On January 7 1961, Dwight Eisenhower, then the outgoing US President and former General of the US Army — a military man to his toes — made an extraordinary reference to the threat that the US military posed to American society and its economy.
In his final speech as President — one made at the height of the Cold War — Eisenhower referred to the potential threat of the “military industrial complex”. He described an iron triangle of interests involving the defence industry, the military itself and the State Department.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.
“We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
What scared Eisenhower was the sense that the military industry had become so big that it would excessively bias government policy with imagined threats from the Soviets in order to gain more and more power in Washington. As a result, the democratic government would become subservient to the military-industrial complex and the citizens would suffer. He envisaged a future where the government would no longer represent the people but represent itself and the vested interests which propped it up. He worried that the military-industrial complex would get so big it would become almost impossible to dismantle.
He was also concerned about a mindset that was coming to dominate government thinking, where the interests of the military-industrial complex and the interests of the US were seen as one and the same thing. Eisenhower was as much concerned about dismantling this mindset in government as he was about dismantling the military-industrial complex itself.
The US is not the only country whose very democratic credentials are being threatened by the governing mindset; we, the citizens of Ireland, are similarly threatened.
In Ireland we have a governing mindset which, while not a military-industrial complex, is a politico-mandarin complex. Because the State in Ireland is by far the biggest single buyer of services in the country, it is enormously powerful and its contracts are enormously profitable for the companies doing business with it. It becomes extremely difficult, therefore, to know where the interest of the State ends and where the interest of the citizens begins. The mandarins who run the State like it like that.
This confusion allows the survival instincts of the State and the state apparatus and the political instincts of the elected politicians to merge together to the detriment of the average citizen.
Our form of ‘spectator democracy’ also facilitates this silent takeover. By spectator democracy, I mean the ‘beauty contest’ called a national election held every four of five years. We listen to various promises and rhetoric and then give a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ to whichever takes our fancy.
But in a crisis, when the politicians and mandarins have proved themselves to be so inept, the threat of the politico-mandarin complex to the welfare of the citizen becomes enormous.
If all the advice and the policy reaction are being taken by individuals who are inside the system, then protecting the system dominates the thinking. This process is so invidious that our poor politicians end up talking gibberish because they really have no idea who or what they stand for — the citizens who elect them of the State that employs them.
An example of this was a few years back when I spoke to one of our most senior politicians. I asked him what he stood for, as I was a bit perplexed about the inconsistency of policy and his ability to say anything to anyone that he thought they wanted to hear. He responded rather grandly that he stood for Ireland being “open for business” and then he went on a prepared warble about international investors, confidence and the credibility of the State.
This attitude encapsulates our politico-mandarin mentality. The politico-mandarin axis doesn’t seem to understand that being open for business, like charity, starts at home.
The recovery, if it ever comes, will come from local businesses employing one or two extra staff because they are selling one or two extra things.
Furthermore, the rather glorious concept of the ‘credibility of the State’ comes because of the credibility of small business.
Consider the issue of rates to small businesses. If you go around the country and ask small businesses what is killing them, many will respond immediately: rates. Rates are supposed to be calculated on the basis of commercial property values. In 2007, local government income from commercial rates was â‚¬1,244m. Despite the collapse in property prices (especially commercial property), the Budget for 2010 projects income from commercial rates to be â‚¬1,359m, an increase of 9pc, when across the same period commercial property values have dropped nearly 60pc.
So the politico-mandarin complex, in order to preserve itself, is asking small businesses to pay more even when the value of commercial property has collapsed.
So local government funding has fallen because of the recession and the politico-mandarin complex is trying to make up the shortfall by hiking rates, which is causing businesses to suffer most.So think about it, the State mindset has its sights set on a budget deficit number, which it thinks will deliver national credibility to investors who want to take a punt on our bond market. But in order to achieve this number, it is maintaining the size of the politico-mandarin complex and taxing the very revenue generators and employers who are supposed to drag us out of the recession. But these taxes and rates mean that small businesses will not expand and will probably go to the wall.
So being ‘open for business’ internationally actually means being ‘closed for business’ locally!
This glaring inconsistency results from the politico-mandarin complex, which refuses to dismantle itself in the face of a financial crisis. Instead, we will get more and more taxes in the years ahead to keep feeding the beast. This very process of taxing the citizens to keep the state apparatus alive will to capital flights and emigration as we chose to escape the clutches of the politico-mandarin complex.
There will come a time when, far from being one and the same thing, the Irish State and the Irish citizen will become inimical.
This is exactly what Eisenhower was warning about.
In Ireland it’s not just ideology driving government decisions as postulated by some commentators. This might be too simple. What is driving policy here is something much more ugly and much more resilient: it is old-fashioned self-preservation — instinctive, corruptible and deadly.