What care might really look like

April 7, 2015 at 7:29 pm | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

This article on the Mad in America website is a brilliant evocation of what real care should be about.



What is really at stake with Greece?

March 6, 2015 at 9:19 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

It is worth considering what is really happening at present in the Greek conflict with the EU Euro zone. At issue is not just Greece but the nature of the EU itself. Is the EU an instrument of neo-liberal market discipline or a democratic political union of solidarity, rationality and freedom?

What is being proposed to Greece in response to the election of Syriza? It is to maintain the status quo of the troika bailout programme with its mandatory conditions of fiscal contraction and ‘austerity’. Why, when we can readily see the empirical consequence of this programme on Greece itself. Greece is in an economic depression worse than that of the US in the 1930s. Enormous social suffering has resulted. Its accumulated sovereign debt (+170% of GDP) is mounting to a point where it cannot be re-paid ever. Greece is now borrowing solely to re-pay its debts in a perpetual debt cycle.

The alternative proposal from Syriza is in effect a moderate Keynesian approach. That this is regarded as ‘hard left’ shows how far our political centre of gravity has shifted rightwards in the last few decades. Central to their proposal is to end austerity, increase state spending for investment and social solidarity and address Greece’s deep humanitarian crisis. Writing off state debt is essential to recovery.

If the status quo is not working why is it being insisted upon? Three reasons at least can be identified:

  1. The purpose of the debt is not that it be paid back but that it serves to exercise control over indebted countries by permitting the imposition of market discipline
  2. All the other Euro zone countries are politically led by neo-liberal market ideologues who will not, or even cannot, think outside its ideological categories
  3. For the other indebted countries within the Euro zone collective adherence to austerity is necessary in order to avoid any possibility of an alternative being recognised

What has Ireland’s role been in this crucial moment? From the election of the new Greek government Ireland has been particularly antagonistic and, indeed, patronising of the Greek endeavour. This seems to be for two clear reasons:

  1. Having implemented an aggressive austerity programme the Irish government cannot concede that there was / is an alternative.
  2. We wish to maintain and even assert our allotted role as poster boy for austerity.

Two additional points need to be made here. First, the Irish government is putting its party political interests above that of the wider national interest. Why not join with Greece and others in re-configuring debt by, among other possibilities, Europeanising it in Euro Bonds? Why willingly pay over €7 billion per annum in interest re-payments? Secondly, Ireland is not a proof of the effectiveness of austerity. It is despite austerity that the economy is growing. The Irish economy is export-led due to the significant role of foreign multi-national corporations attracted to Ireland by low taxation and other financial incentives. Our growth is inflated by the routing of vast global revenues through Irish companies. Foreign corporations use Ireland as a base for their activities with limited connection to an indigenous economy. In addition, austerity in Ireland has in fact caused enormous social suffering and considerable emigration.

The time has come to change the ideological imprisonment of neo-liberalism and construct new models centred on social equality and ecological well-being. It can start with actively supporting the modest Greek project for liberation from Troika-imposed austerity.


Quantitative Easing – A Simple Proposal

February 18, 2015 at 10:53 am | Posted in Articles | 1 Comment

From March this year until September 2016 the ECB will buy €60 billion of assets a month, a total of €1.1 trillion over that period. This money will be channelled into the private financial markets in which bonds and financial instruments are traded. The net effect of Quantitative Easing is most usually to cause an increase in the value of assets. This serves to further enrich those who own assets. In effect, there is a significant transfer of wealth to the already wealthy and away from the poor and wage dependent. This further enhances social inequality and fuels indiscriminate economic growth.

So, is this wise? Is this the outcome we want? A huge amount of capital and investment capacity is being mobilised here. Why not ensure that it serves a socially useful purpose? What we need is greater social equality because this produces better societies for all and ecological well-being where climate change in particular is halted and reversed.

How about a simple proposal? Why not direct all this wealth towards investment solely in a new Green economy? How can this be done? In at least two ways.

First, The ECB’s QE should only be used to buy new Solidarity Bonds issued by the European Investment Bank and European Investment Fund which then should only be used to invest in developing new Green economic activities and Green research. Second, the distribution mechanism should be the nation states but also, if not primarily, new regional co-operatives which co-ordinate local investment programmes in Green energy, food and social network provision. Green here can be defined as carbon-zero or neutral and resource efficient with zero pollution externalities. These co-operatives can act to create direct producer-consumer interactions, and employment which is locally grounded by providing financial supports towards more locally produced and sourced products.

This initiative, to be most effective, should be combined with other co-ordinated Europe-wide initiatives. These would include significant increases in carbon-taxation; far greater regulation of the financial services economy in order to channel investment dramatically away from symbolic financial commodities such as derivatives and systemic tax evasion devices towards the real economy; and the provision of a guaranteed basic income for all. These measures would release further investment funds, direct those funds away from a declining carbon-based economy and boost welfare and economic activity through guaranteed living income.

Business as usual is now not an option simply because ‘business as usual’ not only cannot solve our problems – it has actually created them in the first place. The twin alternatives being presently presented by the political mainstream to resolve the socio-economic crisis of today are each inadequate. We are being presented with a false choice. Austerity causes human suffering, depresses economic activity, adds to social deprivation and enhances social inequality. Indiscriminate growth causes rises in asset values, further debt, grave ecological harm through further resource and carbon use and enhances social inequality.

A new system must impose a clear constraint on growth which is harmful and instead channel capital investment towards growth which yields social and ecological benefits. We need to recover the historical language of solidarity, shared citizenship and reason and apply our values to include all of humanity and all of the bio-systems and life-forms making up our shared planet. As we face the current crises it behoves us to address solutions. Passivity in the face of overwhelming challenges is understandable. What is outlined above is radical but not impossible. Indeed, it is proposed precisely because it is achievable within currently available possibilities. A new world can thus be built based upon present foundations not just on imagined futures. This should make a programme realisable and inspire confidence and hope that it can be done in a practical and considered manner.

The Psychology of Social Breakdown

December 9, 2014 at 10:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

You may be interested in the interview recorded at this link:


The Need for psychological sustainability

November 12, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

As the 21st century unfolds it is increasingly clear that we are entering more deeply into times of travail. The symptoms, both personal and social, of systemic stress are all about. At the political level we see the re-emergence of various fundamentalisms, nationalisms, far-right politics and the normalisation of the Orwellian permanent ‘war on terror’ and subsequent justification for constant state surveillance of citizens. Authoritarian government in the East and post-democracy in the West now exist side by side. Politics is contracted to a regime of technocratric management of the global economy. The capitalist economic system lurches into continual instability kept afloat only by measures such as quantitative easing and the imposed socialisation of elite debts. At the social level inequality, insecurity, new forms of apartheid and social exclusion, slavery and trafficking, and vast enforced movements of people in search of economic security further accentuate the instability of the world. Hovering above all of this disorder ecological crisis grows. The term Climate Change may suggest that only the weather is in question but climate is everything – food, water, temperature, nature itself. Half of all vertebrate life-forms have become extinct in the last forty years.

What is all of this doing to us today? These interlocking problems are not just ‘out there’. We are also being affected at a deep personal level. Not only are we now in the age of social and ecological unsustainability we must also acknowledge that we are in the age of psychological unsustainability. We must acknowledge the pain and distress of this. All of this social and natural dis-order is taking a toll on our human well-being. Our emotions are picking up this systemic collapse long before our rational minds can. Symptoms of stress and distress are all about us – the exponential rise of labelled ‘mental illnesses’ (fuelled by pharmaceutical companies), of addiction, of despair. Many of us are anxious or depressed.
As Feasta has predicted and argued since its foundation, the system itself is disintegrating. That this is happening is a tragedy. There is no comfort in having anticipated what is now occurring. We are now living through this time. It is no surprise that as the system decays we suffer stress and anxiety at a personal level.

It is in this context that Feasta needs to address where it stands today and what it can do at this time. We have produced detailed analyses and proposals over many years. All of these remain serviceable and valuable. But as a small organisation, desperately trying to argue for fundamental change at a systemic level, a high toll is exacted at the human level. Organisations often do not talk enough about this element. Burn-out, inter-personal frustrations, sheer exhaustion can dissipate even the most committed. I know all of these features from personal experience in campaigns. I know what total exhaustion and inability to continue is like. There is so much to do, so much seems to rest on our shoulders, the issues are so urgent, we feel so much responsibility. It can easily become overwhelming.

Often, advocates for change necessarily end up in the role of the critic, of the one in opposition, of the one who points out what is wrong, of the nay-sayer, of the doom-mongerer. We seem to come from a place of negation. We can appear experts in what is wrong, in what we oppose, in what we hate.
At this time of grave and genuine crisis, we desperately need to evoke what we love. We need to restore to our public discourse the capacity to dream of a world of inclusion, economic sufficiency, democratic participation and of psychological wholeness and well-being where care and compassion ground our fragile existence. The widespread alienation characteristic of our failing system may channel itself into anger, hatred and fear unless a project of hope and inspiration can be offered.

The word Feasta can be used ambivalently. Its origins as a title comes from the line Cad a dheanimid feasta gan adhmaid (what will we do in the future without wood). This suggests the future as a place of forboding and warning. But Feasta can also be an assertion of hope – that despite all there is a future. It must be inhabited and constructed. That is up to us.

But we cannot do it all of course. At a minimum all we in Feasta can do is not collude with the contemporary illusions. We can speak with utter honesty about ourselves as struggling human beings, about our collapsing system, about our fears, distresses and vulnerabilities and about our hopes of a world that might be good enough for a holistically sustainable human life. Sustainability must include the social, political, economic and ecological and also the psychological. The new language and praxis of a sustainable politics must include care and well-being – focusing on the welfare of all of us. That needs to start now so we can begin to support ourselves through these times of woe.

Social Work today

March 25, 2014 at 2:57 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

You may be interested in the address I made at an International Social Work conference in Leeuwarden last week. (Apologies for having to use certain words like ‘clients’ – but this is the recognised terminology there). The link is: http://nhl.presentations2go.eu/p2gplayer/Player.aspx?id=cUkjhc

Child and Family Agency: New Name, Same Problem

January 30, 2014 at 11:32 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Today the new children’s agency will be formally launched. While institutions and structures may signal change and improvement, real change occurs when culture shifts. Do we have a truly child-centred society?

It’s certainly improving. However, abuse of all kinds continues, much of it secret and unseen. Other forms, such as the Direct Provision system and child poverty, occur in plain sight. Silence and denial remain about so much about what children are enduring. We are still at the early stages of uncovering what experiences many of our children have had.

In a culture where celebrity is based on trivia and appearance we must salute those who show true substance. Louise O’Keefe has demonstrated nothing short of heroism in her long battle with this state to vindicate the rights of school-going children to be properly protected from abuse.

However, pity the country that needs heroes. What a measure of our State that it requires the extraordinary level of endurance and steadfastness that Louise O’Keefe had to demonstrate. Despite her appalling childhood experiences, the State fought her case every inch of the way. She was threatened with losing her home arising from legal costs.

Her case again shows the ambivalence and hypocrisy about the current claim to support child protection. A society generating abused children will create an abused social world of harm and hurt. Our prisons, our pubs and our institutions are filled with child victims now rendered into the addicts, the emotionally distressed and the criminals of today. The pain of these grown-up children is the living measure of the childhood experiences of so many.

Feasta Statement on Troika ‘exit’

December 16, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Feasta describes Troika exit as “a piece of theatre obscuring our real challenges”


Exit of troika simply indicates a transfer of Ireland’s allegiance back to the international bond markets, not a restoration of sovereignty

Irish economy’s profound vulnerability could be addressed via a commons-based financial system and energy independence


Yesterday’s departure of the Troika is being presented as a significant event in re-claiming Ireland’s economic sovereignty. This is an illusion, Feasta warns. In reality we are simply transferring our allegiance from the troika back to the international bond market.

Given the reality of climate change, the clear historic relationship between economic growth and fossil fuel consumption and the growth-dependent, highly volatile and destabilizing nature of the international financial markets, it is clear that allowing Irish economic policy to be guided once again by those markets’ whims is unwise to the extreme.

“The challenges before us all are grave. They touch on the very viability of sustainable life on our planet, and their systemic nature and vast complexity make them more serious and consequential than any challenge we have faced before,” said Mark Garavan, Feasta’s spokesperson on this issue.

Rather than pinning all our hopes on successfully humouring the financial markets we need to work towards the development of a new economy based on true ecological sustainability that includes a commons-based financial system. This can be done. However it needs a realism which grasps what is truly happening before us and a political imagination to think outside the conventional categories.

“While the Troika may come and go the same system and tired old thinking continues. It is this which must change,” said Mr Garavan.

Direct Provision and Childcare

October 28, 2013 at 8:48 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Irish Times today reports that a government briefing document argues against changing the Direct Provision system because a better (ie humane and just) system would attract asylum-seekers from the UK and would cost too much.

Thus do we come to a moment of truth – what are we really prepared to do to protect vulnerable people and children? After all the Reports – Ryan – and all the pieties – the Taoiseach’s words regarding the Magdalen Laundry women – we are left with the same old reality. Poor and vulnerable children are not worth spending too much money on. If those children are not from among those who count – they are travellers, or born outside wedlock, or are poor, or are foreign – then we don’t really care.

This is the truth we must keep before us when listening again to ministers, including the Minister of Children, when they speak about the centrality of children’s rights. The test of their authenticity is the abolition of Direct Provision immediately so 5,000 people and 1,700 children can be treated as human beings.

Feasta statement on Budget 2013

October 16, 2013 at 8:18 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Feasta, the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability, today described Budget 2013 as yet another wasted opportunity to address our urgent environmental and social challenges. A true budget is one which balances not financial income and expenditure but human and ecological needs.
The debate surrounding the budget was characterised by a false choice between ‘austerity’ or ‘growth’. In fact, neither option is viable. Instead, what is needed is a radical re-structuring of our economy to ensure that we live within ecological limits in a just manner.

The urgency of this has never been more apparent. Climate change is firmly underway, resource constraints are more apparent and the fantasy that we can have endless economic growth is more clearly illusory than ever before.

Today’s budget was constructed within an out-dated and dysfunctional mindset. The false choice between ‘austerity’ or growth is blinding us one more time to the true choice before us – that between genuine sustainability or not. The greatest challenge before our societies remains to see our world as it is rather than through the distorting lens of a dominant ideology which believes in infinite growth within a finite planet.

A new economic and social model is required. For its part, Feasta will continue to develop and present ideas and models which sketch out a resilient and sustainable world. We call on all political representatives to become planetary realists rather than economic growth fantasists.

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