2014 - Time to end short-termism

Posted on Tuesday, 31 December 2013

There are two questions concerning Ireland in 2014 and beyond that are not being addressed in a satisfactory manner at present i.e.

  1. What would real recovery look like?
  2. Is the pathway currently being travelled likely to produce such a recovery?

Social Justice Ireland  believes that the future being offered is deeply unjust and does not constitute real recovery. Human dignity and the common good are not guiding policy decision-making. We also believe that the pathways being followed by Government seek to protect the rich at the expense of the rest of us.  It is not acceptable that the major sacrifices in building the future should be borne by those on low to middle incomes or by future generations.

As individuals, when we are under pressure it can be difficult to distinguish between the urgent and the important. Any sense of purpose or direction tends to be swept aside in our panic to address what we see as immediate pressing problems. But when we are in this mode of thinking we simply do not recognise that much of our effort may merely be exacerbating current difficulties and storing up more, potentially even greater, problems for the future.

Societies tend to make the same mistakes. Policy-making in Ireland has tended to focus almost exclusively on the ‘urgent’ in recent years which may in part be understandable because of the serious nature of the series of crises that emerged since 2008.  However, there has been a major failure to deal with these urgent issues within a broader framework of strategic thinking and planning. There has been no real guiding vision that would ensure choices were made on a consistent and integrated basis. Policy development has been extremely short-sighted and based on a series of unchallenged but invalid assumptions about the nature of the difficulties we now face and how they can best be resolved.

As a result Ireland has seen the single biggest transfer of resources from low and middle income people to the rich and powerful in its history. The main beneficiaries of this transfer have been parts of the corporate sector especially the bondholders and financial institutions who took little or no ‘hit’ for their gambling in Ireland’s private banking sector. Other large corporates also benefitted as their privileged tax position continues to be protected and they are not asked to make any contribution towards Ireland’s rescue.

At the same time, poverty rose, unemployment rose, emigration rose dramatically, waiting lists for social housing rose, child poverty, long-term unemployment and the numbers working poor also rose. Simultaneously employment fell dramatically as did domestic demand and investment.  Public services were reduced significantly. Costs were introduced for many services while costs were increased in many areas. Funding for the community and voluntary sector was cut disproportionately at the very moment when the demand for their services was increasing.

Social Justice Ireland fully acknowledges Ireland’s difficult fiscal position. We also accept that Ireland must pay its way.  However, we believe strongly that there are alternatives to the present approach which would protect the vulnerable while rescuing the economy and doing this in a sustainable manner.

Ireland needs to recognise the essentially complementary nature of economic and social development - two sides of the one reality. Economic development is essential to provide the resources necessary for social development. But social development, in turn, is essential because there can be no lasting economic development of any substance without the provision of social services and infrastructure.  All one has to do is reflect on the importance of a good education system for the development of a ‘hi-tech, hi-spec, smart’ economy. 

At the same time both economic development and social development must be sustainable if it is to be of lasting value. All development must be sustainable economically, socially and environmentally. Otherwise it should not be accepted as development. Recognising the importance of sustainability presents new challenges which must be addressed, not ignored, in the rush to address the urgent rather than the important.

It is time to put a stop to short-termism. We must ask ourselves as a society where we are right now and, more importantly, where we want to be in the future. Many government initiatives have been deeply flawed. It is of immense concern that, to the extent that they reflect any kind of vision of the future, it is one that is not sustainable and highly questionable, anyway, in terms of its underlying values.

The financial crisis of recent years has led to a widespread belief worldwide amongst academics, policymakers and even business people that the neo-liberal version of capitalism itself is in a serious crisis. Such debate is no longer confined to a radical fringe but is rightly now part of mainstream thinking. A vision for a sustainable future needs to be articulated.

Social Justice Ireland advocates a vision for Ireland based on the core values of justice, human dignity, equality, human rights, solidarity, sustainability and the pursuit of the common good.

To move towards this vision five key policy areas must be addressed urgently. These are:

  • macroeconomic stability
  • just taxation
  • social protection
  • governance
  • sustainability.

In 2014 Social Justice Ireland will continue to spell out detailed policy proposals within these five policy pillars.