Woke and Broke?

New Ireland holds up the glittering and tantalising prize of a world of equality for all. Not for the first time in history, the notion of a utopian wonderland has been seized upon by many, most of all by young idealistic millennials. For many, it is the intoxicating language and the sloganeering that matter more than the actual reality.


But someone must deliver on the promises and in New Ireland, there is no shortage of prophets pointing towards the promised land. Today, New Ireland’s elites include high flying NGO executives, professional charity organisations and a constellation of self-styled liberals and progressives. These are the elites of New Ireland, people who see themselves as special people whose opinions merit special attention.


Their talents are such that they have to be paid vast sums lest their services are snapped up by imaginary rivals. Indeed, many of the country’s NGOs are now most likely to be headed by a CEO on an annual six figure salary. It’s worth putting the telephone number salaries of Ireland’s great and good in a wider context. In 2018, the typical Irish salary or median annual earnings was estimated to be about €36,000. However, even this figure doesn’t fully capture the reality of life and work in an emerging minimum wage New Ireland.


New Ireland’s deeply fractured and divisive carve up of wealth is more likely to be passed over in the more typical ‘equality’ debates of the day. The fact that there is a distinct generational aspect to this carve up is not usually highlighted most of all by the liberal prophets of the age, most of whom are themselves the products of the baby boomer era.


Alongside its devotion to ‘equality’, the other object of veneration in New Ireland is that of being ‘modern’. In order to prove just how modern it is, New Ireland has embraced the American 24/7 consumer model with gusto. This is most evident in the country’s shopping centres or shopping malls as those of a more progressive disposition now prefer to call them. Not being enthusiastically in favour of the 24/7 consumer model carries with it the fear of being perceived as old-fashioned or backwards and, increasingly, that counts as a mortal sin of sorts in New Ireland.


What is the effect of the rise of the 24/7 consumer shopping utopia? Well, the amount of items being sold probably hasn’t increased substantially as a result. In all probability, the same amount of shopping that would normally take place over six days now takes place over seven days and if nightly late night shopping by the multiples wasn’t available, then people would probably adjust their shopping habits to do the same amount of shopping ...... at a different time.


Of course, the problem with the 24/7 model is that once it is accepted by one multiple, then all competitors are forced to adopt it for fear of losing market share. 24/7 shopping may have made kings out of the consumers but the results for workers have been mixed. Extended opening hours haven’t resulted in the wholesale creation of additional full-time jobs in shops. On the contrary, crowning the consumer in this way simply requires large numbers of low paid workers with suitably flexible working hours to cater for the extended off-peak hours.


But one reason why Ireland’s new shopping habits are never questioned is that 24/7 retail is as much about being perceived as new and modern as it is about shopping and, as we have come to see, that is usually enough to close down any debate in New Ireland. Interestingly, the Germans and some of the most successful economies in Europe persist with the backward custom of not having widespread Sunday opening.


The world of New Ireland is one increasingly fashioned by American west coast Big Tech. Despite their alluring and soothing talk about ‘community’ and ‘the sharing economy’, there is little doubt but that Big Tech worships before the high altar of the dollar. This is not to say that Big Tech giants are malign entities – they’re probably no better or worse than any capitalist corporations down the ages. However, what is special about them is their sheer size and market dominance. This is what makes them a threat to the proper functioning of local economies.


Big Tech has re-ordered much of the world’s economic activity and not always for the better. The high street of any town or city in New Ireland these days is remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly, there’s the presence of various globalised franchises meaning that you could be walking down the high street of any city in the United Kingdom or even the USA. Next you may notice how many ‘normal’ shops and businesses have simply been erased from the streetscape.


At one level, this is viewed as progress and even as a form of empowerment of people. This empowerment has come courtesy of globalised players manufacturing where it is cheapest to do so and simply shipping it around the world. This is particularly true in clothing and the advent of ‘fast fashion’. Yet the sense of ‘empowerment’ is something of a myth. Rather than being empowered, people are really being disempowered through the effective dismantling of local economies. For a whole raft of people, low skill and low wage jobs become the norm. The minimum wage has increasingly become the maximum wage for a whole subset of workers employed in increasingly precarious work environments.


One of the main outcomes of a society and political culture which has devoted itself to equality now appears to be inequality. Millennials look like having the unenviable distinction of being the first generation in living memory to be poorer than their parents. One recent study suggested that today’s under 30’s were 50% less likely than the previous generation to own their own home by the age of thirty. Similar inequalities are also evident in other areas such as pension provision.


This economic inequality stems from the fact that a greater percentage of younger people have ended up working in precarious, lower paid employment. In turn, this is now expressing itself in areas such as housing and pensions. New Ireland’s political and economic system is one which is actively making most people poorer and it is younger people - its most enthusiastic supporters – who are being affected most.


Instead of building a stake in their own futures, it seems that a younger generation has been strangely distracted by the dreams and political visions of others such as the liberal activists who took power in Ireland at the end of the twentieth century. Millennials, it would seem, have been living other people’s dreams and pauperizing themselves in the process.


New Ireland’s elites have had the satisfaction of knowing that not only have many of them been handsomely rewarded for their years of activism but, more importantly, the state has adopted their ideology as state ideology. Not only has the state adopted their ideology but it seems that the political opposition has too. Even the media, who might once have been relied on to hold authority to account, are more likely these days to be admiring followers in search of government jobs.


The baby boomers were the generation that were significantly better off than their parents; the same cannot be said for their children and grandchildren. In fact, millennials look like having the dubious distinction of ending up substantially poorer than their parents. Instead of being alert to this, they have shown themselves to be strangely distracted by any number of ephemeral issues. In a world increasingly governed by feelings and emotions, Big Tech has been quick to manipulate and exploit this for its own advantage all the while presenting itself as some benign big brother whose real mission is to make the world a better place.


Perhaps, the real achievement of the baby boomers has been in getting their children and grandchildren to buy into a vision from which they appear to have been largely excluded. The trick, it would seem, is not just in robbing people of their future but having your victims feeling grateful for being robbed. New Ireland’s liberals, many of whom are the products of the baby boomer generation, are the ones who got to enjoy the spoils of victory. Not so for Ireland’s millennials for whom the utopian liberal idyll is giving way to a world where, increasingly, they are the losers. Their consolation, it would appear, is that they have ended up with a collection of T Shirts with some truly memorable slogans.