Sharing the pain of economic crisis

 

Madam, – Taoiseach Brian Cowen is in no position to criticise the bank bailout figures released by the IMF as unreliable (Page 1, April 23rd). The Irish Government’s efforts even to conservatively estimate tax revenues for 2009 proved so blatantly incompetent that two budgets in seven months were required to address the shortfalls.

The ill-conceived and unimaginative measures failed to tackle the public sector pay bill, now destined to remain a millstone around our collective necks for generations to come. The IMF and the wider world are increasingly aware of the financial mess that Fianna Fáil has dragged Ireland into, and no amount of righteous indignant bluster from our Taoiseach will alter this perception. – Yours, etc,

G REYNOLDS,

Churchtown,

Dublin 14.

Madam, – My wife and I have left Ireland and moved to London – not because I couldn’t get work (we had a good salary between us – both with degrees and in our early 30s), but because we were not prepared to struggle for the rest of our (comparative) youth under a punishing tax regime while public services collapsed and the public sector remained untouched. I am old enough to remember most of the 1980s and I do not want to bring my children up in the same horrendous economic environment.

Ireland’s economic situation is being closely watched here and no one understands why the public sector is immune. Here in the UK the public sector faces job cuts when the economy declines – just like the private sector.

I’ll be back to Ireland when the place sorts itself out, although I’m not hopeful – the basic lesson that you can’t tax your way out of a recession has simply not been learned.

We need a new Thatcherite political figure to stand up to the unions and the cossetted sections of the Irish economy. The view from here is that this person is coming – and his name is the IMF. – Yours, etc,

SHANE BRETT,

Charville Court,

Trafalgar Grove,

London,

England.

Madam, – Gerard Horgan’s article (Opinion, April 22nd) points to some painful realities of Ireland’s current economic and social situation, as well as explaining some of the equally painful ways in which Ireland has ended up like this.

His focus on the importance within Ireland of consumer goods, private property and general acquisitiveness during boom years brings to mind the economic historian Karl Polanyi’s explanation for the Great Depression – a period of history that is now in daily consciousness.

Polanyi argued that societies that pursue free market values are inherently unsustainable in the long term, because such values over-privilege one method of economic integration – that of market exchange – over two other important ones: redistribution and reciprocity. The consequence of priority being given to exchange relations is a unlinking of social relations from economic relations, so that “society” is viewed as being decoupled from the “economy”. Hence, as Mr Horgan highlights, that pervasive feeling of people’s worth being judged by what they have, as opposed to who they are.

The Polanyian observation is that in circumstances where free market values have prevailed, there will be market collapse – but also popular resistance, which will prompt the emergence of various forms of state-based protection, thus reinvigorating the other important methods of economic integration, redistribution and reciprocity.

What is interesting at this point is the possibility that exists for Irish people to rethink what their society and economy is for. If the purpose of economic recovery is generating enough wealth so that people can once again aspire to and attain the enormous American fridges, as identified by Mr Horgan, then the Polanyian analysis would surely suggest that Ireland will again end up in the same mess it is now in.

However, crisis can present opportunity. According to Polanyi, capitalism cannot exist without the importance of humanity’s natural inclination towards redistribution and reciprocity being recognised. It is at times such as these that such inclinations ought to be built upon.

This is possible – by appeal to historical struggles against adversity, as Mr Horgan suggests, or by appeal to philosophical ideals like justice, equality or fairness.

The important thing is that the present crisis is used as a springboard to rethinking what is of value: commodities, or the common good? – Yours, etc,

ELIZA GAFFNEY,

Politics and International

Studies,

University of Warwick,

Coventry,

England.

Madam, – The word entitlement has been used ad nauseamwith regard to Oireachtas salaries etc.

If we pay them what they deserved instead of what they deem themselves entitled to then we could save the Exchequer millions. – Yours, etc,

JOHN GOODMAN,

Glenside Road,

Wicklow.

Madam, – What does Pat Rigney (April 23rd) suggest we do to ensure that we only “project a more positive and realistic image of our situation and capabilities”?

Does he truly believe the underlying situation in this country is not as bad as the evidence points to?

To my mind all the evidence indicates we have a banking system that is in meltdown, unemployment increasing at unparalleled rates for this country, economic activity among all sectors of the economy on a major slowdown, government income falling through the floor, uncontrollable public expenditure, semi-State companies with €2 billion holes in their pension funds, education and health systems in tatters, politicians who can’t take their snouts out of the troughs even though they are empty, and much, much more.

Certainly we should try to present a positive image of our capabilities, but there is no point in deluding ourselves that the place is not a mess.

Failure to publicly pillory ourselves, lay blame where it should lie and hold those responsible to account for creating the economic and social conditions that have allowed the global downturn to affect us so acutely, will only ensure that it will happen again.

We need root and branch reform of the government, public services, the tax system and regulatory system to get us out of this mess and to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The sooner we realise this and get it done the better. Only then will the negative “news stream out of Ireland” turn positive. I’m not going to hold my breath. – ours, etc,

JOHN McLOUGHLIN,

Little Road,

Dromiskin,

Co Louth.

Madam, – Paul Nulty’s idea (April 23rd) that the richest 100 countries should sponsor a developing country rather than spread their development assistance budget more thinly warrants further exploration.

Given the pace at which governments work, however, it would be many years before such a sea-change in policy could be implemented. Meanwhile, thanks to government aid cut-backs, rising food prices and climate change, the plight of many millions of people in developing countries worsens daily.

There is something, however, that all caring individuals and companies can do immediately to help alleviate the suffering, and that is to sponsor a child or a community in a developing country. The child sponsorship method of donation works because it establishes personal links between donor and recipient communities that are missing in official government aid.

There is an added value to child sponsorship because donations are tax deductible, with the tax element going to the charity involved. – Yours, etc,

ANDREW SPEARMAN,

Communications Manager,

Plan Ireland,

Lower Baggot Street,

Dublin 2.