By Eamon Delaney
I’m an old school media consumer and I have boxes of old cuttings which I go through occasionally to de-clutter. It is fascinating. You can see the how the big issues reoccur and develop, both in Irish and international affairs. It is especially instructive to see the ongoing coverage of our economic crisis from the bust of 2010 up to the recovery of recent years and the new mini-boom of now.
One thing is absolutely clear – the left is always wrong. By the left, I mean the political parties but also the commentators and quangos and trade unions who constantly opposed austerity and cutbacks and said that not only were such measures morally wrong but they also wouldn’t work.
Well they did, and the sowed the seeds of our current recovery, which incidentally the same trade unions and quangos are now enjoying the fruits of. And – oh ironies of ironies- they are using this recovery to look for yet more spending and investment, potentially sending us off again on the cycle of ‘boom to bust’ that had got us into trouble in the first place. To cite that over-used phrase, you couldn’t make it up,
As for the morality of austerity, while some of the cuts were rough and painful – I saw it myself when I brought my child for community dental care that was no longer available – but many were very necessary and were a correction to a lot of over spending in the first place. Remember bench-marking?
But that is just the morality of austerity. What is interesting is how wrong the left was about the effects of austerity, or what the rest of us would call prudence and sensible spending : the trimmings and savings that would happen in any household or business under pressure.
To give just one example: here is an Irish Times from October 2010 pulled out of my magic box. ‘Cuts will lead to decade of decline’ says Paul Sweeney of trade union group ICTU. Well, this was completely untrue. Over to the side, meanwhile, the left wing US economist Paul Krugman declared that austerity in the UK economy would result in the same for the British economy. Again, completely wrong, Britain actually had high growth and employment in the subsequent six years. But these experts don’t come along later and say ‘oh I was wrong on that I apologise’.
They just plough on regardless, generally saying the same thing, and often in the Irish Times. Has Fintan O’Toole ever admitted to how wrong he’s been on the big economic issues. The left told us the EU’s austerity would kill Greece rather than save it- and again they were completely wrong. As were Sinn Fein.
The only ones not behaving like this are the Labour party but that is because they were in Government imposing the much needed reforms which eventually delivered. But now that Brendan Howlin is back in opposition he has gone back to the robotic soft-left mantra of more spending for everything. And its hard to even believe that he means it because Howlin was at the coalface of decision-making and he knows how things actually work.
This is not to say that the right is not also wrong, on many issues – on climate change, on many social and international issues. It has been spectacularly wrong on the ill-fated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And even on the economic issues, the right was wrong on the cheap lending binge of the mid 2000’s, and sub-prime scandal in the US which lead to the Lehman Brothers collapse and the knock-on effect internationally.
But the difference is that the right admit to these mistakes. We hear constant apologies and self recriminations from the economic centre-right about the way the bankers and free marketeers have behaved. But we hear no such apology from the left, for their constant opposition to corrective measures. Instead, it’s a case of ‘as I was saying before I was rudely interrupted’ – by reality, in fact. Its enough to make you really irritated which is why pulling out those old cuttings is a salutary reminder !
This article first appeared in The Times.ie Irish edition on 19 September 2019