New movement of ideas needed on post-crisis Ireland
In the end of year edition of the Spectator magazine, US writer Michael Lind suggests that five years after the events that triggered the financial panic and our global recession, the world continues to be in “turboparalysis”. He defines this as “a prolonged condition of furious motion without movement in any particular direction”.
Lind argues that the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression might have been expected to produce revolutions in politics and in the world of ideas. However, outside some of the Arab countries and apart from intermittent rioting caused by mass unemployment and austerity in Greece and Spain, most developed nations are remarkably sedate while political and economic debate proceeds as if “the bursting of the global economic bubble did not discredit any school of thought”.
Here in Ireland as we bed down for another new year of austerity we are indeed exhibiting many of the symptoms of turboparalysis. As an economy, a society and a political system this country is increasingly exhausted and frustrated from five years of running on the spot. 2013 has all the signs of being another year of hyperactivity but little movement in politics, economics or ideas.
Despite all the talk of political reform, our Government proposes only cautious shifts and our politics generally remains conservative and sedate. We have had a regime change but no revolution. Even since the 2011 election, although the environment is ripe for new politics, there have been no significant new political entities. There have been new marginal political groupings but they have not gained traction.
No new ideas
In the realm of political ideas the shifts have also been marginal. There have been new blogs and real world discussion forums, some well funded by domestic and international philanthropy but most with little impact. Nothing approaching a new movement of ideas has emerged.
There is now much angry contempt for the ideas that attracted overwhelming support during the boom years but most of the underlying orthodoxies behind economic and social policy for the last few decades still hold sway.
There is no emerging consensus around the radical changes needed to get us out of the current crisis and insulate us against a recurrence.
It is striking how little political debate or wider public discourse there has been about what Ireland we should strive for after this economic crisis. It’s as if getting out of the bailout has become an end in itself. Once the troika is gone it is suggested we will be masters of our own destiny again, able to do as we choose, but there is little exploration in our politics and only marginal examination in our media of what choices we should exercise when our sovereignty is restored. The political debate about austerity options has been strait-jacketed within commitments not to cut basic welfare payments or increase basic tax rates. The cuts in public expenditure have focused mainly on crudely chopping the level of spending under each heading rather than any fundamental reimagination of the role and purpose of State activity.