What has posterity ever done for us?

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Editorial, Issue 3 (May/June 2012), Volume 20

In a debate in the late eighteenth century in the Irish House of Commons on the vote of a grant, which was recommended by the chancellor of the exchequer as one not likely to be felt burdensome for many years to come, opponents argued that the House had no right to load posterity with a debt from which it could not benefit, to which government supporter Sir Boyle Roche MP famously responded: ‘Why should we put ourselves out of the way to do anything for posterity, for what has posterity ever done for us?’Yet this is precisely the ludicrous situation in which we find ourselves today. The September 2008 bank guarantee (which may or may not have been necessary to ensure a supply of cash at ATMs) transformed the private corporate debt of the banks into sovereign debt. The recent announcement that promissory notes that bailed out Anglo-Irish Bank to the tune of €40 billion would be converted into longer-term government bonds is a continuation of the same process, in spite of being hailed as some sort of ‘victory’ by government.On the face of it, proponents of the EU fiscal compact, to be voted on in a referendum on 31 May, argue that a ‘yes’ vote is necessary to prevent a repeat of such a scenario in the future. But the fiscal constraints envisaged would have had no effect on the banking crisis as it unfolded, caused as it was by private corporate greed unhindered by ‘light-touch’ regulation. Nor would they have had any effect on our ballooning deficit, caused not by long-term fiscal profligacy but by a catastrophic collapse in one stream of revenue, stamp duty. Cynics point out that the real reason, and no less compelling, is to mollify German public opinion. Whatever the reason, what choice do we have? Is it in reality a matter of following through on a course of action already determined? Sir Boyle Roche summed it up well: ‘It would surely be better . . . to give up not only a part, but, if necessary, even the whole, of our constitution to preserve the remainder’.Tommy Graham
6 Palmerston Place, Dublin 7

 

editor@historyireland.com

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