The Shock Doctrine Comes to Ireland: Reading the McCarthy Report with Naomi Klein in mind

Saturday, 18 July 2009 14:26

I have written before on the subject of Naomi Klein''s book The Shock Doctrine and I predicted then that our right-wing government would make use of the Ireland''s peculiarly disastrous economic situation to institute a shock reduction in the public sphere. Much has already been accomplished in that area, with 10% reductions in public pay, a reduction in educational provisions for the disadvantaged and those with learning difficulties, a bar on recruitment in the public sector, limits on promotional opportunities etc.

Now our scandalously incompetent government which has been in power for 23 of the last 25 years, and most of the last 70, and which squandered the wealth generated during the boom years, has commissioned a half-baked academic (a fully baked academic in any decent university would have a doctorate) to devise a plan for their wet dream of a shock therapy. The result? The McCarthy Report. Media pundits are won''t to call it An Bord Snip (The Snip Board), but it involves nothing as trivial as a snip.

The McCarthy Report takes a machete to Social Welfare and to public service in general. A 5% cut in social welfare during an depression is a cold-hearted and callous proposal, as is the proposed 20% reduction in child support. The reintroduction of third level fees will affect everyone, but particularly people on lower incomes who fall above whatever income threshold will be set. The introduction of higher teaching hours in third level will, by reducing time for research, frustrate the much-vaunted ''smart economy'', the government''s panacea for all our ills just a few months ago. Firing or retiring 7,000 teachers, on top of those temporary contracts and special needs teachers who have already been fired, will screw the primary and secondary education sectors. The increase in class sizes in those sectors risks the quality of our education system which has been acknowledged as an important factor in our economic recovery. Over all in the public service it advocates the cutting of over 17,000 jobs, further pay reductions, the elimination of many promotional opportunities, and so on. The arts face huge cuts with the virtual elimination of the already ridiculously named Department of Sports, Arts and Tourism.

Naturally, there will be no increase in taxes, no wealth tax or super tax. The people who did not create the property bubble will have to pay. The bankers and developers and the incompetent and servile politicians of Fianna Fáil will not be affected by this report. It remains to be seen whether the Greys (sorry, Greens) can stomach it, but the right-wing rump of the party, which is the bit that wants power and has it now, is very likely to bite the bullet and hope they make it to the pension date.

This is an IBEC wish-list. The Director General of IBEC welcomed the report and declared that "A significant cause of the current crisis was the unsustainable increase in public expenditure over recent years." Everybody else in the world thought it was IBEC and its dodgy associates in the auctionerring,  building and developing industry, its cronies in government and its spurious belief in what used to be called ''the free market'' (free only while it was making them rich, but happy to beg for bail-outs when the arse was to the wall) that actually created the problem.

It is significant that Colm McCarthy MA, a lecturer in economics in UCD, came to his teaching via a career in the Central Bank, the ESRI and DKM Economic Consultants. One of his published papers, for example, deals with the ''tax on labour''. This is corporation double-speak for the employers contribution to the workers'' social insurance. He is hardly likely to be left-wing, or even an old fashioned liberal, especially considering his background in the Central Bank which is one of the institutions most implicated in our government policy. And if he was, he would never have got the gig.

Significantly too, this report was published while the Dáil (Irish parliament), possibly the least busy parliament in the world, certainly in Europe, was on its annual holiday which stretches from June to October, even during an economic melt-down. Very few government TDs are available for comment, of course, because they''re all on holidays.

So, I couldn''t be arsed to say anymore on the subject. The best thing I can do is point interested readers to my previous piece on the subject and – go on holidays.

My last piece of advice? Turn off the TV and turn it on again on Christmas afternoon, there''s always a good movie on around that time.