The fundamental division in the economic debate is between those who support austerity and those who support an expansionary strategy.
On the one side we have those who believe that deflating growth, wages and living standards is the pathway to recovery and fiscal stability. On the other side, there are those who believe that expanding growth, job creation and incomes is the way forward.
This is the economic dividing line – austerity versus expansion. The task for progressives is to make this economic dividing line the political dividing line as well.
There is now an emerging progressive consensus among civil and social organisations. This is both a source of encouragement and frustration.
What is encouraging is that groups such as ICTU, Community Platform, TASC, the principles resulting from the Claiming Our Future conference and other groups (the list is long) have all produced reports and submissions in the run-up to the budget that agree on the fundamentals. There are four areas in which there is a consensus:
First, there must be a multi-annual, multi-billion public investment programme
Second, there must be an end to austerity and opposition to cuts in the overall level of current spending
Third, fiscal adjustments – apart from public investment – must be driven through taxation, specifically on high-income, high-wealth groups.
Fourth, the state must not be bound to honour private banking debt – not one cent
There is also a fifth area, though this was only developed following the budget: a rejection of the IMF/EU agreement reached with the current Government and a demand that whatever comes out of the future mix:
- The state shall separate bank debt from state debt, leaving private investors to shoulder the burden of the former
- Our savings and borrowings – in the Pension Fund and NTMA cash balances – must be ring-fenced for a substantial investment programme
- That there be a new emergency budget, to reverse the deflationary spending cuts of the current budget and to launch the economy on a growth pact.
In regards the latter, it must be stressed: if a new government comes into office within the next few months, whatever they keep from the Fianna Fail/Green budget, they own.
It is also encouraging that a number of economists and analysts have been developing a new macro-economic model to show that a strategy based on these principles will result in higher growth, higher job creation and more effective deficit reduction. It is hoped that this will be launched early next year.
So we have the principles, the model and the numbers – that’s the encouraging part. But nonetheless, it can get frustrating.
Why is it so difficult to get social organisations, who agree with each other on the economic fundamentals, together in the same room?
Why is it so difficult to get these groups to agree together what they agree to separately?
Why is it so difficult to get groups that agree with each other to campaign together?
Whatever the answers to those questions might be, they are no longer good enough. We can only succeed if we work together.
The foundation for a united campaign is already laid. These groups should now come together and promote the principles they agree on: investment, taxation on high income groups, no to austerity and spending cuts, a separation of bank and state debt and a rejection of the terms of the IMF/EU bail-out and the budget that resulted from those terms.
On the basis of such a joint campaign, we should bring people into participation. Why can’t we drop a card in every household, not only outlining these principles but providing voters with questions they can ask the candidates who knock on the door or speak at a local meeting? Questions such as:
- Do you support taxing high-income groups instead of targeting low-average income earners?
- Do you oppose spending cuts?
- Do you support repudiating private banking debt?
- Will you reverse the decision to cut the minimum wage?
And just as ICTU has rightly announced that it will name and shame all the TDs who voted for the cuts in the minimum wage, this new grouping could name and shame all the candidates who support austerity.
The purpose of this campaign would be two-fold:
First, to ensure that the divide in the upcoming general reflection reflects the divide over economic policy. If the upcoming debate is confined to two positions – extreme austerity or austerity with a human face - then it will not only be dismal debate, it will ensure that no alternative to current policy will be presented to the Irish people.
Second, to ensure the election of the largest possible bloc of TDs who support growth strategies and reject deflationary policies. If we are successful in our campaign, then that bloc of progressive TDs could become the largest bloc in the Dail and be able to drive the policy of the next Government.
But to achieve this outcome there must be a beginning – someone has to pick up the phone, someone has to start organising these progressive groups on to a unified platform. In short, someone or some group has to show leadership.
If this were done, we could surprise ourselves – we already agree on the fundamentals, all the groups have a campaigning ethos, and clearly there is a large appetite among working men and women for a change from the current policies.
Put all this together and we have a chance of winning.
But we will only win if we do it together.
Now is never too late.