Gramsci, social democratic Denmark, Finland and Austria, why it must be Back Room in the SBP… May 14, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
Take it away Back Room this last weekend:
The legacy of the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci rests largely on his timeless political aphorisms. One in particular resonates when we try to fathom recent political events here: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
And Back Room suggests that:
Looking at what has happened to the coalition since that glorious day last December, when it decided to face into the brave new world of the bond markets without a parachute, these words are eerily prescient.
And Back Room argues that what was supposed to happen was that an Irish government would ‘not kick hard decisions to touch or avoid the trade-offs between tax and spending that underpin political choice everywhere. The old Bertie Ahern playbook of tax cuts and spending increases that characterised the later Celtic Tiger era [really, the ‘later era’? Surely not, that dynamic I’d suggest appeared early enough in the day – wbs] was dead, and a new dawn of cold fiscal reality and policy implementation was upon us’.
And Back Room suggests that:
For a brief moment, there were signs that this new era would endure and that, in time, we would come to resemble other small and successful social democracies such as Denmark, Finland and Austria.
Well, I’d believe the idea that we were approaching a more social democratic dispensation if there was a lot more adherence to taxation and a lot less to cutting. And I’m not certain that either Fine Gael or the current Labour Party are – for all the rhetoric of this week and weekend – genuinely wedded to that approach.
And I’m a lot less believing still when Back Room argues that our adhering to eurozone fiscal rules would be testament to this change. Because that is to argue that those rules are somehow an objective measure of same while I tend to the view that they are positioned within a very specific orthodoxy all their own and one which is not what I would recognise as ‘social democratic’.
But in fairness to Back Room s/he recognises that – rhetorically, at least – this government is attempting to detach itself from those rules.
Like all previous Irish governments, the coalition is reverting to the old script that seeks to dupe the electorate into believing that it is possible to deny fiscal reality and hard choices. The new era is on hold.
And in attempting to make the case for the prosecution Back Room perhaps inadvertently points up the contradictions of our situation as it stands now, whatever about the promises for the future from FG and the LP:
But the facts of economic life cannot be refuted: while the improvement in the labour market is real, wages and living standards remain stagnant. The public is not feeling the recovery. At best, our debt and deficit are barely sustainable.
‘At best’? That’s not what we’re hearing from the government. But given the fragility of the broader environment it would appear to be true, at least in the context within which the current government attempts to reposition matters and the constraints that they accept.
This following is true too:
The troika and other international bodies have not gone away. And the level of expectation that has been stoked up in advance of the budget to a public that is sick and tired of austerity, but only vaguely aware of the new and permanent demands of eurozone membership, cannot be satisfied.
Those demands are, in the view of many, a prescription for extended economic stagnation. And they imprison the state in a context of near enough perpetual austerity. That too is a contradiction but one which Back Room evades.
Though Back Room does at least ask of the government more than it asks of itself:
Incompetent ministers will have to go, no matter what the personal or political price; there must be a return to the troika approach of targets and accountability; and the government needs to give the public an honest account of how much it can restore living standards, before and after the next election.
The chances of any of this happening are slim. But happen it must, or else morbid symptoms will overwhelm one of the better governments this country has had.
But underlying that is the old idea that virtue, if one can call it that, will be rewarded politically. And I’m deeply sceptical that that is a likely outcome. Small wonder FG and LP are casting around for anything to make it appear as if the situation is less difficult than it actually is.
And that is because for all the reification of the economic there are other factors that are often just as important than that can equally shape events. Public sentiment is – perhaps – a slow burning dynamic but its power to push all before it should not be underestimated. Or to put it another way, democracies still ultimately have to operate in reference (if not much more) to their citizens – every once in a while. Fianna Fáil and the Green Party know that to their cost. It’s a lesson that Fine Gael and the Labour Party may be on course to learning for themselves.