 2010, we had no choice. Once we lost the capacity to borrow, or the capacity to make our own decision, we really had no choice. There is an issue from the period, around 2008 to 2010. Now, up to around 2011, the academic evidence pointed to fiscal consolidation happening and it being focused on spending cuts first and then taxes later. Subsequent academic literature would say that that’s certainly not as clear cut as the academic literature, up to 2010, so there has been a choice that would support, to some extent, Julien’s position on that, in new research, and I think that’s all been brought out. I think the media has reported that. So I’m not sure there’s been any non-reporting. Another issue Julien mentioned was that poverty increased. Of course poverty increased, you know? 330,000 people, or number of jobs in the economy, declined and I don’t think anybody in the media did not report that.”

Mercille: “Yeah, it does appear in the media, but if it’s hidden somewhere that’s not as strong as front page, that’s what I was saying. And about the fiscal consolidation and the fact that we didn’t have evidence before 2011. I don’t know what you’re reading but it was very well known. That’s how the US got out of The Depression. Since 1945, the period is divided into two broad periods: one is the Golden Age of capitalism in the 50s and 60s, where things were much better than after the 70s. There was no financial crisis basically and, at that time, they were Keynesian methods, government was more important intervention in the economy by the government was more important: that’s just very well known. I don’t know many people who would disagree with that.”

O’Brien: “Well that’s not the case, if you look at the amount Governments spent in the 1960s, relative to the size of the economy, it was lower across all the developed countries than it is today. So that’s wrong, it’s simply incorrect.”

Mercille: “Yeah well, OK, you can believe Dan O’Brien or you can believe…”

O’Brien: “Look at the data, look at the data. The data show that in a post-war era, the size of government began rising, the 50s, continued to rise in the 60s, went up in the 70s and then flattened out in the 70s. That’s what the data show.”

Mercille: “Yeah, but I mean the government had more intervention, wages were rising in real terms…”

O’Brien: “Because economically economies were rising more rapidly, as you said, it was the Golden Age. You’re attributing the Golden Age of capitalism to an idea that you believe was because of more government intervention. You know the complexity of economic growth is massive and economists don’t fully understand it. They need to be honest about that and if you think you understand it better than all the economists in the world, fair enough.”

Mercille: “No well, of course, you can debate that on ten radio shows of course but financial regulation, for example, was tighter?”

O’Brien: “Certainly.”

Mercille: “Right? So things like that. Yeah, so I mean, it’s not to say that we found out in 2011 that ‘oh my god, we’re doing the wrong things’, I mean we had evidence before that. And it’s true that, I mean economics you cannot predict anything in that, right? You can have only likelihoods and probabilities but to say that we didn’t know before 2011 that austerity didn’t work..”

O’Brien: “No I didn’t say that, I said..the Harvard academic, who is the leader in the field on fiscal consolidation was a guy called, an Italian called [Alberto] Alesina. His literature was viewed as being the gold standard. It was then subsequently challenged by a number of people and it’s no longer viewed that his point – that you increase, you cut spending first and then increase taxes, is as hard and as rock solid as it was thought in 2010. So the evidence base, because of new research, is now changed and I would support your argument that the kind of fiscal consolidation that some people advocated in the past does not have as strong an evidence base now as it had in 2010. That’s my point.”

Ó Mongain: “So should that be reported, Dan O’Brien? Or is it a situation whereby the media is mostly made up of generalists and lacks the critical tools in order to interrogate policy on that kind of basis, based on the data your talking about.”

O’Brien: “Well this is one of the difficulties in a more complex society, of getting the expertise into the general media and that can be difficult, particularly in a small country where it costs a lot of money. If you want to employ a medical doctor to write about medical affairs, you know, you’ve got to be offering quite a lot of money and small, it’s only the bug business, as Julien would call them, media groups that can afford to do that.”

Mercille: “Well in economics there is a technical knowledge that is always useful of course but, for instance, the trade unions here. Or even groups like Social Justice Ireland. They propose Budget submissions all the time. Well, you would just have to report that, and you can even do a copy and paste from their documents, if you really were under time constraints but that doesn’t appear in the media.”

O’Brien: “Every interest group has a pre-Budget submission so I’m not sure that, you know, that filling newspapers with vested interest groups’ pre-Budget submissions is either something a huge amount of people are going to have interest in, or will sell newspapers. And I suspect the reason these sort of pre-Budget submissions don’t get covered is just because they’re pretty dull things.”

Mercille: “Well they get covered. IBEC’s submission gets covered all the time – why is that? Why is IBEC always in the paper but Social Justice Ireland doesn’t appear very often?”

O’Brien: “Ok, the Nevin [Economic Research] Institute which is a trade union-backed economic think tank, it has a quarterly report and it gets covered in the media. IBEC is a business organisation and it has a quarterly economic report but it would seem to me that they both get prominent coverage because they both represent very large groups of people.”

Mercille: “Maybe today, in very recent times, you might see a small opening in the mass media, a bit more diverse views because it becomes increasingly difficult to deny that austerity is not working. But, by and large, I mean it’s a business viewpoint and Dan was saying, well IBEC and UNITE get covered, yeah, it’s true, they both get covered but if you look at how many times they get covered, IBEC gets covered much more, maybe not explicitly but my studies showed, I mean, you have, yeah, you have Social Justice Ireland writing but, what, once every year or so…”

O’Brien: “So, just to be clear, your study explicitly went back and counted the number of references to IBEC and the number of references to the trade union movements and you found that trade union movements were mentioned fewer times than IBEC, is that what you’re saying?”

Mercille: “The study counted all the outside writers, excluding journalists and opinion pieces for five years – 2008 to 2012. Trade union representatives, I think the number is about 5% of those writers, about 45% were from the financial sector, were mainstream economists. So, yeah, they both get a voice but..”

O’Brien: “When you say mainstream economists, do you mean academic economists or are they employed by banks or financial institutions.”

Mercille: “It can be both but mostly…”

O’Brien: “Ok, well there’s a very big difference: you’re an academic. There’s a very big difference between one of your colleagues writing an article and someone who is from a financial institution writing an article, I think you’ll acknowledge that.”

Mercille: “Well not necessarily, they might have the same viewpoint. Most economists…”

O’Brien: “There’s nothing wrong with that…the difference is where you’re coming from. Can you trust somebody who’s writing from a financial institution perspective to give a honest opinion or is that person reflecting the views of the interests of his organisation. An academic is paid to be independent and can have whatever views he or she wants.”

Ó Mongain: “What do you think can be or should or could be done about what you see as the media’s bias towards right-wing ideas. I mean what’s your solution to balancing the debate in society?”

Mercille: “Well if you look at the alternatives, what’s called alternative medias, like blogs, like Namawinelake or Notes On The Front, by Unite’s union – those are, they give you a different perspective.”

Ó Mongain: “Doesn’t that depend on a discerning consumer behaviour – if there is a progressive blog, if there is a left-leaning blog and there is clearly an audience that goes with that, that they themselves become a player because everybody else has to sit up and pay attention and thereby they change the dynamics of the debate.”

Mercille: “Yeah like, some of the advertising, for example, it helps if you can get advertising revenue, it helps if you can promote your viewpoint and your business but advertising, let’s say during the housing bubble, the property sector would not be likely to support a blog that would say that there’s a housing bubble and don’t buy a house right now, right, they’ll go with other viewpoints. That’s why it’s more difficult for the alternative media to get revenue like that.”

Podcast here

Dr Mercille’s paper here

Previously: Relentless Cheerleaders For Austerity

For Those Who Shouted Stop He Salutes You

Dr Mercille is the author of a forthcoming book The Role of the Media in the Financial Crisis: A Comparison of Coverage in Ireland and Europe (Routledge).