Ratings agencies ‘put people in post-modern prison’

President Michael D Higgins has accused international ratings agencies of putting Irish people in a “post-modern prison”.

Ratings agencies ‘put people in post-modern prison’

Referring to the money agencies being a “panopticon — a prison designed so all inmates can be observed from a central point — President Higgins warned ratings agencies were undermining democracy.

“The disproportionate influence of rating agencies — our post-modern panopticon — in informing European policy responses to the crisis is undermining the role of citizens in governing our democracies,” the President told UCD’s European Institute.

“The relationship between peoples is not in the end reducible to the calculable.”

It is not the first time the President has courted controversy by commenting on the financial crisis.

President Higgins, a former Labour minister, drew widespread attention last year when he spoke out about the EU’s attitude to the eurozone crisis and warned about the consequences of austerity.

He used the UCD speech to warn that the ratings agencies were not bound by principles of democracy.

“What has happened to the field of public economics and its discourse, for its decision-making structures, previously located in traditional democracy, to have given so much ground to the influence of unaccountable rating agencies?” President Higgins asked.

“Acting as a modern panopticon, not bound by any requirement of democratic accountability, these agencies are increasingly coming to define the lifeworld and prospects of European citizens.”

President Higgins said he was subjected to “personal abuse” last autumn after a speech on economic matters drew fire for taking issue with conservative thinkers.

“It would just be such a complete distortion to say that I extolled left writers at the cost of writers of the right,” he said. “Those words don’t occur at all.

“We must be able to differ with each other without descending into polemic or unfortunately, in one or two places, personal abuse.”

Mr Higgins insisted that the row would not prevent him speaking out in future.

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