By Fr Des Wilson (for the Andersonstown News)
In a recent radio broadcast it was said that unbalance in the economy of our northeast is due to people’s lack of practice in creating business and to people having “troubles” - the unbalance that there are more government paid jobs than you would expect and less business initiative than we need.
Is such an imbalance the people’s fault then? No, the unbalanced economy is a result of government policy, it is neither the people’s fault nor accident. We can always feel uneasy when commentators blame the victims for something going wrong, in this case saying our people do not have skills, or ambition, or the inventiveness for creating industry. When in fact government policy frustrated much of the skill, desire and inventiveness that people have.
During many years it was London government policy rigorously to control industry and employment in N. Ireland - not a matter of religion, a matter of control of voting patterns. Many who could not get jobs went away; many who did get jobs were “encouraged” to live alongside others who would probably vote the same way as they did, so the voting patterns could remain stable. Local inventiveness and business enterprise were not encouraged, and if there was to be enterprise let it be from outside and place it in areas where voting is favourable to government and so more jobs will not change the voting pattern. The political situation remained stable for as long as this system worked. However, to replace the missing commercial, industrial, financial development which would normally happen if people were able to think, move and work freely, the government had to invent jobs. At one part of the prosperity scale it invented training schemes, at another it invented government-financed service jobs, while at the same time tolerating, or encouraging, an acceptable - and calculated - level of unemployment. Or of poverty and marginal living. The imbalance then between the number of jobs created by normal free local development and the number of government invented jobs was a matter of government policy. Result, more government created service jobs than needed, fewer local enterprise ones than high grade local abilities should expect.
One test of whether government aid would be given or not to local enterprises was whether a local enterprise would be competing with others in Liverpool or Glasgow etc, for if so, the claims of those “across the water” would come first. The over provision of government service jobs here then was to keep stability in a situation where politically inhibiting normal local development should rightly cause instability.
Or to put it in a nutshell, the problem of unbalance in our economy was not one of inability, lack of skill, “troubles”, lack of initiative, it was one of a government policy of inhibiting local initiative and filling up the gaps - for stability’s sake - with jobs which circulated money but did not actually create wealth.
Financing such a policy was not a great problem. A government could inject a lot of money into an area through both benefits and stability-creating jobs because much of the economic activity so created was causing money to flow back into the British economy as the money was spent in various British supermarkets etc. Government money fostering local enterprise was smaller than it should be, but requests that at least an equal amount should be spent helping local enterprise as was spent on attracting or encouraging foreign industries fell on deaf ears. Nowadays control of voting patterns here is not so important for the London government, so now they are saying, let’s cut down the number of government financed jobs.
So where does that leave us now?