Guest Post by Julien Mercille -The Political Economy and Media Coverage of the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland

New book out:

The Political Economy and Media Coverage of the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland (Routledge), by Julien Mercille, University College Dublin.

 

The media have played an important role in presenting government policies enacted in response to the economic crisis since 2008. This book shows that the media have largely conveyed government views uncritically, with only a few exceptions (some of which are contributors to irisheconomy!). Throughout, Ireland is compared with contemporary and historical examples to contextualise the arguments made. The book covers the housing bubble that led to the crash, the rescue of financial institutions by the state, the role of the European institutions and the International Monetary Fund, austerity, and the possibility of leaving the eurozone for Europe’s peripheral countries. The Irish Times, Indo, Sindo, Sunday Business Post, Sunday Times and RTE are all covered.

 

The book is available here (use code FLR40 for 20% discount) and here.

 

Reviews

 

“A book of record… An exceptionally rare example of an academically rigorous analysis forcing the powerful light of transparency and exposure into the murky world of Irish policy advocacy and punditry… A captivating account.”
Constantin Gurdgiev, Trinity College Dublin

“One of the most important political economy books of the year… Set to become the definitive account of the media’s role in Ireland’s boom and bust.”
Dr. Tom McDonnell, Macroeconomist at the Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI)

“Tells the story of the economic crisis well and explains the media’s role in convincing the public that it was all very complicated and that government policy can do little to improve the situation.”
Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research

“Anyone who cares about democracy and economic policy should read this book and be deeply worried by it.”
Mark Blyth, Professor of International Political Economy, Brown University and author of Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea

 

“A stinging critique of how Irish media narrowed the debate on crisis and austerity.”
Seán Ó Riain, Author of The Rise and Fall of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger

 

“Outstanding research… Meticulous, balanced and clear.”

Costas Lapavitsas, Professor of Economics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

 

“Engaging, lively, critical… A must read.”

Professor Rob Kitchin, National University of Ireland Maynooth


“An invaluable concise history of Ireland’s public discussion of economic issues.”
Terrence McDonough, Professor of Economics, National University of Ireland Galway

Comments

comments

37 thoughts on “Guest Post by Julien Mercille -The Political Economy and Media Coverage of the European Economic Crisis: The Case of Ireland”

  1. This looks an excellent read. Julien is to be congratulated for trying to shed some light on it.
    I imagine that over the next few weeks it will be attacked by the lapdogs of the banking and financial classes.

  2. Haven’t read the book but how does its author characterise a couple of examples:
    this blog and the now extinct namawinelake?

    a) Media
    b) Fringe media
    c) non-existant

  3. @Julien Mercille

    Well done!

    Your work will be very useful in contributing to an (eventual) ‘broad social scientific understanding’ (as called for by The Guv’nor a few years ago) of ‘how’ The Financial/Political System dumped an odious 50% of GNP on the backs of the Irish Citizenry …

    … and still getting away with it … for now?

  4. Well done to author, Julien Mercille.

    Slightly off topic.

    This IT article a bit late for the author, but it is a fine example of the result “government policies enacted in response to the economic crisis since 2008.”

    http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/prefabs-may-be-used-to-tackle-housing-crisis-in-dublin-1.1928859

    A country that could build 90,000 houses in 2006, cannot even manage to build a few hundred houses to put a roof over the heads of homeless in 2014.
    Prefabs for some that did not break the country, gold plated pensions for those that broke it.

  5. Overpriced! I’d say so. If the book is as good as the reviewer’s say it is (did they get freebies?), then why not discount it for the rest of us – like a lot!

    Costs delivered: O’Riain’s ‘The Rise and fall …’ 27 euro
    Prasad’s ‘The policies of Free Markets’ 32 euro
    Blyth’s ‘Austerity’ 24 euro

    Leave the h/b with the publishers. Wait for a s/b edition.

    We are thinking ‘deflation’ here? Maybe not!

  6. I do not doubt that the book is a good read (for those who can afford to buy it). Its general thesis can hardly be viewed, however, as controversial. It is in the nature of bubbles that all involved lose the run of themselves, to take a very appropriate Irishism to describe the phenomenon. The media are no exception.

    The quality of the coverage of economic issues, especially that of the national broadcaster, is pretty dismal but it is improving, largely IMHO, as a response to the demands of a much less gullible readership. It is still, however almost completely lacking in consistency both in terms of quality and coverage, the most notable failing being to see Irish economic problems solely through eyes fixated on the domestic political aspects.

    cf this item which I could find only in the Examiner.

    http://www.irishexaminer.com/business/state-ready-to-tap-300bn-fund-286417.html

    (With any luck, removing the perennial bottleneck of Adare village will be included!).

    The domestic political fixation of a media as poor in performance as the political class it is reporting on is not confined to Ireland and could be said to be particularly prevalent in France; and Germany. The aphorism attributed to Tip O’Neill that “all politics is local” is a seemingly unavoidable drag on on getting national politicians to accept, and reflect in their actions, that they are operating in a wider international context, especially in countries sharing a single currency. When they do, the media will follow.

    Cf. Wolfgang Munchau this morning in the FT.

    http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/f8a63220-38ef-11e4-a53b-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=intl#axzz3DKKYZJAo

  7. Off topic completely:

    I have been involved in preparation of a report entitled ’50 REASONS FROM IRELAND FOR SCOTLAND TO VOTE YES TO FREEDOM’

    Here is a link:

    http://statsireland.blogspot.co.uk/

    Its a joint effort, so its not under JTO name. People here will have to guess as to whether JTO is responsible for 0.0001% or 99.9999% of it. It would be unwise to admit anything publicly. UK governments in the past have decapitated people for less. I do admit to writing all the graphics software, however.

    Its a mine of information on Ireland (and to a lesser extent, Scotland). It has 9 sections and contains over 200 tables (plus lots of vivid charts/histograms etc) on population growth, migration, economic growth, health, education, housing etc. As its far too big for one blog page, its split into 16 blog pages. Start at the first one. There should be a link at the end of each page to the next one.

    Its literally just hot off the press (this is first time a link to it has been sent) , so not tested on different web browsers. It works beautifully on mine, which is Internet Explorer. Heaven forfend, but it might come out as total rubbish with another browser. Hope not. Also, haven’t had time to experiment with font types, colours etc, so may change these.

    A confession: its not properly finished. If it was a piece of academic research, I’d spend another week polishing it off. But, that would be pointless in the circumstances (referendum on Thursday). I’ve been up all night trying to polish it off, but still lots of typos, a few gaps in narrative (very irritating for reader), and a couple of graphics charts broken. But, 95 per cent is ok. I’ll be working on it today trying to polish it off better.

    If you support ‘NO’ in Scottish referendum and believe in the United Kingdom like Bob Geldof does, please don’t read. It will be bad for your health. If you support a free Scotland, maybe you can send the link to any contacts you have in Scotland.

  8. JTO,
    I have sent it to my Scottish colleague who is voting no. I opine that in the long run Scotland will probably benefit from independence. He agrees but is worried about the short term. He points out that the first 40 years did not work out so well for us but the next 50 or so did.
    Being a Celtic supporter, he also mistrusts Smart Alex and the SNP and some of their connections. He points out that Nordie Self Govt from 1922-72 did not work out so well.

  9. @Tull

    Thank you very much. Much appreciated.

    First 40 years of Irish independence had War of Independence, Civil War, partition of Ireland with richest part hived off, Great Depression, Economic War, World War 2. None of these are likely in Scotland. Also, population of Ireland in 1922 was very uneducated and no industry outside the north-east which was lost. No oil either. Little multinational investment around then. No IT or modern comms and transport. Nobody travelled a long distance to holiday. I don’t see why anyone would think Scotland in 2014 has any similarity to Ireland in 1922.

  10. @Jto

    This is a massive piece of work and credit where credit is due. Well done to you.

    It strikes me in relation to the vote on 18th that if the Scots could arrange to delay it or postpone it for about a month the Westminster elites will have promised them Independence in all but name such has been the scramble to ensure a No vote. Given the race to sort the ‘Scottish problem’ by Westminster it is beginning to look very similar to a Northern Ireland ‘solution’ all over again. No thanks I’d say. Vote YES and be done with it.

  11. On jto’s link – what does the counterfactual look like with an ireland that remained in the UK, do people think ? Does Irish economic development come quicker ? What accounts for Iish economic failure in the early years of the state ? Was it primarily the fact that Ireland wasnt(couldnt be?) integrated into the global economy and had too small an internal economy to stimulate meaningful growth ?

  12. @DOCM

    Thanks for your comments; however, I do think the book’s thesis is controversial. It may not be controversial that the media gave a poor performance on economic reporting, but the reasons the book gives for that (that media entities are corporate in nature and thus reflect the views of elites), I don’t think are the conventional view at all. Also, some commentators criticize the media for say being too “leftist” or not presenting the allegedly positive aspects of austerity enough, so that would be the complete opposite of what the book is saying.

    Finally, I’m not sure media performance is improving at all either…

  13. YOB,
    you might be right, depending on which Nordie soln you refer to…22, Sunningdale, Anglo Irish, GFA or whatever next.

    Scotland is not as sectarian as the North but it rhymes a little. The question I would ask is whether the monority community in Scotland would be better under the rule of a slightly suspect SNP or under a devolved govt on a leash from Westminster.

    I will watch with fun if Scotland goes indept. The first thing that goes will be the safety net. The first negotiating stance from Westminster is going to be i) we keep the pound ii) we are repatriating everything to UK iii) we are keeping the oil and Aberdeen as a treaty port iv) you can keep 15% of the debt.

  14. @ Julien Mercille

    I think that I may have used the wrong word or, rather, could have picked one more apt. What I wished to suggest was that what you have demonstrated does not come as any real surprise. Neither does the fact that there is a refusal to face up the implications i.e. that we have a very poor media coverage of economic issues which reflects, to a large degree, a conflict between professional standards and commercial interest.

    But both the level of responsibility and the level of fault has to be fairly assessed; and distributed. The resurgence of the domestic property pages is a case in point. There may, or may not, be a new housing bubble but newspapers can hardly question those that choose to advertise with them.

    What we have is a mediocre media reporting on an equally mediocre political class, the latter responding to what it thinks the electorate demands or is, at least, interested in (a process facilitated, if not driven, by PR and the multi-seater constituency). My own view is that the electorate of today is not that of six years ago and this is being reflected in the economic coverage. Certainly, the Irish Times has a corps of reporters, especially in the European capitals, that would stand comparison with any, even from much larger and probably better resourced news organisations. The Brussels correspondent of the Examiner also has her finger very much on the pulse. Their collective problem, I suspect, is with getting space because this is driven by the level of public interest to which sub-editors must react.

    One could also cite the debate, or the farrago that passes for such, on the forthcoming budget. This, it seems, is the way the electorate likes it. The media cannot be blamed for that.

    P.S. This media coverage did not come as a surprise either. I am linking to it just to make the point that none of the estates that make up the Republic will emerge from the crisis with any great glory.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/universities-have-been-using-the-points-system-to-inflate-demand-1.1910118

  15. @DOCM

    Thanks for clarifying.
    But, as the book shows, the media and politicians do not at all react to what the electorate/readers want–they have drastically different interests and that’s what comes out in media coverage. To say that media coverage of political decisions reflect what people want is to turn reality upside down: it implies that Irish people wanted to be told that austerity was the only way, that they should have bailed the banks, provided a blanket guarantee, that spending on disability, health care, education, had to be cut, that the health care system has to remain privatized even though it’s the least efficient way of organizing a health care system, etc. In short, those are the interests of elites, not of ordinary people.

  16. @ Julien Mercille

    What turns reality upside down is to presume to know what people really really want. The politicians and the media are in the business of making a stab at it. In this instance, they seem – to my great personal relief – to have managed to get it about right.

    http://www.redcresearch.ie/news/early-signals-that-recovering-economy-could-benefit-government-parties

    cf.

    “Perhaps partially linked to the economic competence rating, and surely influenced by indications by government party sources that we have seen our last austerity budget, is the finding that voters also appear to be prepared to forgive the austerity that had been such a driver of dissatisfaction just a few months ago. Almost three in five voters (58%) agree today that the government’s austerity policies were necessary. Greatest support is of course among Fine Gael voters, but there are also relatively high levels of support among both Labour and Fianna Fail supporters, and even 2 in 5 Sinn Fein supporters now agree that the policies were necessary. The idea that pain is soon forgotten when better times arrive appears to be very much the case for many voters.”

  17. Oh, please, DOCM, could you be any more cynical? The subtext for every one of your posts on here is that the European elites know best on everything and, to the extent that there is any resistance to the views of the technocrats (not much), it’s a mere public relations problem. And your (paid?) job is to manage those public relations by posting on blogs like this. To then cast yourself as somehow “more democratic” than J. Mercille just beggars belief.

    In Ireland, more than just about anywhere, public opinion is manipulated by the major media outlets that all march in lockstep. They take their cue usually from the Sindo, which in turn takes its cue from whatever The Master (who is litigious and rich, so lets leave his name out of it) wants. And the rest of the media serve as an echo chamber for whatever this week’s view is: all of the radio chat shows, for example, will take it up as today’s “controversy.”

    Rare indeed is the member of the public who has independent sources of information and both the time and the background to investigate a little further. The result is that we have a country run by and for elites (and, no, not “public sector” elites).

    Ask yourself this: why is every rise in property prices cast as a “good news” story? Good news everyone! You’ll be spending more of your income just putting a roof over your head! So that your betters can live that much more comfortably…

    I look forward to reading Julien Mercille’s book and hope that he has systematically exposed how this works.

  18. In a democracy power comes from the ballot box. The greatest bank and property crash in the history of mankind started with one house-Leinster House.

  19. Ireland is one of many countries that has conjured up a self serving image of itself that is injurious. One of the Ukrainian myths is that they were a thriving civilisation when the Russians were wading around in the swamps surrounding Moscow. In Ireland the English were running around naked and painted blue when we (da Oirish) had 20% of our population producing illuminated manuscripts, poetry, music, song and great literature.

    The Irish pols and oligarchy simply preached to a most receptive audience who have had little exposure to the real world. Banks going bankrupt happens every day around the world, they go into receivership, the stockholders get wiped out and the bondholders take a hit, usually between 10% and 70%. Individual gov’ts chip in zero to 33% depending on the level of incompetence displayed by the Bank Regulators, Central Bank and Dept of Finance leading up to the collapse.

    If Ireland was a normal country our Gov’t would have drawn a line in the sand at 33% on condition the Creditors and or their Central Banks and Gov’ts ponied up matching contributions. The insular, navel gazing, rosary bead fingering mindset prevalent in Ireland blinded us to the reality that we were not alone, just early in the failure game. The results are now coming out in books such as this one by Julien Mercille, the definitive work on this will be written by a foreigner 25 to 50 years from now.

    I am well aware that had I lived most of my life in Ireland that I too would be susceptible to the gospel as promulgated by the true believers. Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) as used by IBM back in the day was employed effectively by the government at the time of collapse and by the subsequent tweedle dum Gov’t. Now we are faced with the prospect of a Gov’t led by one or the other of them being elected in 2015. Sure ’tis enough to drive a man to religion or drink.

  20. @ Julien Mercille

    You lost me there! We live in a democracy, parties go before the people with election prom…, sorry, programmes. What one ends up with in terms of policies and outcomes is a collective responsibility, a fact with which many seem to have a major difficulty.

    How voters speak and act may not always reflect what they are really thinking. An anecdote from my own locality will illustrate the point. A popular local decided to stand for local election and was assured by all of their support. In the event, he polled very badly. Asked by an elderly lady what he had learnt from the experience, he replied; “90% of the voters in this town are liars”.

  21. Yes and it is inconceivable that they be manipulated by a media apparatus that presents an almost entirely one-sided view. Do you ever actually read the Irish press?

  22. @ Julien Mercille

    This link may also be of interest in terms of of how “balanced” outcomes in terms of fairness are achieved in a democracy.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/tax/10638283/How-much-we-give-the-state-in-tax-and-how-much-we-get-back.html

    The equivalent in Ireland is, apparently, the top three percentiles!

    One commentator quoted George Bernard Shaw that “a government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul”.

    Social transfers are not sufficiently targeted and the result is an overall increase in inequality. It is the elephant in the room.

    The support of Paul is, however, holding firm.

  23. I do think large parts of the Irish media are (1) grossly incompetent and/or (2) corrupt, but what is the evidence of their *influence* (how is that measured) and of the idea that they are primarily manipulating popular opinion rather responding to to it (or at least in segments of the popualtion)?

  24. @TullMcAdoo

    What you said about the Celtic supporter. He seems a bit out-of date. It was once true that Scots Catholics were against independence because of their minority status in Protestant Scotland. I have cousins in Scotland with that point of view (or used to). This view was, of course, encouraged by England, which over the centuries perfected the art of playing the ‘minority’ card to retain control. Scotland was the mirror image of Ireland, with religious communities reversed. But, times change. Bigotry is much less now. Alex Salmond is far less anti-Catholic than Enda Kenny/Eamonn Gilmore. If Scotland becomes independent, rest assured it will have a Vatican Embassy. Although a Protestant himself (no idea if he practices or not), he only ever says good things about Catholic Church. Says Scottish nation wouldn’t have existed without it. Imagine FG/Lab politician saying that. He was even close friend of disgraced Cardinal O’Brien. Polls show Scots Catholics are now the most pro-yes group in Scotland. Whatever the overall result, polls say working-class Glasgow will vote ‘yes’, and that will be mainly Celtic supporters.

  25. @ Ernie: Not sure whether you caught some of my previous (on other threads) mention of Monica Prasad’s , ‘The Politics of Free Markets: the rise of neoliberal economic policies in Britain, France, Germany and the United States’. The first two chapters describe the situations in the US and the UK respectively. Quite unpleasant reading.

    The situations in Germany and France are quite different from the above, and go a long way to explain why Germany in particular, has so far, ‘weathered’ the crisis somewhat better.

    Now, parliamentary party politics in Ireland are not the ‘same’ as those in the US and UK, but there are sufficient similarities and commonalities for one to ‘join-up-the-dots’, so to speak. Our economic prognosis is not good, particularly if you understand what is meant by ‘political entrepreneurs’.

    And as for this ‘public’ v ‘private’ stuff. Its almost bordering on juvenile – that is, lots of fast and shallow thinking, not enough slow and hard stuff.

    I know that someone who comments on this site will be able to produce data for: (a) amount of tax revenue ‘forgone’ on all those nifty tax writeoffs; (b) amount of taxpayer funds payed out to ‘private’ interests by way of so-called ‘state investments’. Both must be quite large and (I’m guessing here) will easily equal or perhaps exceed some elements of social transfers. Funny that the media do not stick that ‘tail’ on the political donkey more often. Inconvenient perhaps?

    @ ronan (rf): I opine you need to re-think your opinion of the Irish media. Like, who is responsible for issuing those pay-cheques? Also, see my comment above about ‘slow and hard’ thinking.

  26. @ BWS

    Juvenile is the word! As is viewing the political debate as a struggle between “goodies” (on the left or the right, according to preference) and “baddies” (ditto) which is not justified in a functioning democracy which I believe Ireland to be. The one exception that can be made is for the exremes of the left or the right, the categorisation of which creates no real problems for the reasonable middle cf. the refusal of the Social Democrats in Sweden to eneter coalition with either.

  27. Hi there Ernie – meant to reply yesterday but I got side-tracked. Been away with those fairies and all!

    “Have you noticed that there isn’t a single mainstream left-of-centre party?”

    Yes indeed I have. And I know why. Do you? How about its due to the actual success of socialist and leftish policies. They succeeded so well that the Irish Median Voter was more than happy to shift to the right – a lot! Like, the socialists promised the plebs Cake and got it for them – of the virtual kind rather than the real stuff. And do you know what? The ungrateful hoors demanded more! But there was no more (there never is) so the plebs sulked and shifted off to where they thought there would be more: greener grass, and all that.

    Now? Our own neo-libs are scaring the sh*t out of the plebs by selling the Big Josef Lie about a non-existent (its always such) threat to their economic well-being – if they want the good-times to roll again (which of course they do) – don’t we all?. For “Final Victory” sub in “Economic Recovery”: get the picture?

    What is noticeable is the floundering and trashing about of the New Left. They appear to be simultaneously academically bright and politically thick in equal measures. Sticks rattling the sides of a slop-bucket.

    And for what its worth Ernie. Your somewhat clueless about my notion of democracy.

  28. The comment about “functioning democracy” was clearly addressed to DOCM (who used the words), not you.

    I don’t suppose you could find a way to be a little less condescending in your posts to me. You’re not talking to a child or a moron.

    Needless to say, I disagree entirely with your analysis. Ireland has never had a leftist government and, therefore, has never had leftist policies.

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