President Higgins and the ‘neoliberals’


Sir, – Dan O’Brien clearly took offence at President Michael D Higgins’s recent speech at Dublin City University (“Presidency ill-served by economic partisanship”, Business, September 20th). In particular he was offended by the use of the concept “neoliberal”. I agree with your columnist that this is a relatively innocuous term but Mr O’Brien’s analysis was more polemic than analytic. The term “neoliberal” is increasingly used in political science to describe the paradigm shift away from demand-managed macroeconomics, during the Keynesian era, to the supply-side oriented revolution in economics during the period of financial market expansion.

Using the concept to describe broadly a paradigm shift does not imply that there is no variation in how economies are organised in contemporary capitalist societies, nor does it imply an “us” versus “them” mentality. It is used extensively in many European-based political economy research projects. The international financial cum sovereign debt crisis was caused by the reckless behaviour of private market actors.

President Higgins should be commended for his bravery to confront the intellectual hubris that accompanied this. – Yours, etc,


Max Planck Institute for the

Study of Societies,



Sir, – Having read and been greatly impressed by President Higgins’s address “Towards an Ethical Economy” at DCU, I strongly disagreed with Dan O’Brien’s comments on it but was dismayed at his dismissal of the President for being “increasingly political and partisan”.

What most impressed me in the President’s address was his interweaving of ethical reasoning and economic thought, showing himself so conversant with some of the most cutting-edge thinking in the field of international political economy. Far from being “highly ideological and one-sided”, President Higgins manages to cut through the fog of ideological obfuscation to situate our present crisis in a longer-term historical trajectory and to remind us of what should be the objective of all economic activity, namely human flourishing.

Having taught international political economy and international development studies both in Ireland and abroad for over 25 years, I can assure Mr O’Brien that the President’s analysis reflects mainstream thinking in these disciplines. Far from being ideological, the term “neo-liberal” has been extensively scientifically analysed to distinguish it from classical economic liberalism. That those who espouse these approaches to organising the economy don’t accept this term is entirely beside the point.

However, what is most disturbing is to find the President’s efforts to foster real deliberative debate about these most crucial of issues dismissed as being in some way illegitimate. Mr O’Brien may disagree with the President’s analysis but let him engage with the substance of the issues rather than dismissing the messenger. – Yours, etc,



Co Tipperary.

Sir, – Heavens above, what are we to do? Our President keeps the intellectual company of the likes of Jürgen Habermas, Michel Foucault and Kathleen Lynch of UCD. Everyone check under your beds tonight, there’s bound to be some reds lurking there. This country is surely heading for disaster.

Many thanks to Dan O’Brien for giving me a good laugh over breakfast. – Yours, etc,


Golden bridge Avenue,


Dublin 8.