Certain liberal left politicians are celebrating some of the measures implemented to tackle the Covid crisis as evidence that major steps are being taken towards a centralised state controlled economy. As John McGuirk wrote earlier this week, some left-wing politicians seem happy that the coronavirus has meant the government is effectively rolling out a ‘single-tier’ health service and “instituting massive public spending on welfare and the rest of it”.
The United States is in the process of passing an unprecedented $2 trillion stimulus and investment package in order to prevent an economic collapse. It vastly outweighs both the 1930s Rooseveldt stimulus which included a massive scheme of public works, and the post World War Two Marshall Programme that lessened the attractions of the Stalinist left in the western democracies.
Much of Euope is expected to do the same, including Ireland.
Is it socialism though?
It is not. The state is not taking over the majority of the private sector nor expropriating the means of production, distribution and exchange. Rather, what is happening is not only similar to the programmes listed above but more so to the measures taken by the democracies to ensure that the economy during WWII was focused on the war effort and not dependent on individual decisions by business. This, for the most part, avoided the sort of profiteering that could mark the production of not only war materiel but of food, clothes and other essentials.
I was recently reading Patrick Kavanagh’s The Green Fool, and it is clear that Irish farmers enjoyed a great boom in prices and production for most of the First World War. This may have explained to some degree the hesitancy to support the national movement prior to 1918 when the threat of conscription presented a danger to the comfortable farmers and traders, who, is is worth bearing in mind, were considerably less likely to have supported Sinn Féin in 1918.
Some of the measures taken by right of centre governments including Britain and the US are extraordinary on the face of it. The state is proposing to make up most of the shortfall in income forced upon those whose jobs, temporarily one hopes, have been lost because of the restrictions to tackle the virus.
It is difficult to argue against this given the cataclysmic consequences of doing nothing. That would precipitate a global economic collapse with god only knows what outcomes.
Indeed, might it not be possible to introduce more radical measures? I am thinking in particular of the proposals regarding a short terms “time out” for people currently unable to pay full rent and mortgages.
Ought it not be possible to write off part of these payments commensurate with current income, or indeed to have some sort of write off.
We have written here before of the increasing stranglehold of cuckoo and vulture funds on the property sector and the lack of enthusiasm, to say the least, of the sub prime sector for rental and mortgage “holidays” speaks volumes. Their imperative to squeeze the last drop remains unabated and unsated. Donning the “green jersey” is clearly for some, rather than others.
Be that as it may, one can only hope that the current measures will effect a holding up of the global economy and that the vast sums being pumped into the prevention and treatment programmes will be effective.
I am not generally inclined to optimism, and have less cause at present, but there are signs of a reversal in the statistics, even from Italy and Spain whose health crisis has been exacerbated by earlier policy disasters on issues like the mass immigration of unskilled and undocumented people of whom little is known.
Let us hope that if we do survive that we act on the lessons.