President says faceless market now in control


Right-wing economists have created a neo-liberal philosophy that seemingly cannot now be questioned and that leaves control in the hands of a faceless market, President Michael D Higgins has said.

“I feel that we are at a time of great intellectual crisis insofar as I see legitimacy being leached from the representative institutions in different states,” he said in a lecture in Manchester University.

The speech is a development of a lecture he gave to the London School of Economics where he questioned the role of the intellectual in public life.

Manchester was an appropriate location to raise questions about the loss of control by parliaments worldwide because many of the battles for the vote for ordinary people were fought there. “The assumption [once universal suffrage] was won was that you would be able to control your own destiny,” Mr Higgins said, replying to questions from the audience afterwards.


Fed by economists such as Hayek, the right-wing philosophy led to the Chicago School of economics under Milton Friedman: “It is as if it can’t be questioned, or contested, it is as if it can’t be turned,” he said.

“The changes that have taken place and the relationship between labour and capital have been such that hot money can move in real time,” he said, adding that politicians’ actions are judged by an invisible entity called “the markets”.

In his speech on the links between Manchester and Ireland caused by emigration, Mr Higgins reflected on the sufferings endured by many caused by ill-treatment during the Industrial Revolution, or by bigotry.

“Let us all welcome the changes that have taken place and the new circumstances in which we can celebrate a parity of respect and esteem, the ability to listen to each other’s narratives. The closeness and warmth that we laud today was founded to a large extent upon the lives and sacrifices of generations of Irish emigrants who settled in this country,” he said.

These generations had contributed so positively to “British society, who did so much to make Britain what it is today, while at the same time fostering understanding, tolerance and co-operation”.

He added: “The stereotyped stage depiction of the Irishman is as old as the first production of Sir Robert Howard’s The Committee, produced in 1662 on the Restoration stage, and it is a stereotype that continued through the centuries.”

Later, he said the Irish experience should “define how we approach in our own life those who come to live with us in Ireland as refugees”.