First of all, I have to say I’m about 4 years late in writing something about this book, which was published in 2009. But I picked it off the shelf at a good moment.
The book does a fine job of assembling and presenting a lot of information on the wealthiest and most powerful people in Ireland. Their dodgy dealings and luxurious lifestyles are particularly well-documented. However, what makes me, and presumably most readers, very angry, only provokes Cooper to very mild and measured criticism. He scrupulously presents both sides of the argument and often makes the dodgiest dealings inaccessible behind torrents of micro-detail that anyone who’s not a businessperson will find impenetrable.
He shows no such expert attention to detail or high-minded concern for justice when it comes, in the concluding chapter, to the trade union movement.
The conclusion of the book can be read in a new light in 2013 after 5 years of austerity. Cooper writes:
“There is a considerable body of evidence from international experience that shows how countries that concentrate on cutting spending rather than increasing taxes recover from slumps far more quickly.” (p. 411)
This “considerable body of evidence” refers presumably to an influential paper by two economists Reinhardt and Rogoff which argued for austerity. However this paper has recently been proved to be nonsense. It relied on selective sampling and was further distorted by a Microsoft Excel error!
The conclusion is even more interesting when it comes to the trade union movement, like it says in the meme above.
“The great power battle in Irish society in the coming years will be between the government and the unions, as the government attempts to reduce the unaffordable cost of the public sector and, as a secondary consideration, tries to do something to stimulate the wealth-creating and productive private sector.”
If it is innately wealth-creating and productive, it’s fair to ask why the private sector needs “something to stimulate” it.
There’s a lot more we could say on that, but the arguments have been gone over and over again, and the hostile mood toward the public sector which was a feature of 2009 is now much weakened.
The interesting part is how Cooper predicts a “great battle” between unions and government. And why wouldn’t he predict this? Austerity – returning business to profitability by a scorched-earth policy that reduces the mass of the population to misery – demands that the government deals a serious blow to the trade union movement and attacks its members.
We know how things have gone in reality. Governments since the start of the crisis have avoided conflict. Any serious opposition – DEIS schools, medical cards, household tax – has revealed them to be cowards and liars.
The most serious obstacle to austerity, the trade union movement, followed this line. Bureaucrats in the leadership with 6-figure salaries and no desire to rock the boat fed on and encouraged a sense of despair among members. The Croke Park deal deferred the issue, with pain to workers, strain on services, and no resolution.
Recovery has not come and the second Croke Park deal has brought the conflict out again. The “great battle” between unions and government must happen; it is incredibly unlikely that the issue will be avoided until some new equilibrium is reached. We may be approaching that battle.