Friday 30 September 2016

Bruton is wrong to believe that we can put up with 10 more years of niggling, nasty cuts

Published 28/05/2014 | 02:30

John Bruton
John Bruton

John Bruton is a clever man, but it is not difficult to see why his political career ended miserably; he is unable to fill people with hope. That inability cost Mr Bruton an election when he was Taoiseach despite the advent of the Celtic Tiger and a peace process just beginning to take shape.

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It was on display again yesterday when he warned that we face another 10 to 15 years of austerity and seemed to suggest that the cuts we have endured so far was just a mild warm-up exercise for the main event.

At one level, the former Fine Gael leader is right. At another level, he is completely wrong.

He is right to say that we are still spending more than we earn. He is also right to point out that we need to start chipping away at our debt mountain rather than adding to it.

He could also have added that all European countries will have to re-think social welfare and scale back the help available to some citizens.

The world is changing and Europe cannot afford to live beyond its means much longer.

He is wrong however to believe that the public here, or elsewhere, will put up with another 15 years of niggling, nasty austerity. That's a strange mistake for an ex-politician to make. Especially a politician who helped bring down his own government by introducing a tax on children's shoes when he was finance minister.

It is also strange mistake for a politician to make just days after the electorate gave more votes to independents and Sinn Fein than established parties such as his own.

The laws of economics are immensely powerful, and have crushed many foolish politicians over the years, but a really angry population is more powerful still.

Mr Bruton's analysis reads like something produced by a court official in Versailles in the early 1780s, warning that that the peasants would have to tighten their belts thanks to the extravagance of Louis XVI. A sensible enough prediction as the peasants had been tightening their belts for centuries but we all know how that ended; revolution.

There won't be another 15 years of austerity because something similar will happen here.

At a summit in a few years time, President Le Pen, Prime Minister Farage and Chancellor Lucke will join forces with the leaders of smaller countries such as Prime Minister Wilders and Taoiseach Adams to default on Europe's debts.

Parties like Golden Dawn and Jobbitt will have already left the euro and done something similar years previously.

Established parties must begin to elect leaders who look, sound, and most importantly, act differently to the dead beats who have been running most of Europe recently.

This means leaders who can offer policies beyond more cuts.

Boom and bust is part of the business cycle but history suggests that most people can put up with roughly a decade of austerity before they begin revolting.

In the United States, the Americans elected a true radical in the shape of Franklin Roosevelt after the Great Depression. In Germany, after an even more damaging recession that destroyed almost all savings, the Germans turned to Adolf Hitler.

Roosevelt was a much more radical politician than most people realise today. His excoriation of the banks and bankers would make even Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty blink.

The rhetoric was followed by a variety of radical programmes designed to produce relief from austerity and radical reform of the financial system.

There are legitimate reasons to argue that some of these policies made little economic sense and some were counter productive.

It is a matter of record that the US economy fell back into recession in he late 1930s but it is also a matter of record that a combination of World War II, luck and planning meant that the United States was the most powerful country on Earth when Roosevelt died 12 years after coming to power.

FDR's optimism and belief in the importance of people triumphed over those who only saw the economic picture.

People here in Ireland have been remarkably accepting of austerity until recently.

Fine Gael and Labour won elections when they told voters that they would be radical and lost elections when they proved to be woefully conventional.

The challenge for the government parties today is to offer both hope and new economic policies like Roosevelt or face oblivion.

That means stopping waste in the public sector.

That means reform of the banking sector.

That means jail for white collar criminals who steal from the public or private purse.

It means reform of the gardai.

It means a school system that teaches subjects necessary in the 21st century.

It means a health system built around patients rather than vested interests.

Saving money can be fun and lead to inventive ways of making do that are often every bit as good as the old ways.

But grinding poverty, death by a thousand cuts, is never fun for a populace.

The challenge for our leaders now is stop relying excessively on a thousand different, soul crushing cuts and start making real changes.

Irish Independent

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