Originally Published: 17/December/2016
Economics being my tool of observation, has given me a method by which to compare the world to what it was to what it is now. Through this perspective, the transcendence ability of economics to permeate into various disciplines, both logical and emotional, has brought up the idea of situational economics, where every situation has its own build up to that point and eventual circumstance from a decision made from said point. So looking at society through various magnifications through the economic microscope, are we now more liberal or conservative compared to what we were?
With regards to the topic and potential answering of this piece there is need to take a look at society from four perspectives;
The social perspective of society, the fiscal perspective of society, the global perspective, and the Irish national perspective
Looking around the world, we can see a move to more people being liberal and understanding of social issues. Some examples of such social liberalisation would include the legalisation of marijuana in the U.S, and the same sex marriage referendum in Ireland. That would be social liberalisation on a macro scale. Regarding such liberalisation on a micro scale, it can be observed that there is more openness and tolerability today of what would have once been looked upon as shameful with an example being the quantity of sexual partners one may have in life, and a more open and oversharing lifestyle through the use of social media to invite people into your private life thanks to the use of technology. A big move over many years has been occurring from a more traditional (a society based in religious piety and the results being very conservative) social standard to the more liberal open-mindedness of modern day. Being raised in an Irish Catholic household, this reversion to me is apparent but it is also quiet funny due to what Catholicism (we can include Christianity and organised religion as well for good measure) is presently, a very traditional and conservative force, compared to how it was formed through possibly the most famous person in human history, Jesus of Nazareth, being overly socially inclusive. One could even go as far as to pin a title on his head for his methods of action and call him a socialist and maverick for equality amongst all men and women.
Moving our viewpoint of study away from Ireland into a broader scope, society in general seems to be more liberal in the western world, but still very conservative in other parts like the Middle East, but trade between countries is testing that since cash is king and much like the impact the silk road of antiquity and beyond, economic trade and the wealth that comes with it brings a high degree of cultural influence. It also opens up trade partners to adopt cultural traits to give the edge in conducting business with the end goal being to make living standards better. Without taking the human rights violations into consideration, the very traditional Islamic nation of the Qatar is set to host the world cup in 2022 where massive amounts of Westerners and the liberal way of living will be coming to town. Embracing and potentially adopting such western practices is a way of showcasing the country as a modern and progressive one, in an attempt to shy or hide away from a hard line religious foundations rooted in the country.
Looking at the 2008 recession, in the lead up to the economic fallout nations were very liberalised when it came to market openness (the EU and its four pillars of freedom) and regulation was extremely lax due to the slow movement over the last few decades to the ‘New Economic Policy Consensus’ (Neoliberal Policy) way of thinking which aimed at making Government smaller and allowing the market to be self-regulated and have a survival of the fittest mentality, a Darwinist market if anything that one could argue has become a neo-mercantilist paradise.
Since the recession however, the effects of this liberalised market with Globalisation on a scale never seen before and the repercussions from it, have left bitter tastes in people’s mouths through loss of jobs to cheaper labour/materials/technology/etc at the expense that was a policy trade-off when it came to their value and worth as a member of society. Such end products have had a radicalisation effect on the people pushing them past liberalisation and into the territory of socialism that it close to turning into communism, or even pushing them far right into the bastardised nationalist superiority complex embrace of fascism. Other residual effects from this would be people leaving their home countries in search of work abroad and who knows more about this epidemic of exporting workers every ten to fifteen years than the Irish, with her people moving abroad to lands of better opportunity like Canada/USA/England/Australia/etc.
It’s been more politically conservative in the western world since the recession hit, and we can see the rise of far right movements be testament to that. This rise can be seen with the vote on Brexit (not taking into consideration the immigrant rhetoric which is a rejection of one of the pillars of the EU) for wanting to leave the EU with people wanting to be self-regulated, not subject to EU laws and the ECJ, and they don’t want people to continue losing jobs, especially in manufacturing to other nations via the Globalisation effect or more specifically in the UK context of things, the Thatcheresque version of Globalisation. An example would be 1980s Britain and the coal mining industry and how once it got done away with destroyed the northern economies, with the repercussions still being felt to this day. The same can be said for Donald Trump winning the election and how the coal mining and steel works was coming back to the US rust belt. People want jobs back that were lost to Chinese production superiority (cheaper costs of production like labour and material).Tighter regulations in regards to fiscal regulation will lessen the liberalisation of the markets. The Far East, like China, has a very liberal way of doing business so there is that opposite to the West but the Chinese have a unique blend of Communist political leadership and one way Capitalist/Mercantile marketplace that allows China to be producers for the world by taking business operations but not allowing foreign influences and firms to set up shop within their borders. We must also recognise that was was liberalising ten years ago has become status quo and conservative now, but that is how time affects everything including policy an indeed these writings.
Seeing whether the world is more conservative or liberal will depend on what part of the world you look at, the environment you have been raised in, and the associated balance between the social and fiscal realities pertinent to that area. Compared to 50 years ago, the world as a whole through the mediums of education and technology has pushed the world away from its national bubbles of identity and conservatism on the fiscal and social spectrum, to a more liberal and open world. Peoples increased opportunities to engage with these mediums, allows for people to think for themselves, research for themselves, study for themselves, and ponder a variety of ideas to allow for global discussion and dissection. Market globalisation has liberalised the fiscal side of the spectrum by increasing trade partners to not only national or regional areas, but also partners around the world.
Irish National Perspective
Ireland has become more socially liberal (same sex marriage and also by having the state be less reliant on the church). We have become more fiscally conservative and prudent due to economic outcomes since 2008, which is seen through general election results in 2011 with majority Fine Gael and election results in 2016, again the most seats for a party being Fine Gael. From those outside of Ireland or those not knowing the Fine Gael economic policy, it is one of over reliance on neoliberalism and less market interventions. Think of the Tories in England as a great jumping off point.
Overall however, considering where we were, Ireland has gotten more liberal in the social and fiscal spaces since our inception as the Republic of Ireland (unofficially in 1937 with the drafting of our new constitution but officially in 1949 with the Republic of Ireland Act). A gradual move away from religion and combat on the island, to putting more emphasis on trade, equity, education, and technology, has drastically shifted the Irish social paradigm, in less than 100 years to the country we are now.
Even within this move to a more liberal agenda on all aspects of life, a polarising effect between people is evident. This polarising is feeding animal spirits of the masses and causing political disruptions due to rapid movement away from what the world was to what it is now, with the biggest factor being an ever widening wealth gap between classes. The distinct line that is being drawn in the sand is showing the duality of humankind and the possible knock on effects will come to the surface in due course, showing face in either extremist far right or far left ideologies.
Jonathan McEvoy is an Irish based border control post inspector for the Irish Government and Europe Union who took up his role in 2019 in response to British withdrawal of trade agreements, which was a position taken up after time spent working within the financial services sector in Dubai. He is an economics and finance postgraduate from Waterford Institute of Technology and a community stalwart in his home city of Waterford having been elected to serve on many boards of directors around the city in a voluntary capacity. His love of writing has a deep theme of economics in every published article which talk about history, philosophy, finance, politics, and society. His writings are grounded in practical observations away from the theoretical hypothesis of hypothetical potentials. If you are looking for a modern digestible viewpoint on modern economic ideas with a focus practicality and no holding back, he is a writer for you.
Find Jonathan on the social platforms @jonathanmcev0y
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