More Anti-democratic Narrowing of Public Debate by a Mainstream Economist

An Irish Times article, referring to economist Colm McCarthy, gives another example of how that discipline narrows public debate. He calls for the Irish government to scrap its wind energy development plans on account of loss of energy demand, cuts to renewable energy subsidies in European countries, and a Realpolitik belief that the European renewable energy policy is going to be scrapped. His reading reflects an optimal managerial approach to climate change mitigation policy: which is to manage policy implementation in a manner that requires fulfilling as little of it as possible. McCarthy’s short-term economism leaves out so much in its blinkered take of wind energy production. It overlooks notions of long-term security and fails to even address the issue of climate change. It ignores important moral arguments for responding to climate change and for Ireland to take on some global (citizenship) responsibility. Although Ireland’s lowering of greenhouse emissions will not effect the encroaching reality of climate change there is something to be said for it positioning itself as a role model for decarbonisation, after all someone has to do it.

Granted there are many problems with an over-emphasis on the supply-side nature of emissions reduction policy and the failure for proper engagement with communities affected by pylons and windmills, however, this again is demonstrative of the narrowing effect of an economistic focus on what should equally be a moral debate. There are serious problems for democracy when so much of media space is given over to the narrow frame of reference of economists. This is worsened when politicians, journalists and NGOs reproduce their discourse by attempting to legitimise their objectives through framing them in terms of how they support (or do not threaten) economic growth. When they redefine obviously relevant moral questions through this alienating and anti-democratic form of communication they narrow the room for discussion and stifle opportunities for what should be a more inclusive and dialogical public debate. Broadening the range of relevant discourses is a vital step towards a more participative, deliberative democracy.

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