First it was Brexit. Then it was Trump. Twice in recent months, we have awoken to news from across the water that shook us to our core. Something has gone ‘Br-ump’ in the night.
For Ireland, the biggest impact of Brexit and Trump’s ascendancy are likely to be economic. Even if recent decades have seen Ireland Inc. diversify its economic ties, the UK and US are still by far our most important trade and foreign direct investment partners. Directly or indirectly, hundreds of thousands of Irish jobs depend on these countries’ fortunes and policies. The temptation will be for Irish policymakers to adopt a reactive stance, but this needs to be complemented by a proactive and comprehensive approach.
As a tiny, very open economy, Ireland has surfed the wave of neoliberal globalisation more deftly than most, making the most of our geographic and cultural proximity to the US and the UK, in particular. For decades, for better or worse, we have been ‘all in’ on an economic strategy aimed at grabbing a slice of the global economic pie. As a result, there is perhaps no other country as uniquely exposed to the twin ‘Br-ump’ challenges.
Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz can stake some claim to being the intellectual father of the ‘Occupy’ movement with his May 2011 Vanity Fair article ‘Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%‘. He followed up with a book in 2012, ‘The Price of Inequality‘. This, in turn, builds on inter alia the 2003 and 2004 scholarly works of Thomas Piketty and Emanuel Saez on income inequality in the US since 1913.
Piketty, Saez and others – including Ireland’s Brian Nolan – have since worked to bring together data on top income shares for some two dozen countries and counting in a consolidated database (complete with helpful interactive graphics).
When Barack Obama was elected on a wave of euphoria three years ago this month, the US was in the grip of its deepest recession since the 1930’s.
Times were tough, but when the silver-tongued President-elect spoke of hope and change, of America as a place where all things were possible, he spoke to the American dream. People wanted to believe.
After three years of economic pain and political bickering, Americans are angry and frustrated. They have lost faith in their political class. For the first time in living memory the American dream itself is being called into question. People are no longer so sure that if they work hard and save hard, they will be able to provide a secure future for their children. Continue reading
Barack Obama knows that his 2012 re-election chances may hinge on his ability to tackle unemployment which has remained stubbornly above 9%. With the US purse strings in the vice-grip of a US Congress controlled by a Republican Party with a deficit fetish, he knows better than to expect help from this quarter.
If more fiscal stimulus is impossible, whether because of real funding constraints, as in Ireland, or because of purely political constraints, as in the US, then the next best approach is to get more bang from the government buck. It is this concept, formally known as the ‘balanced budget multiplier’, that underpins President Obama’s latest jobs plan. Continue reading
Much of the orthodox analysis of the West’s recent economic travails puts the blame squarely on a failure of political leadership.
Reality requires a more complex narrative.
Yes, the US came inexcusably close to committing hari kari by failing to lift its debt ceiling with a balanced, timely, comprehensive programme for long term fiscal sustainability.
Yes, the European Union struggles to deal with the fallout from the inherent contradictions at the heart of its monetary union.
Certainly, political failure doesn’t help lift the pervading sense of crisis, and the uncertainty it breeds contributes to financial market volatility, but it is market failure, not political failure, that is at the root of our economic malaise.
In short, the West’s growth model is broken. Continue reading