The ‘Purely Economic Perspective’ of The Ruling Class: Response to Dan O’Brien

I left this comment on an Irish Times piece published today by its economics correspondent Dan O’Brien, titled ‘Immigration issues need more discussion’, in which, calling for a ‘frank discussion’ on immigration, he draws a conclusion that ‘from a purely economic perspective’, ‘the decision to open the labour market fully in 2004 was a mistake’.

What is a ‘purely economic perspective’? There is no such thing. All perspectives on economics are informed by politics. The perspective required, for instance, to refer to persons of flesh and blood who have to work for a living, bear and raise children, get sick and eventually die, as a ‘factor of production’, as elements of a ‘labour market’, is a political perspective.

When Dan O’Brien says that ‘the decision to open the labour market fully in 2004 was a mistake’ – what political perspective is he using? Certainly not that of someone who came to live and work in Ireland post-2004. Therefore his (and not just his) idea of the economy entails a political perspective that implies judgements about what is right for some, and automatically excludes the welfare of others from this judgement.

Now, ‘the economy’ is a fetish object anyway, and the ‘all other things’ of ceteris paribus is a political determination. When we talk about GDP or GNP growth, we pretend that this growth is somehow ours and therefore positive for everyone, even when this growth is be achieved through increasing the rate of exploitation of workers (not least poor migrant workers!), and even when these figures do not account for all work, such as housework and childcare in the home, which is unpaid (and often carried out by migrant grandparents!). We should not expect a ‘frank discussion’ of this in the Irish Times, by the way.

The familiar repertoire that calls for ‘frank discussions’ stifled and laments the ‘sidelining of those who dissent from the consensus (sic)’ rarely entails the inclusion of political perspectives -especially the perspectives of those most acutely affected by policies of population control and shrinking of welfare state provision- that run counter to economic orthodoxy. Rather, it is a way of making sure that such perspectives of people are kept safely in quarantine lest they interfere with the regular functioning of ‘the economy’, especially at a time of austerity (or ‘rigour’ or ‘stringency’ or however it has been rebranded) and its close associate, the capitalist State.

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