Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Having One's Cake and Being Eaten Too: Irish Neo-Liberal Corporatism

Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Having One's Cake and Being Eaten Too: Irish Neo-Liberal Corporatism

Article excerpt

Abstract This paper argues that neo-liberal globalization has neither homogenized Ireland's institutional social economy nor forced a retreat into an Irish cultural fortress. Instead, the elite community of Irish social partners responded to its own national crisis, American led globalization and European integration by taking the country in two apparently contradictory directions at once: towards European neo-corporatism and Anglo-American neo-liberalism. In so doing, they refashioned Ireland's liberal corporatist welfare state into a new form of Irish neo-liberal corporatism symbolically situated between Boston, Berlin and London. However, it is unclear if the internal tensions generated within Irish society by this attempt to reconcile apparent contradictions, and the changing external environment, will allow the Irish to continue having their cake and eating it too.

Keywords: globalization, neo-liberalism, neo-corporatism, Irish institutional social economy


Will American neo-liberal globalization create a "one best way" capitalism that looks similar across the globe? Can the member states of the European Union hang on against this wave of globalization and preserve distinctive forms of European socioeconomic institutions such as neo-corporatism? (1)

On one side there is the European model of neo-corporatism with its social partnership between the government, firms and workers who negotiate for the social good. From a neo-liberal perspective, this model suffers from being rigid and unresponsive to the market. On the other side there is the neo-liberal model with flexible unfettered organizations better able to adapt to market conditions. From a European point of view, this model is viewed as short-termist and prioritizing individual over societal benefit.

This implies a dichotomy between the United States of America with its free markets and Europe with its restricted markets. Yet this dichotomy is a simplistic misreading. For example, the U.S.A. has less regulated labor and more regulated product markets with a long history of intervening in mergers; whereas continental European countries have more regulated labor and less regulated product markets.

There are also significant variations between groups of European countries with liberal, conservative, social democratic and Southern European welfare state traditions (Esping-Andersen 1990, Andreotti et al. 2001); and between individual countries within these traditions based on national path dependencies (Streeck 1999). These different trajectories and philosophies have resulted in wide differences across Europe, for instance in the rates of poverty and inequality of particular subgroups. For example, half of single mothers in Ireland are in poverty but only 9 percent of Finland's are. Sixteen percent of couples with children are in poverty in Ireland compared to 24 percent in Italy (European Commission 2002: 101). Further, the European Union provides an added dimension of regulation to its fifteen member states. Yet, national differences in the regulation of the institutional social economy persist and are intertwined with the complex framework of "European" regulatory integration and national regulatory traditions. The term institutional social economy intends to connote a view of the economy as embedded in a social context including institutions, history and human social interactions.

This complex picture suggests that the effects of globalization on the institutional social economies of European member states are more likely to be nationally specific and mediated by the European Union than convergent to a "one best way" neo-liberal capitalist form. One way to proceed is to consider the effects of globalization and European integration on the path dependency of individual EU member states with respect to changes in their institutional social economy. In particular, it is useful to consider effects on the institutions that make up the social economy and the elites who shape those institutions. …

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