On The Bright Side

This is a comment I left on a Journal.ie thread, on an article entitled ‘Yes, the media should report bad news, but cynicism mustn’t blind us‘, by Séamus Conboy, a parliamentary assistant to Labour TD Michael Conaghan.

The message of this article should not be lightly discarded; it should be doused in petrol and burnt. The real corrosive cynicism comes from people who seek to dampen political criticism by appealing to the effect of what ‘the markets’ might think, and who seek to present ‘politics’ as something only a cadre of experts can get involved in.

Who, then, is this ‘we’ that the article wants to get back on its feet? Economist Michael Burke recently showed in a Politico article that profits for non-financial firms are close to their 2007 peak. The financial sector has had tens of billions in public money funnelled into it, and Bank of Ireland has just hired the head of banking at the Department of Finance. There are plenty of people who were never off their feet in the first place. What of the rest? The social effects of the bank bailout, of the prioritisation of the health of the financial sector over the health of the population, are proving disastrous. The government is pursuing a macroeconomic policy that seeks to drive wages downward, strips away what threadbare welfare provision Ireland has, and subjects people who depend on benefits to a regime of harassment and suspicion, and people in work to work longer and put up with more for less, for fear of losing their jobs. It writes finance policy in lock step with the same financial institutions that caused the economic crisis. Meanwhile, the mainstream media –which is right-wing in its entirety- supports the broad thrust of government policy: austerity, the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. And contrary to the suggestions made in this article, the IMF predicts that Ireland will spend far less on public services than even the US by 2017. The country is being remade into a starkly miserable place to live for the exploited majority, and a luxurious haven for financiers and privateers.

But here’s the thing: if you believe in a democratic society based on a decent life for all, you are not being ‘negative’ or ‘cynical’ if you point any of this out. If you talk about what the true effects of austerity are, and you resist the constant demands to look on the bright side and leave everything to the politicians and say nothing in case the markets are listening, you are taking a positive step toward a more decent society. Conflict is an essential element of democracy; it just so happens that democracy is something the markets –and politicians who claim to represent people while pursuing policies that destroy their living standards and hopes for the future- can do without.

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