Let’s not blow out of proportion the suggestion, made by the IMF, that child benefit ought to be means-tested, and that unemployment benefits ought to be cut. For one, the suggestion about child benefit ought to be means-tested has already found favour with public representatives in the Labour party. And no doubt the former is an option favoured by the great majority of representatives in the Dáil, as well as the IBECariat, of course, though calculations about the likely fallout in the next elections might weigh on the brains of plenty of TDs of a right wing inclination.
It was also advocated by Will Hutton back in 2010 at a talk convened by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Asked by current Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton about the need for the preservation of universal provisions in the social welfare system, Hutton basically said, no, get rid of them.
However, the fact that it is the IMF making the suggestion is given particular importance, and there are some who see it as a special affront, given that it is unelected. And it is true that the IMF has no right to lecture anyone on economic policy: on account of the disasters it has wrought on so many countries, its status as finance capital’s bailiff, the fat pensions its economists are entitled to, and so on.
Nonetheless, we should be wise to the interplay between the different agencies who are imposing economic policies on the population of Ireland. As I noted above, what the IMF advocate is no different from what other political figures, the IBECariat, and the media, have been demanding for some time. But when the IMF makes such a call, and when it is reported and discussed throughout the media, it is treated as some sort of irresistible decree delivered by the gods.
That this should happen –without there being any questioning either of the right or authority of the IMF to make such a declaration, or of the consequenes for democracy that it should be in a position to do so, or an examination of the common ground between the IMF and the main political parties and the business class on this matter- is an illustration of how the political and media establishments are the willing servants of finance capital.
Another illustration is when the IMF makes statements in one of its analyses –which are largely performed for cosmetic purposes so as to obscure that organisation’s role as the facilitator of all-out robbery- that mortgage relief appears to have worked in some country or other, or that there must be an equal sharing of some burden of bank debt or other, and these statements are treated as headline news by the public broadcaster. Again, without any questioning of its right or authority to do so.
More important, however, is the drip-drip form in which these announcements, suggestions and declarations are made, largely uncontested, without there being any attempt to join up the dots about the broader vision for Irish society.
In the particular case of means-testing child benefit, there is a move away from mutual, collective responsibility to atomised individualised responsibility for the welfare of children. This move is given legitimacy through a kind of phoney communism: where well-off voices on TV and radio flagellate themselves with silk scarves and emote that their cup runneth over whilst that of the deserving poor is held aloft, empty.
What this charade serves to obscure is that the bank bailout –for all the straining and groaning fakery by the government- has been paid for, and will continue to be paid for, through robbery of the working class –through cuts in salaries, benefits, public services, jobs, job security, labour rights, among many other things.
And as long as this goes on, as long, the intention, on the part of those advocating stripping away whatever kind of universality there is, is that Ireland moves ever further toward the type of society in the image of its would-be owners: a society characterised by Hobbesian competition of all against all, stark and misanthropic, riddled with resentment, suspicion and naked exploitation.