The rise and fall of each has more in common than might be superficially apparent. Each has enjoyed positions of unchallenged systemic importance in their respective societies.
The former president of General Motors (GM), Charles Wilson, when being considered for the position of US Secretary of Defence in 1953, was asked by a congressional committee if a potential conflict of interest could arise between his GM job and a prospective government role.
That was four years before the first Japanese car, a Toyota, was sold in the US where the native motor industry was an undisputed giant.
Mr Wilson responded that “what is good for the country is good for General Motors, and vice-versa”.
The demise of the US motor industry is characterised by poor strategy – foolish decisions taken and critical decisions stalled or ignored. GM enjoyed a market capitalisation of $50 billion as recently as 2000, but today its value is less than the current depressed market capitalisation of Allied Irish Banks – $1bn.
The partnership process has achieved some enduring accomplishments, but its existence is predicated on the vested interests being able to deliver incremental financial benefits to their respective stakeholders. This has now degenerated into a potential bidding war with vested interests seeking funding for an initiative, typically costing €1bn or more, to ameliorate the interests of their particular constituency.
This is against the background of the Government intending to spend €30bn more than it expects to receive in taxation in 2009.
If the partnership process were to continue it is inevitable it would be dominated by vested interests seeking parity of resources from the State. Symptoms might be treated but the patient might never recover from a prolonged serious illness that could prove terminal. We cannot rely on an instinct that what is good for Ireland is good for partnership, and vice-versa.
When the secretary general of the Department of Finance appeared at the Public Accounts Committee he expressed concern that members of the committee might extrapolate that the performance and effectiveness of his department might mirror the unprecedented, unravelling performance of the economy. “Success has many fathers while failure is an orphan”.
The Irish economy has been allowed to behave like a high-speed vehicle that was not equipped with brakes, coolant or a spare wheel. A recurring feature of this crisis is an abundance of passive, cliché-contaminated commentary and analysis by various office-holders and advisory committees about potential threats. But we are learning, to our great cost, that there is a deep hiatus between expert advice tendered and advice expertly acted upon.
Individuals who have experienced bereavement or trauma are often greatly surprised and comforted by how such a distressing personal crisis can produce magnificent human resourcefulness in those who seek to help.
A crisis is a unique platform for the emergence of exceptional and appropriate healing talents. Our nation now needs economic leadership and direction of a calibre that, in practice, only emerges very rarely, perhaps once in several generations. The leadership of individuals such as Daniel O’Connell, Seán Lemass, WT Cosgrave, Dr TK Whitaker and Michael J Killeen made such a transformative impact to our long-term benefit that many may never connect an outcome with the genius who created it. We can only hope that economic leadership of such a distinguished and agile character soon emerges in response to this crisis and well before the economic management of the nation is obliged to be outsourced to a third party and vested interests are rendered truly impotent.