Some rushed comments on An Bord Snip Nua.
It was remarkable how even the state broadcaster in its nightly news bulletins had taken to using the coinage of An Bord Snip Nua as though this were the official title of the exercise. The name has a mystifying function. First, the fact that it contains a reference to a prior event in the history of Ireland denotes a sense of continuity with the past, as though we are all talking about one more chapter in the history of the Irish nation. It thereby posits itself as part of a collective project. Second, the fact that it is a name in Irish connotes that this is a particularly Irish project, thereby concealing the transnational forces that have generated the demand for the cuts (in short, Ireland cannot borrow money unless it meets the demands of foreign investors, that is, to maintain a good business climate in line with neo-liberal orthodoxy, which means slashing public spending and weakening the bargaining power of workers). It therefore presents an illusion of national political autonomy at the very moment when such autonomy is being fatally weakened. An Bord Snip Nua, ironically, conceals the potential image -after John Ralston Saul- of national politicians as castrati.
By appearing as a project of the Irish nation, then, it contains an appeal to the suspension of class interest in the service of a higher patriotism, even though, at the same time, the people most egregiously affected by the project will be the weakest members of society: children, the sick, the working class.
Appeals to national solidarity on the part of the ruling class are nearly always part and parcel of neo-liberal politics. Not only do these appeals exist most obviously to browbeat the working class to accept measures that are not in its interest, they exist to arouse fervour among the ruling class to go about its business more vigorously. To give a very recent example: in the prelude to the coup in Honduras, a letter was sent from the Tegucigalpa Chamber of Industry and Commerce to its members, asking them for donations for a ‘civic and PR strategy’, containing an explicit appeal to the members’ ‘highest patriotic ideal’: their ‘love for Honduras’. (It is perhaps not entirely irrelevant here that when Brian Cowen made what fawning media had speculated was his ‘Obama moment’, he did so in front of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce)
As noted elsewhere, there is nothing in the content of the report that could not have been drawn up by the Department of Finance. Indeed, the Department of Finance set the parameters of the report in such a way that the end result -brutal cuts everywhere- would be a foregone conclusion.
But the creation of a special team, led by a neo-classical economist, lends the cuts a veneer of scientific objectivity, even though, as David Jacobson notes here, neo-classical orthodoxy underwrote the inadequate regulation of markets that had provoked the crisis in the first place. Not for the first time, the castrati pretended to seek the advice of independent commentators to give legitimacy to the savage programme on which they intended to embark, whilst shoring up their own privileged position.
First, they will allow a feeding frenzy in the media on the detail of the report, in which the public discussion will be framed in terms of just how much ‘savings’ (the actual cost to a person of insufficient medical treatment is not in the scope of the report) can be generated by this or that measure. Then, they will present themselves as interceding on behalf of the ‘most vulnerable’ in society, seeking to mitigate this or that proposed measure, so that in their mercy they will hear and answer us.