Monday, November 22, 2010

Giving up on democracy

At least in Ireland,

Emmet Oliver, the Business editor of the Irish Independent has written a piece today to applaud the way in which the IMF works. Particularly he hails the fact it is essentially undemocratic.
The beauty of the IMF/EU rescue is that the various obstructionist forces no longer hold any great power. The IMF does not care one jot about backbenchers' concerns, does not care one jot about the Irish trade union movement/employer groups and does not care one jot about the fickle reactions of the electorate.
Wow. No I mean wow. His article needs to be understood as a great wail of 'we are not worthy'. And democracy fails.

Of course democracy doesn't fail in itself. It requires people who have no interest in democracy for it to fail. If Ireland had listened to its won people over the two referenda in which it rejected EU rule, then the situation would be very different. He may be right when singleing out pork barrel politicians and the Trade Unions. But he certainly isn't right when he castigates the electorate. After all, one has to ask if he thinks they should have their say at all. I mean if they are so fickle and destructive, why a llow them to vote? Why not hand over all aspects of government to experts and technocrats?

Amusingly back in May during the Greek crisis he took a different line,
Will every future finance minister in Europe now operate on the basis that a helping hand will always be available from the eurozone family if their governments abandon any form of fiscal prudence?


Via Leigh Phillips


Eurocentric said...

If you can point out to me the different provisions in the Lisbon and Nice Treaties, or in legislation passed under those treaties, which set Irish tax and fiscal policy - namely the quick spending of anything we had, and the structuring of the tax base to depend almost solely on consumerism and the construction boom, not to mention the incentives to further encourage the boom - then I might take the remark about the last 2 treaties seriously.

It is the government's fault, particularly in the bust period when people were willing to take the pain to help recovery, but the government took the wrong decisions, and either lied about figures, or were too incompetent to really go into the banks and find out. There can be no denying that the Irish government must bare the vast majority of the blame for this situation.

We cannot, however, exempt ourselves as the electorate from the blame. We must take partial blame for the bust because we elected a FF government in for 3 terms in a row, and they did exactly what they said they'd do on the economy. We should remember that people have to take part in a boom, and we did - and now we're in deep, deep debt. Looking back on the last 13 years, we're now reconsidering electing FF as the wrong decision.

A wrong decision is a wrong decision, no matter who it's made by. The government made the vast majority of them, but we re-elected them time and again. Admitting that electorates can make mistakes is not turning your back on democracy; the point of democracy after all is that everyone should have a vote and voice in the general running of the country on principle, rather than the idea that if you get enough people together their collective decision is always right.

Gawain Towler said...

If either referendum had been taken as an answer to the question then the FF government would have fallen. Now I am not for a moment suggestion that FG would have been much better, and I quite agree that the electorate has to take the balme for electing the shysters, 3 times running as you say. But that is not Oliver's point. His point is that democracy itself should be overlooked in circumstances like this. And I whole heartedly disagree.
For the sake of arguement, Ireland has a general election and a party that disagrees with the rules governing the bailout is elected.
What then happens?
Do the electorate get their wish? Or do the technocrats?

Eurocentric said...

That way of using referendums is a poor way of promoting democracy. If people are supposed to be wise and rational in their decision making, then they sound make the decision on its merits - i.e. on the merits of the referendum question, or on the various parties at election time. Using decision-making opportunities not to actually make the decision, but to politik and force something else only devalues the legitimacy of the decision you take, and says little about taking responsibility when making those decisions.

On the election point, governments and countries are bound by their agreements - otherwise the value of making them would be seriously questionable - in the same way that new governments have to deal with the situation the past government left them with. Should a new government want to pull out of the agreement (and no Dáil party is advocating that, as far as I know), they will be faced with the same choice of the last government going into it, and the fact that the financial situation is such that they will have to accept it, but can renegotiate it in part. It is the circumstances of the country that force the issue; when the IMF is in the door, it's because your room for maneuver for other options has run out in the first place. Democracy doesn't guarantee freedom from circumstances; it is a mechanism for decision-making to decide how you will deal with the situation. We, as a state did X, Y, and Z; now because of our actions and situation, we need to decide between A, B, and C to deal with M, N and O that confronts us. Unfortuneately we don't have the choice of choosing between M, N, and O, just A, B, and C.

I think that's separate from the point of the IMF intervening and taking decisions. That will depend on the agreement reached. It seems that we will have a say over the political questions of were the burden will fall, and that the overall agreement will be based on the plans the government had already drawn up prior to the crisis of the last few days. The IMF will be political backing to override special interests, but it will be a balancing choice of the government's. It is unclear how the successful defence of the corporation tax will affect this, as the burden will need to be shifted elsewhere.