So, if I believe all issues come under the three main headings of politics, economics and social what are the issues that interest me and where do I start, what are my basic thoughts ? Lets try and explain.
MY POLITICAL BELIEFS
I am a member of the Irish political party called Fianna Fail (Pronounced FEE NA FOIL or FINA FOYLE and translates from Irish language to “Soldiers of Destiny “) since 1976 and have voted for the party since first coming of age to vote in 1966 at age 21 (Voting age is now 18)..
Someone asks me what my politics are I say “IRFF”, Irish – Republican – Fianna Fail. Hasten to add by republican I do not mean Sinn Fein/IRA or American Republican Party brands. I believe both these groups are as far from republican as one can get.
Fair to say most people’s politics are cradle driven, parents or grandparents and even great grandparents in the case of Ireland. This year Ireland begins to commemorate the Irish Revolutionary period 1916 to 1923. From ancestor family information I have gathered in last two years strictly speaking I should be, if I was to follow the cradle, today be a staunch Sinn Feiner as there are 5 Monks who were involved 1916 to 1923 and have reason to believe the Monks continued the revolutionary beliefs to the 1930’s and 1940’s. However, I knew little about the Monks history and my paternal and maternal family tree and in truth was too busy with life to have an interest. Then, in 1994 at 49 years of age a mystery opened up about the mother’s origins and solutions to this mystery continued frustratingly until a breakthrough in 2011 when 50% of the mystery was solved. The other 50% mystery remains unanswered but there is a lead that eventually might come to something. The mystery did have a benefit in that I took and interest in the Monks paternal side and this in turn led to the discovery of Monks 5 “rebels”. Before these events in my, I knew nothing about family political history and can say I did not know what way my parents voted and today do not know how my 7 siblings vote.
If my politics are not handed down, where did they come from ? I believe they stemmed from 1956 when I was 11 years old. I could read and write and 1956 was the year of the Hungarian Uprising that was crushed brutally by the Soviet Union of which Hungary was a part. We didn’t have television but we did have radio and newspapers and from these I learned the 1950’s were dominated by the “Cold War” and the fear in the western world of Soviet and communist expansion. Even as a child of 11 I was fearful and I clearly remember asking the mother if the “Commies” would attack us as they were doing in Hungary. The Cold War continued for many years and I when going to night school at 17 or 18 years old I recall completing an essay and the chosen subject was Communism, still have that essay. That contempt and fear of Communism hardened the older I got and its collapse in late 1980’s and early 1990’s was never too soon.
As I entered teen years an interest in war books developed and I read a fair few of these along with other books of course. WW2 was of particular interest and the horrors of that war were disturbing to a young mind and coupled with the ongoing threats inherent in the Cold War the fear of war of any kind became permanent feature in my life.
Years rolled on and at 21 I was proud to reach voting age and was beginning to have moments of interest in politics but nothing lasting. I certainly wasn’t of the mind to understand how political, economic and social issues impacted on the lives of people. What did impact on my voting intentions when going to the polling booth for first time were the three parties that dominated Irish politics at the time, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour, as they do today with the addition of Sinn Fein. Despite being young and indifferent essentially I had to decide who to give my vote to. I linked Labour with Soviet Communism because of my memories of fear of the Soviet Union in crushing the Uprising in Hungary and the Cold War. I linked Fine Gael with the WW2 books I had read when younger and coming across reference to the Blueshirts support for Hitler and the Nazis in 1932/1933. The Blueshirts were a section of Fine Gael who openly paraded in military type uniforms and distinct blue shirts. Simply speaking, there was no way I was going to vote for political parties who saw the monsters Stalin and Hitler and Soviet Union and Nazism as their heroes. Rightly or wrongly I passed judgement on Fine Gael and Labour back then and it can be said I should move on at this stage but the fear and distrust of these two parties remains. In a twisted sense I should be thankful to them as they generated in me a permanent distaste for extremism of any kind.
Cannot recall any strong dislike of Fianna Fail or to be honest any great regard for the party but I do know for certain I did not have fear of them as I had for Fine Gael and Labour. I voted for Fianna Fail and that was that and just forgot about them and politics. Having a job and money to spend was the extent of my life and awareness of serious issues were accidental observations from radio, television and newspapers that entered the subconscious. However, with the wisdom of hindsight more entered the subconscious than I could have been aware and this manifested itself when one of my favourite books ever came my way. That book was Strumpet City published in the late 1960’s which was a fictional account of the famous workers strike known as the 1913 Lockout. The book to me was essentially about the division between the haves and the havenots of Dublin and their lives surrounding the 1913 Lockout strike. Can say for certain this book was the real foundation of my thought development on political, economic and social issues. Already I had an inbuilt fear of the extremes inherent in Nazism/Fine Gael and Communism/Labour Party. Strumpet City cemented my instincts that any form of extremism became alien to my sense of balance and fairness and has never left me. I didn’t know it then but I was a republican and work hard at remaining so today. At times I would love the certainty of ideology, to dispense with the normal sense of righteousness and adopt the comfort of self-righteousness. Yes, its tough being a republican and I know Fianna Fail has a serious history of flaws as the public record shows but when I look at the extremism at the core of Fine Gael and Sinn Fein/IRA today my politics is as solid as it was 50 years ago. Labour I believe has sold its soul to Fine Gael and turned its back on the very reason for its existence. Fine Gael still remain self-righteous and at the far extremes of right wing economics. I firmly believe that if Fianna Fail ever did anything right for this country it was to stop Fine Gael ever becoming a single party government. They came close to this in 2011 and I am certain if this had happened this country would have faced serious social unrest. Sinn Fein/IRA are doing well in the polls mainly as a reaction to the economic collapse of 2008 but I believe they have ulterior motives and are a security threat to this State .
In summary, my politics today come from a lifelong fear of extremism as manifested in Fine Gael and Sinn Fein/IRA. I am happy to see myself as IRFF, Irish, Republican and Fianna Fail.
My Economics Beliefs
This time 40 years ago in 1976 I was living, working and studying in London. Come May of that year I was facing exams in Commercial Law, Economics, Accounting and Business Communication. Economics as a subject was a mix of dry, boring and at times interesting but heading to final exams it coincided with a BBC 2 Production called Economics of the Real World that was based on a book by Peter Donaldson, an Economist. Along with the series BBC published an excellent illustrated book to make the subject more understandable to the public, it certainly helped me. As an aside, the turmoil in the Irish economy in the years following the 2008 crisis would have been much easier for many Irish people to understand the causes and effects had our media gone to the bother of a series on basic economics. Unfortunately, we in Ireland do not talk economics openly and honestly but prefer to allow politics to dominate debate instead. Anyway, from final exams in 1976 economics as a subject drifted from my mind but like all studying it sharpens the brain and I have had reason to appreciate two clear benefits arising from what I thought was overall a boring subject.
The first was in about 1982 when action began to correct the chronic inflation rate that inflicted this country and many other countries. In the UK Maggie Thatcher was revolutionising the economy and shaking it to its foundations. Thatcher was loved and hated in equal measures and depending on your point of view, was justified or unjustified. However, as all this was happening something clicked in my mind and I recalled a Lecturer when I was studying economics who I and fellow students believed was a left winger winding us up because we were all heading for jobs in capitalist environments. He went on about how the British economy was going to be decimated by right wing government in the future. This was up to 7 years before Thatcher came to power and not well known at the time. The man was on the mark ahead of his time and his predictions came true and the UK economy which was in the doldrums and living in the past was in need of serious overhaul. I mention all this not because I agreed with the methods Thatcher and her government used but to point out that my economics studying had not gone completely to waste and I was able to understand to a small extent the dramatic changes that were happening in Ireland and the rest of the world. A classic example of what I believe about all education, it doesn’t necessarily make you an expert in anything in particular but it does sharpen and train the mind.
The second benefit I got out of studying economics developed over the last 30 years or so came not from textbooks or lectures but from observation, I began to notice the economic indicators in broadcast and print media made constant mention of 4 main indicators and these were:
Balance of Payments
Economics of the real world is incredibly complex and the divergence of views on the subject is equally incredible in number and to narrow it down to 4 main headings would seem too simple. However, if a economics lay person like me can pick up that the above mentioned indicators are constantly referred to by the experts I must conclude in my own mind they are what I can call the 4 walls that economic activity is based upon. They are used as the measure of success or failure hence the constant reference to them in economic commentary.
In recent months we have been bombarded about the growth rate and reduction in unemployment. Low inflation and favourable balance of payments are seen as the reason for the economic growth and increase in jobs. This recent commentary is absolute proof that my observations and conclusions over the years of the 4 main indicators is correct. Okay, I should be pleased with myself for my observations but I am far from pleased. It was clear to me that those 4 main indicators are at the heart of economic objectives not only in Ireland but throughout the world and pursued by all governments. My problem is, why the heck are the economic objectives not spelled out openly and honestly and the public informed ? What is wrong with making a statement of economic aims and objectives that allow people to understand the decisions made by governments are made with the best intentions and in the interests of the entire population ? I would argue our ignorance about economic principles is no excuse for not communicating with the public and explaining properly what are the main dynamics. There is a terrible truth though that the person or persons with the ability to create the perfect economic model has not been born yet. From the accepted father of economics Adam Smith to the latest graduate the world is waiting for someone who can provide the world with the model to achieve the following:
Sustainable low Inflation Rate
Sustainable Full Employment
Sustainable Continuous Economic Growth
Sustainable Favourable Balance of Payments
In the so-called Celtic Tiger years Ireland it could be said appeared to be succeeding in sustaining the ideal indicators but as we all know the crash of 2008 nationally and internationally hit the country with the power of a tsunami. A grossly inflated property market, a banking and financial disaster and grossly inflated expectations the Celtic Tiger would go on forever combined to leave the country in a state of economic shock. Inflation is a monster of an economic disease that has plagued economics for centuries and Ireland had become so inflated we would have had to face the cold reality of a need for deflation even without the property and financial crash.
Since 2008 Ireland has been under what has become known as Austerity and why this word became dominant as the term for what I believe is the correct economic term, Deflation, is very much a puzzle to me. In the 1970s Ireland developed a chronic problem with a 20%+ rate of inflation and the obvious answer to that problem to me is deflation. However, in the 1980’s when we eventually got around to dealing with the problem I cannot recall one mention of the word deflation to describe what was happening to correct the chronic inflation problem. Unlike the 1980’s post 2008 I found it sort of amusing to note the word deflation for what was clearly happening in the Irish economy was again not being used. maybe someone decided the situation was so bad the word austerity was harsher sounding and would have better effect. Then in I think it was Spring 2015 the Sunday Independent Newspaper columnist Gene Kerrigan literally shocked me when in a number of times he used the word deflation to describe the corrective measures taking place in the Irish economy since 2oo8. He shocked me even more when later articles he went further and told the whole truth, he referred to “deliberate deflation” I have always read Kerrigan and see him as a very good contrarian but would never called him my hero. He is my hero now of course because he is the only pundit, politician or economics expert who was upfront about what has been happening in the Irish economy since 2008. Deliberately deflating an economy is painful and austerity as the No 1 tool is for many the outcome. This has happened time and again in the history of economics, as sure as night follows day recessions hit all economies and one can bet inflation is the trigger. We had a booming economy for first time ever in our young history as a free nation ad when it went into the guaranteed recession we had a bust that was extra painful. With boom comes greed and jobs and with bust comes fear and loss of jobs.
Could write pages and pages about the rise and alleged fall of the Irish economy but will leave that to further rambling as time goes on. For now let me tell what has happened this layman’s view of economics.
Economics is incredibly complex and at same time incredibly easy. The volume of economic activity nationally and internationally needs the best of modern computer technology to keep track of the level of transactions and then human beings have to make sense of it all. We struggle and that struggle as already mentioned has not so far in human history managed to produce the formula that gives us sustainable continuous low inflation, sustainable continuous full employment, sustainable continuous growth and sustainable continuous favourable balance of payments. Up to about two years ago my layman’s limited knowledge of economics had settled down to the standard outlined above. Then, an idle conversation put me on a new track which I will now outline.
I chatted to a person I know about the state of the economy and that person said as long as he had clothes on his back, food in his belly and a roof over the head he would be happy with life. That old maxim triggered another in my mind about wanting to be healthy, wealthy and wise. two maxims people of my age and older would have used many times in life. The exchange with that person stuck in my mind and I realised that those two maxims summed of economics in a very simple way the normal person going about their daily lives. They actually measure the success or failure to me of world economic activity in a simple no nonsense uncomplicated manner when listed as six questions. Am throwing in my own question as a seventh as it is relevant to every person rich or poor economically. The seven questions are:
1 Housing Does everyone have a roof over their head ?
2 Clothes Is everyone in a position to replace worn clothes ?
3 Food Do people have enough food to eat and never go hungry ?
4 Health When ill or injured is treatment readily available ?
5 Wealth Have we enough to survive and a little for the rainy day ?
6 Wise Do we all receive equal education opportunities ?
7 Security Are we all safe and secure in our homes and on the streets ?
These seven simple uncomplicated questions relating to the everyday existence of all human beings have answers in the negative. They measure the success or failure of economic activity that no amount of study and knowledge from textbooks will do and no amount of worldwide experts will do. Yes, the world has come a long way from 200 years ago when it is believed 95% of humans lived in abject poverty. Yes, we in Ireland have seen dramatic improvements in living standards compared to 100 years ago when social history tells us we were essentially a peasant country with huge areas of dire poverty. However, our failure rate in Ireland and worldwide is still shocking and the evolution of my economics has come to a standstill. No amount of study and observation of economics in the near future is going to move me on from the seven questions above. How can I move on when these questions asked daily will tell me if Ireland in particular has addressed the basic needs and wants of our total population. I am not confused anymore about economics, I am not influenced by economic experts, politicians and commentators.
In summary, my economics revolves around a roof over the head, clothes on the back, food on the table, treatment for illnesses and injuries, paying ones way in life with a few euros to spare, basic ability to read and write and lastly but by no means least, feeling safe from crime