Sunday 17 December 2017

Green shoots need help to grow

For the first time since 2006 the arrival of a new year is being accompanied by a timorous spirit of optimism. The overall landscape, courtesy of the ongoing triumph of the Malthusian economics of "dumb austerity", is still bleak. But the revival in retail and an admittedly austere rise in property prices suggest that, if correct economic policies are followed, Ireland is finally primed for recovery. Intriguingly, as today's Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll confirms, these trends have evolved against a backdrop of deteriorating support for the Government. The Coalition may not be detested in the manner of its predecessor, but it is at best securing the tolerance of the electorate. An administration that is too often too easily convinced of its own worth should, in particular, pay close attention to the steep decline in voters' confidence in Enda Kenny and a visible rise in dissatisfaction with Michael Noonan. Ireland may be on the cusp of recovery, but the building of confidence requires more concrete measures than Mr Noonan's gnomic folksiness or Mr Kenny's semi-detached "waving at the people" school of leadership.

In fairness, it should be acknowledged that when it comes to the running of the country this administration is not master of its own house. And more unfortunately still, it is also living through one of those miserable epochs when, like the 1930s, political elites become embroiled in some vast historic error which means that those who speak truth to power, be they Keynes or Churchill, are disregarded. Our vast error is the imposition of a reign of "dumb austerity" by Germany's Iron Chancellor Merkel, which continues to accelerate in the teeth of a growing body of evidence that austerity – and vast numbers of Europe's citizens for that matter – is not working.

If the Government, and Europe, are to carve out a sustainable future, they should realise that the most significant political event of the past year was the victory of Barack Obama. It may have been "a damn close-run thing", but Mr Obama was re-elected because – unlike the rest of a political class who throughout the great recession have universally been cast out by the electorate when they got the chance – he realised that the economics of Keynes, rather than our medieval response of calling for more leeches when the patient is already bleeding to death, would stabilise the American crisis. Unfortunately, it is a lesson that a coalition which instead appears to be prioritising a desperate quest for respectability amid the EU cheerleaders for austerity seems incapable of learning.

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