Do We Need Economic Experts?

By Michael O’Sullivan

We are bombarded daily on our televisions and radio by economists lecturing us about what ‘we’ need to do to solve the economic crisis here and in Europe but should we listen to them?

While we are encouraged to believe that economic matters due to their complexity can only be understood and managed by these ‘experts’ almost none of them in Ireland or elsewhere predicted the economic crash in 2008. Now after seven years of peddling advice in the form of endless austerity and ‘book balancing’ the economies of Europe are still no better off and some like Greece and Spain are in a worse state. Economists here in Ireland and in the ECB and IMF are not innocent technicians that prescribe what they consider to be best for the economy. Most have instead been at the forefront of calling for deregulation of financial markets and have relentlessly told countries to privatize their state assets and pursue short-term growth strategies that resulted in a far worse crash for many countries such as Ireland when the downturn occurred. Advice such as labour market ‘reforms’ which Christine Lagarde recently again demanded has resulted in lower wages, insecurity and poverty for millions of workers in Europe but also stagnation and even deflation as peoples spending power is slashed.

John Kenneth Galbraith once remarked that ‘economics is very useful as a form of employment for economists’. He was making the point that economic theory is not something that can be divorced from the political and social systems that dictate our lives and all economic decisions are political decisions. The great trick of economic theory of the last 30 years has been to convince us that economics is a neutral science and that it is entirely natural that markets rule over us.

Millions of people in Europe and the world over are rejecting this market madness and so it is time to imagine a different type of society in which economic decisions are made by all and the needs of all in society take precedence over the tiny elite. While we may still require some expertise striving to build a democratic economy it won’t be of the type we currently get but may instead be technical assistance in devising plans to cater for the needs of society. This is something however that everyone in society can partake in since it is workers who are most familiar with production and distribution of goods and services. This is what a truly democratic society could look like and would not resemble the ‘state planning’ that existed in the former State Capitalist societies of Russia and Eastern Europe. It would allow us to try and arrest the descent into catastrophe that will be wrought by further global warming as we would for once be able to prioritize renewable energy and overcome the madness of crises ridden capitalism.

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