I didn’t know why I was voting No, exactly. There were a few reasons, a nebulous fog of them, swirling around the pit of my gut and pulsing in my temples.
So, I decided to turn it on its head, think outside the box, innovate, get real in the real world. I went looking for reasons to vote ‘Yes’ and found jobs, stability, growth, and lots of talk of confidence that didn’t inspire any.
The Irish Exporters’ Association tells us that a Yes vote will give:
“Confidence to Irish exporters many customers in the eurozone” (sic)
The American Chamber of Commerce spells out VOTE YES with the first letter of each of its reasons for doing just that – perhaps trying to twee us into acquiescence. For the E in YES we get:
Ensure confidence in Ireland’s ability to restore growth
According to Megan Greene, Director of European Economics at Roubini Global Economics , ‘[B]y demanding that EZ [Eurozone] countries hit a series of budget deficit and debt targets, the fiscal compact addresses the EZ debt crisis but does nothing to address the banking crisis, balance of payments crisis or growth crisis in the region.[…]All the fiscal compact does is institutionalize the idea that all other countries in the EZ need to look more like Germany in terms of fiscal responsibility. The EZ periphery will have to make all of the adjustment while the core makes none, ensuring that the weaker EZ countries will go even deeper into recession.’
The above by way of advocating a Yes vote in Ireland. A circuitous route to ‘why you must vote Yes’, right enough – one, you might say, that doesn’t inspire much confidence. The kernel of her argument is Ireland’s likely need to access the ESM (European Stability Mechanism), that last bastion between us and an empty ATM. You may go deeper into recession, but at least you’ll have access to money, in theory, lent at high rates of interest (one can only presume, and hope to be wrong) from a legally unaccountable (see Articles 32 and 35 of the Treaty Establishing the ESM ) ‘stability mechanism’. Which you will have to contribute to in five payments of at least €250-odd million (regardless of the result of the referendum). And which might be used up by, for instance, a loan to Spain before Ireland had any access to it. Questions have been raised too about the allocation of such a loan from the ESM, were Ireland to get one. Would it go the ‘the public purse’, to spend on social programmes, health, education, and to enrich the lives of the citizens of the country, or would it be another gift to the banking sector ?
And, of course, any money we get from the ESM will be given ‘subject to strict conditionality ’. The ECB Monthly Bulletin, July 2011 expands on what this conditionality might entail, saying: ‘it is essential that any ﬁnancial assistance [from the ESM] will be subject to very strict macroeconomic policy conditionality and be granted on non-concessional terms… Financial assistance will only be granted if the country in question implements an adjustment programme capable of redressing the situation. Such an adjustment programme will in general include ﬁscal consolidation measures and structural reforms that address labour and product market rigidities, thereby improving the growth potential of the economy.’ For which read: cuts in government spending, erosion of labour rights and further attacks on wages. In other words, more of the last four years for another few years. Possibly forever, in endless cycles of policy conditionality and bailouts, given how successful our last austerity-driven ‘fiscal consolidation’ has been in ‘improving the growth potential’ of our economy. And all while making it harder for future governments to spend in order to stimulate growth. (All of which points don’t begin to address the question of whether or not consecrating GDP as the definitive basis for making socio-economic decisions is a good idea in the first place.)
This treaty seeks to further validate a particular way of approaching social and economic life – one that protects and privileges the powerful and wealthy, and especially the very powerful and the very wealthy, at the expense of everyone else – and to enshrine it in the legal structure of the EU. The 5% increase in the number of people with €700,000 or more of ‘investible assets’ in this country between 2009 and 2010 was no aberration; nor was it just a statistically improbable spike in Lotto winners. We’ve watched, horrified, as the reality of trickle up economics became brutally apparent over the past four years – do we really want to enshrine a policy approach that abets that in our Constitution without at least a murmur? To buy the lie that it was fiscal profligacy that brought us to this pass , and that with a bit of ‘good housekeeping ’ everything will be ok?
If we (collectively, as a nation, as you do) have learned anything from the last few years, we’d be advised to scrutinise the financial advice we get, and scrutinise it well. You wouldn’t expect a right-wing government to care about ‘people’ – some of whom may not even be ‘taxpayers’ (just VAT-payers). The treaty talks about ‘economic growth through advanced convergence and competitiveness’. Debt reduction targets and twice yearly Euro Summit meetings are the answer. There is no acknowledgement of a bigger picture, and needless to say, people – on whose backs this ‘competitiveness’ will be built – don’t come into it. People are simply human capital, after all. Ratification of this treaty means that ‘fiscal discipline’ (read, austerity) will be written into our Constitution, and subsequent governments will be bound by it also. The neo-liberalising push will continue to cut wages, erode workers’ rights, impose penalties for poverty .
There is a fight on now – here in Ireland, and right across Europe. Transnational corporations, financial institutions included, are amassing vast amounts of power and wealth, and they won’t let go of either easily. The suits in hairdos that we elect every few years seem pretty irrelevant in themselves, but they have shown themselves both diligent and efficient in furthering the cause of those same business and financial institutions. This treaty has been scripted and crafted in their interests first, and only secondarily (if at all) in ours.
But the Irish bank guarantee and the subsequent realisation of its consequences (‘You mean our childrens’ children as well?’), as well as the global Occupy movement, the Uncut movement, and more, have aired ideas that will not go away, and (as happens with ideas) the more out and about they are, the more they grow. More and more people distrust, even despise, the banks and the markets but… who else fills the ATMs? Makes your debit card work? Who is the facilitator of the mechanism by which you get paid every week or month (by an employer or the Department of Social Protection)? Stories of outright theft and obese salaries sour the public mood, but, we ask, what can we do? Our hands our tied, what can we do?
We can start by voting No to this treaty. It won’t fix our zombie banks, or end austerity tomorrow (or next year); it won’t put an end to trickle up economics, or stop the Goldman Sachs’s of this world in their tracks, but it might throw up a stumbling block, cause a diversion, and open up the possibility for some – at least some – change.
Change is not easy – if it was, it would have happened already – and real change doesn’t happen quickly. Sometimes – often – a cynical quip comes more easily (and is funnier ) than, ‘Hey, you know, another world is possible’.
But. Still. It is and all.
Read this! An antidote to all that on the telly and in the news. Some fine, thought-provoking writing to be read there.
A big fat euphemism.
A means by which gouty, be-combovered auld fellas in pinstriped suits can breeze in and out of the Dáil with impunity while a savage Finance Bill is being “debated”, scuttling past a mere handful of (very polite) protesters for evening drinks in Buswell’s. A means by which citizens and voters are completely disenfranchised and alienated by the political system, made feel that their actions mean nothing and their views mean less. To the point that, as a citizen, taking action or having a view is considered a complete waste of time.
“Sure what can we do? Sure aren’t they all the same? Sure wouldn’t we all do the same in that position? Now, let’s stop thinking about this, indulge in some retail therapy, and spend our way outta this mess!!”
There are many things that cause me to seethe, but shamfakery freedomspeak has to be one of the worst. Adam Curtis describes it wonderfully in The Trap (watch it! It’s blemmin great!!), but to sum it up – “be free to indulge all the you’s that you can be, with Lenor fabric softener”. As a freedom agnostic (I believe it might exist, but I don’t know anyone who’s ever experienced it. Chief Gaoler, of course, being that brain there up inside your own head), I take massive issue with this fragile, all-but-unattainable wonder being used to sell me a load of shit I don’t want or need, be it fabric softener, a satellite TV subscription, a stupid-looking car, or a fizzy drink.
It’s most insidious in financial institution advertising land, that grimmest of the grim. Because there is a frisson of….maybe…just maybe….when I’m in my sixties, lightly tanned, a jersey knotted around my shoulders…on my yacht…a bouncy golden retriever chasing a bright red ball… “More money,” they whisper at you from behind the pot plants in the bank, “and more money again, and you’ll be sooo freeeeee…”
He’s a world away from Adam Curtis’s indepth analysis and measured delivery, but Michael Moore is another one for this. Capitalism – A Love Story has a short sequence of “be all the free you’s and me’s that we all want to be free to be – together with Bank X” ads, followed by people being booted out of their homes, victims of the vagaries of a stock market they’d invested in of their own free will. The stock market, that sentient, surprisingly jittery being, presumably took a notion that it didn’t want to finance the dreams of thousands of throwing a bright red ball for a bouncy labrador on a yacht (or, yknow, having a pension to retire on, or still living in the house they’d bought to grow old in. Whatever). It can be a bit moody sometimes, that stock market.
Which brings us back to the gouty auld fellas nipping across the road to Buswell’s. “Sure won’t you have that mortgage for the plasterboard house outside Athlone paid off in thirty years now? Things might be a bit tighter with the pay-cuts and all, but your kids will emigrate as soon as they can so there’ll be less mouths to feed anyway.” Gentlemen, another job done with aplomb!
Addendum: Big ups to Eadaoin for freedomspeak pointers!
It’s all about to kick off… Finally, the people who got the country in the mess it’s in are going to be brought to book. For too long, the financial health of Ireland has been threatened by those sick and/or in hospital, by students, by school-children (especially those with special needs), not to mention people with families earning princely wages that have kept them in Sunday supplements and budget airfare for far too long. Apologies for the clunky rhetorical mallet…
Tomorrow (3rd of November) at 12.30 p.m., The National Student March takes place. I’d make an educated guess (hweh!) that the words on everyone’s lips are, “Don’t cut education, you bloody idiots, how the hell will anything ever change if you do???” It begins at the Ambassador Theatre at the top of O’Connell St in Dublin. The following day (4th of November), all day, outside the Department of Health and Children (Hawkins St, Dublin, behind the Screen Cinema), there’s a protest against health spending cuts. Obviously the daddy of them all will take place on the 7th of December (B-B-B-Budget Day!!!); starts from the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, Dublin at 7 p.m.
Now, I’m no firebrand, and I’m no disgruntled Greek citizen, but now the time has come that I feel obliged to be present at these events. Sorry, by the way, for a Dublin-centric slant to this post, but eeehhh, that’s where I live and that’s where most of the limos do be driving and most of the vol-au-vents do be hurtling down ministerial gullets.