Daily Blog - 02 December 2010
Criticism, analysis, response: The BudgetJam live blog. Email your comments here or comment below.
20.01 The site is going off air early, so to speak. Here's something to keep you all warm on this bitter cold evening. Night, night!
20.00 One final thought for the evening from Gavan
Just picking up on the discussion on ‘flexibility’ earlier. KPunk (Mark Fisher) has a super post here on the psychologization of ‘flexibility’ and ‘inflexibility’. He is particular good on how political anger at precariousness becomes pathologised as stress, as not being ‘able to cope’. The whole post is well worth a read, and comes from an event in London called ‘not all in this together’. In a way, this is the discourse around ‘public anger’ at the moment, where the public have a right to be angry, before sucking it up and going forward.
It tells you a great deal about the nature of the society in which we live that while most ordinary people in this, and every other country, face a future of uncertainty and hardship, those whose greed and negligence created the crisis will survive and prosper. I was reminded of this when reading in the Guardian today that the UK Financial Services Authority has decided not to prosecute the former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Sir Fred Goodwin. I hope that you were all sitting down when you heard that news flash.
The reckless pursuit of profit that characterised the period on which ‘Fred the Shred’ was at the helm all but bankrupted the RBS and consequently the bank had to be bailed out to the tune of £45 billion (€55 billion) by the British taxpayer. Rather than being sent to the Tower for acts of economic treason, Goodwin has, of course, been allowed to retire to his £4 million mansion on the French Riviera. With a pension fund of some £17 million, it is unlikely that Goodwin will have to worry about his future. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of many of those who worked on rather more modest salaries in the corporation that he and his ilk brought to its knees. Since the onset of the crisis, some nine thousand RBS employees have been cast onto the dole.
So those who caused the crisis pick up fat pensions and those who did not pick up welfare cheques. Sound familiar? Maybe we should use this space to track those who got us into this but refuse to share the pain? Feel free to name and shame…
19.08 Gavan has been in touch from the blessed city of Helsinki. At some stage soon we will need to think and talk about what to do with all the fantastic energy and ideas being generated here. Gavan's message perhaps marks the beginning of that conversation:
Thanks Colin, I am indeed safe and snug, and would have sent this on earlier only the late Angelus threw me. But I'm still an excellent driver. Anyway, I blogged yesterday first thing in the morning as to how The Gardai reported that all leave was canceled for the Public Order crew and their dogs and horses. Not sure what the dogs and horses do with their leave (do they have an equivalent of Copper Faced Jacks?) but the preparations for budget day aren't all one way. The excellent Human Rights in Ireland blog has had a civil disobedience blog carnival today, celebrating the 55th anniversay of Rosa Parks not accepting 'they were where they were'. The blogs discuss Wikileaks, the Shannon protests and opposition to Shell ahead of An Bord Pleanala's decision on the on-shore pipeline at Corrib. It strikes me that we should also be connecting these to the kinds of civil disobedience that will be required to really oppose the bailout. Unite has called for a general strike and non-payment of water charges, for example. Budget jamming is also going to have to be more material. Maybe people can start suggesting, linking and discussing popular action through this blog ahead of next week?
18.42 Eadaoin has been listening to the words of weasels. Never a good idea...
'Irish regional secretary Jimmy Kelly said the union would be putting its proposals for national strike to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in the weeks ahead.
Mr Kelly comments came as Unite published what it described as a viable alternative budgetary strategy.'
Oh aren't they just wonderfully dismissive. Not least in their not bothering to sub-edit the piece since it's only about the poxy unions anyway - who's gonna read it?
18.25 Stephanie Rains was asking this morning about information on the Irish Rich. There is some good information on the One Per Cent Network Site here. And below is the Top Twenty from the last Sunday Times Rich List. It is probably very badly out of date by now, if indeed it was accurate in the first place. But it gives you a sense of the sheer scale and concentration of wealth in this wee country. The owners of Brown Thomas have a family fortune of some five thousand million euro. That's a whole load of Jimmy Choos...
Sunday Times Rich List 2009
Source of wealth
Mobile phones, Investment
Food, Media, Inheritance
Bloodstock , Investment
Hotels , Utilities
18.02 The weather even made the Angelus late on RTE Radio. In a place even more chilly than this, one of our number is, doubtless, enjoying a quiet moment of spiritual reflection. Glad you made it back safe, Gavan.
17.55 Angela has also been enduring the macho drivel being issued by George Hook. She has this to say:
"George Hook just spoke to Senator Shane Ross from Trinity College on Newstalk's The Right Hook about a 20million euro fingerprinting machine for immigration control and foreign social welfare frauds which was purchased four years ago and was never used because of union disputes. Civil servants in the Immigration Bureau would not use it until they secured higher pay. Their union said that its members did not have legal authority to take fingerprints but that negotiations between the Department of Justice and the civil servants was continuing.
Hook said that the IMF were going to put an end to 'this kind of nonsense from the unions' and that when the IMF get involved in the unions 'at least we're going to see some action although we might not like it.' Senator Shane Ross said it was a terrible reflection of how we never stood up to the public service unions'."
17.50 Sorry, there were a few teething problems just then, but they're sorted now. Thanks Alison! Speaking of technical problems, the cable is off in my area so the telly is on the blink at the moment. So if anyone spots anything particularly interesting/infuriating/incriminating on TV please drop me a line.
I was, against my better judgement, listening to George Hook a bit earlier. According to him, the reason that the IMF and the EU have had to 'bail us out' is that our politicians lack the 'testosterone' to sort the mess out themselves. That clears up that particular mystery then. In the last couple of minutes, he has dropped the bombshell that we are all errant children and that the IMF/EU are the stern 'headmasters' who have just arrived in the company of mean spirited 'prefects'. Sounds like somebody has been spending too many of these long, winter evenings in the company of JK Rowling. Really risible journalism - dodgy amateur psychology being passed off as political commentary. Please, somebody, make him stop...
17.01 This is Colin. I'll be here for the next few hours, so please keep the contributions coming. Here's something I really need to get off my chest, so hopefully it'll get the ball rolling...
Yesterday saw the publication of two very important, but mutually contradictory, documents. The first of these was the ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ that sets out some of the context and the substance of the ‘bailout’ on offer from the EU, IMF and some other states. This names the origins of the current mess as plainly as plain can be:
‘At the root of the problem is a domestic banking system, which at its peak was five times the size of the economy…’
The Memorandum also sets out pretty clearly the purpose of what the media like to call the ‘bailout’. The taking on of loans we will never be able to repay and the plundering of the national pension reserve are ‘bold measures’ designed to create a ‘healthy banking system’ that is ‘robust, smaller, and better capitalized’.
If you read the Memorandum you would think that the Irish government is intent on creating a leaner and more responsible banking system. It’s rather unfortunate for that discredited rabble then that this document appeared on the same day as the’ Central Bank Review of Remuneration Policies and Practices in Irish Retail Banks/Building Societies’. Not the most seductive title in the world but it makes interesting reading nonetheless. The Review illustrates how little has changed in the culture and practice of the financial institutions that plunged us into this crisis. It states that:
‘There is little evidence that banks have self-consciously made a link between their risk appetite and their incentive structures. This exposes banks and, by extension the State, to the consequences of inappropriate risk taking’
and goes on to say that:
‘The governance and oversight of remuneration practices is poor’.
In plain terms, what the Review says is that the banks have learned little or nothing from the crisis. They continue to pay most of their staff a pittance and a tiny few ridiculously large salaries. The bloated incomes of the top earners remain, moreover, connected to a culture of reckless risk taking.
Almost three years after the first clear signals of the global banking crisis, apparently very little has changed in the culture and even the personnel of the Irish banks. Those who have remained continue to receive obscene salaries for doing their jobs unimaginably badly. And those who have moved on have either retired with whopping pensions or been lured into lucrative sinecures. But more of that later…
16:56 Just read this on the RTE site:
"The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Dominique Strauss-Kahn has said the debt crisis in Europe should not be underestimated, but tipped Ireland to recover."
The last phrase has me thinking about football again. You know the sort of information-free verbiage that's the bread and butter of the sports section: "Harry Redknapp tipped his Spurs side to overcome Man City in tomorrow's cup clash", that sort of thing. "Ireland have got off to a poor start this season, but it's early doors yet, there's a lot of heart in this team, a lot of quality, and I just fancy them to put a good run together and get something out of the league yet ..."
16:44 Andy Storey has sent us the following letter, which the IT didn't find room for. Fancy that:
"Dan O'Brien (Irish Times, 30th November) points to the fact that Ajai Chopra, the head of the IMF mission to Ireland, led the IMF mission to South Korea in the late 1990s. So how did that work out? The Korean government budget was slashed (leading to massive redundancies), despite the fact that government overspending had nothing to do with the Korean crisis. Between 1996 and 1999, South Korea’s unemployment rate tripled and the proportion of the population identifying themselves as middle-class fell from 64% to 38%. Korean trade unions and other forces opposed these policies but they were quickly assured that their opposition would count for nothing, as documented by Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine:
“the end of the IMF negotiations coincided with scheduled presidential elections in which two of the candidates were running on anti-IMF platforms. In an extraordinary act of interference with a sovereign nation’s political process, the IMF refused to release the money until it had commitments from all four main candidates that they would stick to the new [IMF] rules if they won. With the country effectively held at ransom, the IMF was triumphant: each candidate pledged his support in writing… [Y]ou can vote, South Koreans were told, but your vote can have no bearing on the managing and organisation of the economy”.
"The parallels with the current Irish situation are striking as cross-party consensus is demanded for the broad thrust of an austerity programme that nobody has voted for. The EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs, Olli Rehn, has warned that it would be inadvisable for a new government to try to renegotiate either the interest rate on the EU/IMF loan or the use of the National Pension Reserve Fund in shoring up the banking sector. The Irish economy will be gutted by this programme - Irish democracy already has been."
16:34 Oh dear God. George Hook's guest is going to be John Waters. That state of the nation panel on Prime Time last night was no great shakes, but Waters? What will he have to say? Can I bear to find out?
16:29 While we're on the subject of David Cameron and George Osborne, I was reading lately The Life and Times of James Connolly by Desmond Greaves. He had a story that made me think of the gruesome pair. Connolly was making a bare living around the turn of the century as a travelling socialist lecturer, and was giving a talk in Oxford. Apparently left-wing politics in the town was plagued by the toff students who thought it was a jolly good lark to break up their meetings. When these Edwardian frat boys charged the stage during Connolly's speech, he broke the flagpole over his knee and set about them with the pointy end. Wouldn't it do George Osborne a power of good? You wouldn't get that sort of craic from John Hume now.
16:24 As an antidote to that tripe from Deborah Orr posted earlier, here's a take on David Cameron's government from a good old-school Trotskyist, Alan Thornett:
"It is more consistently ideologically neoliberal than Margaret Thatcher, in fact. What Britain actually has is a right-wing Thatcherite, small state, slash and burn, Tory Government, propped up by the Liberal Democrats who have collapsed into their politics. It is a government defined entirely by its cuts agenda and by its approach to the crisis and Britain’s debt. It is a government of millionaires who are delivering an attack on the poor the like of which Margaret Thatcher must have dreamed of but was never remotely able to achieve ...
The true class nature of this coalition was exposed when this reactionary package was announced in Parliament — including the loss of 500,000 jobs. It was greeted by Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs with prolonged cheering and stamping of feet and waving of order papers. This reaction exposed the most disingenuous mantra in the coalition vocabulary - that they are forced to do this by the debt and that they have to make ‘hard choices’ in order to save the economy. This is complete nonsense. They love every minute of it. The decisions they are taking are precisely the ones they have wanted to take for a long time and are now using the crisis as a battering ram to force them through."
16:16 Hugh has some thoughts on Brian Lenihan's statesmanlike message to the nation::
"Pardon me if I have missed commentary on this, but I could not help but retch a little when I heard Blenderhand unfurl the following yesterday:
'Those who think we could unilaterally renege on senior bondholders against the wishes of the ECB are living in fantasy land. Worse still, those who know we cannot do so but who nonetheless persist with this line are damaging this country and its financial system, and all for the sake of a cheap headline. It is a case of politics as usual, even at this most difficult time.'
Is this lofty denunciation of 'politics as usual' not an example par excellence of politics as usual? You know, the notion that 'politics' is a corrupt activity, perpetrated by professional opportunists who have to be thwarted by ordinary people like Brian Lenihan?
This ordinary nobility, the non-political politicians, want an end to the petty bickering and point-scoring from the elite that characterises the rotten state of parliamentary politics. This ordinary nobility, who represents 'us' (yay!) against the 'politicians' (boo) only want to save the country and our hides. And to do so, 'we' have to embark on a series of activities that strengthen the power of capitalist institutions over ordinary people. This is the 'pragmatic' course of action. Anything else is 'fantasy', or, as Blenderhand put it when he closed his introduction for the National Assassination Plan, 'nonsense'. How, precisely, is this any different from what Fianna Fáil governments have been doing since Leatherass died and Tinbelly went to America?
Is this not politics as usual?"
None of that talk now.
16:03 David McWilliams wasn't impressed by Jean-Claude Trichet's performance:
"Trichet said nothing @ ECB press conf. They don't get it. The Euro project turned into a giant interbank debt pyramid and ECB is to blame."
Blame, David? Blame? Surely you understand by now that we're not going down that squalid road of recrimination ... where are we? Where we are, that's where.
16:00 Colin sent this in to us::
"I was just listening to 'Liveline' there now. Sacrifices have to be made, after all, for the greater good that is budgetjam. Joe Duffy was interviewing various decent folk from rural parts who had spent the last few days helping out friends and neighbours imperiled by this mental weather. It was a genuinely sweet human interest story about tractors being retrieved from ditches and emergency dashes to the maternity ward. I was starting to feel a little better about the world. And then Joe had to go and spoil it all by making the Big Ideological Point. Apparently this kind of neighbourliness will not only get us out of this cold snap, it will also save the entire country from the 'arctic economic' circumstances we've been landed in. That's quite a claim. Apparently all we have to do is join hands, close our eyes, commune with our inner Celt and incant 'there's no place like home'. You just can't put a price on insightful commentary like that. Four hundred grand a year? Nowhere near enough. Surely, it must be time to raise that pittance of a licence fee..."
Now Colin, there's nothing wrong with communing with our inner Celts.
15:54 Just got a mail telling me that a campaign meeting against the cuts in my area has been cancelled tonight because of the weather. Is it all a fiendish plot? Is it going to be like the bit in One Hundred Years of Solitude after the banana workers' massacre, when it rains non stop for a couple of years and everybody has forgotten what happened afterwards? I know the Soviets used to have ways of tampering with the weather for a day or two so there wouldn't be rain clouds over an important parade, but surely this level of snow is beyond the IMF's capacity.
15:45 Something to cheer us all up: it's not just Ireland that has to endure "we are where we are" tripe. Deborah Orr has the following masterpiece in today's Guardian:
"It is sometimes suggested that there is little protest against the cuts, except from students and schoolchildren, because adults are too craven and apathetic to stand up and be counted. The truth is that they are too wise to waste their energy on something so silly. Protesting against the cuts is like protesting against water's stubborn habit of flowing downwards. Pointless, unless you are a committed anarchist, in which case everything is worth protesting against."
You know that magic road in Fr Ted? The one where cars roll uphill? Apparently there's a real version of it somewhere. Does water roll uphill on the road too? Can we film it and send it to Debs when the frost has thawed out?
She goes on to tell us:
"The kind of cuts that the Government is making, and more importantly, the kind of money they intend to spend, are certainly worth scrutinising, and rejecting if they are found wanting."
I've always been baffled by people who imagine that it's possible to "reject" something without actually doing anything about it. How does she think politics works - all the policies line up in their skimpiest clothes while a sleazy bloke in leather pants presses a button to decide who he'll be taking home tonight?
15:34 "O'Connell Street reopened after explosion". No, we haven't reached the point where crazed citizens are letting off bombs in the street; there was a gas leak in the Kylemore Cafe, apparently. Never a dull moment these days.
15:30 Eadaoin was noting earlier how keen the folk in Madrid are to distance themselves from Ireland. Better hope they're right, says Nouriel Roubini of NYU: “If contagion were to become even more severe than it has already been, in places like Spain, then you have trouble because the current envelope of official resources isn’t sufficient to bail out Spain after smaller ones.” I don't mean to be gloomy, but at this stage when you hear a finance minister announcing "my country isn't Greece / Ireland / wherever", doesn't it remind you of the chairman of a football club expressing his full confidence in the manager? Oh well, the euro was handy while it lasted.
15:18 Hullo everyone Dan here. Trying to filter out apocalyptic stuff about the snow and find something new about the economy. One happy little nugget: Jean-Claude Trichet reckons our bailout plan is a "good one".
That's grand so. He also says that borrowing by Irish banks from the ECB is an "ongoing concept". Of all the linguistic contortions of the last few weeks, that's a particular beaut. How can a concept be ongoing? Oh, never mind.
15:10 I'm off to Dublin to see The Pipe, Risteard Ó Domhnaill's film about the effect of Shell's stupid but highly profitable plans on the people of Broadhaven bay. It looks immense and he's not a bad looking man either. I'll be careful of the city's "treacherous" roads. Here's Dan Finn.
15:00 I'm soon handing over to Dan at this end because they are insisting on closing down this building I work in despite the sun shining. I have heard back from Jennifer in Berlin and she writes about that Derek Scally article from earlier:
"I've seen a lot of articles that perpetuate this notion that Ireland lost the run of itself, got greedy and now the disgruntled parents (Germany mainly) have to step in and bail out the mischievous child:
Germans have always had a love affair with Ireland (or rather Failte Ireland's and Heinrich Boll's portrayal of a country full of sheep, friendly drunks and red-headed freckled children). But more recently, the “Irish-as-mischevious-spoilt-children” theme has dominated discourse in the German press. It started in earnest with the Lisbon No-Vote and culminated in German annoyance at the perceived bailing out of the country (not much talk about the extortionate interest rate of course). The Irish media are perpetuating the notion too. Ireland is framed as a nation of rogues that got a little too big for its boots. The country's “light touch financial regulation”, as Derek Scally writes, has forced the German state to fork out billions to save the Euro and German banks, which are pretty horrifically exposed in the Irish property market. That it was the greed of German banks that attracted them to Ireland is conveniently forgotten or glossed over. Ireland, a country given so much by the EU, is no longer a good European citizen; it's tried German patience and traditional good will, the underlying threat being that this “goodwill is all used up” and Ireland will lose influence in the Union. But all is not lost, we will be forgiven if only we would ask and fall back into line."
More please. And thank you Suzy for the supportive tweets.
#budgetjam towers calling Dan!
14:45 Eadaoin, late of this pariah (sorry parish), is Tumbling over on The Whining of Otters. Look! II just blog here, ok? Take it up with the analysis monkeys. She's collecting a series of infographics and graphs from various sources, particularly related to labour costs, productivity and deprivation from some recent reports. Jam it!
And then Therese has been back on here to crazytown:
This is a link to a Facebook page that was set up recently - Declaration of Right of Refusal. Don't know who's behind but it might be worth flagging as further signs of a growing grassroots resistance to the budget etc
Keep them coming Therese and Eadaoin.
14:38 Jennifer Collins (@freejournalism) tweets from Germany about Derek Scally article in today's Oirish Toimes. For Jennifer it is:
Reinforcing the hegemonic "Irish as mischievous children" discourse :)
Thank you Jennifer and keep us posted from Berlin.
14:30 okaaay, that didn't work. The preview said it would you know....that's jam for you! Here are the links instead:
14:28 ok, as promised: here are the two clips that Therese sent to me earlier today. The first one is of Unite's Michael Taft and a 'member' of the AITT #budgetjam team. Michael talks about how the #bailout' is throttling our economy: in 14 short minutes no less. Very much worthwhile viewing:
Secondly, an interview with Andy Storey, lecturer in Development Studies in UCD and another participant in #budgetjam, you know jam for the budget? Andy talks about, among other things, how resistance to the IMF plan is made difficult:
14:10 Gerard Cunningham (@faduda) has just made a brief synopsis of last night's RTE Prime Time available on Newswhip.ie. The programme was hardly revolutionary but provided a forum for some some new ideas and voices. During the show I took tw-issue (see what I did there?) with Margaret E . Ward's depiction of what the democratic structures of Ireland needed was a business plan. This is an appealing analogy (cos 'we all' know what a business plan is, right?) but little more than that. Padraig O Ceidigh appeared from the Galway studio and basically propogated the 'going forward' going forward meme. We're a great people really, we just need to harness our energy. Like some kind of humanistic, class-less Ardnacrusha. Gerard notes that:
A single belief emerges unites all these movements. “Politics as usual” isn’t working. Come the general election, Ireland needs not just a change of government, but a change in how we govern ourselves.
He asks at the end of there are any grassroots movements working in our areas. Um, yes, a few.
Do you know of other movements emerging out of the crisis? Is there a grassroots group working in your area? Let us know at email@example.com or leave a comment below.
This is encouraging and of course there are already many of these around.
14:00 This just in from Therese Caherty, writing about the Indo's opinion piece today:
Talk about spin! Today's Indo's editorial - A prescription for recovery - ends with "While some may decry the fact that we have surrendered our right to manage our affairs, there is also an argument that no Government has ever had the courage or the mandate for such sweeping economic reform.Now many imbalances and inequities that have compromised our development will be tackled head on. If that is the price of recovery, then so be it." Truly, we say unto you, there is no alternative...
Therese has also sent in some youtube clips and I'll attempt to get these up in the next hour.
13.50 It is very hard to understand what is behind today's Irish Times editorial. On the one hand, it is a strange mash up of the usual TINA cliches. On the other hand there is more of the submission to the inevitable logic of the market. And then this:
In fairness, default, while it has its attractions, comes with huge risk, especially to a State heavily dependent on overseas investment.
Argentina, apparently, was made a pariah upon default. All of the other boys and girls in the yard stood back and pointed.
I had an Argentinian friend visiting last week and he shared this about that government and its default: they offered 25c on the dollar and it was rejected. Soon afterwards they offered 20c and of course was rejected. That's not pariah status to me.
Oh yes, and the public service is under scrutiny apparently, not the work of the Central Bank of the Department of Finance, according to the Indo. So the language is changing: from the doctor's surgery to the sadist's parlour. The patient no longer has to be cured, it must enjoy the pain that is inevitable or, in the words of Madam, "the State “is in the happy position”".
13.31 This analysis is again based on the idea that 'contagion' is forcing sovereign default. National character, scenic routes, serious debates yada yada yada. It is all about calming the markets apparently. I might just continue Eadaoin's game: every time I hear 'the reality is' I'll knock back some altar wine.
13.30 Harry's correct when he says that this article by Kitching and Bryan has implications far beyond this wee initiative. In particular their assessment that
"The media's 'newfound' realisation that across the board 'free fees' initiatives of this nature have not have their 'intended' effect of enhancing participation rates of children from disadvantaged background at the same time as the budget's reintroduction of university tuition is more than a mere coincidence."
Not only is it clear that the 1996 policy change had disproportionate effects on those from working class and disadvantaged backgrounds, it had the further effect of bluntly dismissing any class analysis of the system as a a whole. A case of meritocracy persisting.
News at One is gone all Liveline today.
13.08 I'm listening in to RTE News At One. when I was a Council worker from 2003 to 2006, there was also lots of talk about Christmas shopping time with an email from the manager addressing that very issue. Is this what the IMF has forced us to do? Confront how many hours public sector work? Oh well, that's micro-management.
13.03 Right then, here we are. Slight tech difficulty there but I'm up and going. It's Eoin here until just after 3pm.
12.42 Ok, I lied, I did play the Indo cliché drinking game and am now too drunk to write*. Eoin O'Mahony is taking over now to guide you through the one o'clock news and up until teatime.
*This is not true and was intended purely for comic effect. I never drink before 12.45 - it's a Carlow thing.
12.37 Stepanie Rains had a look through that H.E.A.P. pdf and pulled out this line from page 14:
"Statistics about wealth are hard to come by in Ireland. The Bank of Ireland published a study of wealth in 2007, giving us figures for 2006. They found that the gross wealth of the top one per cent of the population was an even €100 billion. This top one per cent owned 20 per cent of the wealth in Ireland. When the value of residential property is excluded, the figue owned by the top one per cent rises to 34 per cent or more than a third."
And from a piece by Tom O'Connor in the ILR:
33,000 Irish millionaires still hold €121 billion and this has fallen from a high of €156 billion in 2006....In terms of hard cash they have a whopping 16.5 billion in the bank.
These 33,000 millionaires have been the main beneficiaries of about €20 billion in tax expenditures by the state since 2005 through various means: tax relief on pensions, which at one point was over a million; a myriad of property tax reliefs; reliefs on private nursing homes and hospitals; capital allowances; the PRSI ceiling; and a whole raft of others.
Dr Michael Collins, a Trinity based Economist and member of the Commission on Taxation, reiterated the view on October 17th this year that there are still 110 of these so called ‘loop holes’ in place, costing the exchequer €11 billion per annum.
12.30 This just in from Andy Storey:
'Audrey Bryan is absolutely right about the role of the IMF - cutting the minimum wage has no impact on the government finances (or almost none) and probably alienates residual (elite) trade union support. So it is (probably) not something the government would have done themselves. It also follows the pattern in Greece, Romania, etc. where similar cuts were recently made at IMF insistence. It is a classic case of a 'structural' reform of the sort favoured by international technocrats and one that is deemed applicable everywhere.'
See also his piece on the IMF in South Korea on this site. Salutary reading.
12.25 Tarn it, I wish I wasn't doing the morning liveblog. Today's Indo editorial would have me flat on the floor telling my bookshelves I loved them if it was late enough in the day to play drinking games.
Every three months we will present ourselves for a check-up and a prescription will only be handed out if we have proof of pain.
('Sick man' cliché! Drink!)
We also know the examination will be thorough and rigorous, and that any failure to comply with the doctor's orders could result in a switching off of our life support.
(The IMF are smart, they'll save us. Drink! Two in a row sick man clichés! Two shots!)
In around nine months' time the men from Brussels and Washington will arrive with their laptops and they will make a forensic examination of public sector pay.
(The public sector is overpaid! Drink!)
Again there is no point in peddling the fantasy that there are a number of far more palatable options.
(There is no alternative! Drink!)
Now many imbalances and inequities that have compromised our development will be tackled head on.
If that is the price of recovery, then so be it.
(Oh just drink. Reading this stuff, there really Is No Alternative.)
12.20 Am I mad, or does this make no sense?
It is precisely because of the calamitous state of our public finances that we have entered the agreement and we are now unequivocally handing fiscal control outside the State. And it must be remembered that, even if we did not have a banking crisis, we would still have an enormous government deficit brought about by incompetent economic management.
So far as I'm aware, our 'public finances' aren't in a calamitous state - well, not if you leave out the banks we now own. As for the bit about having an 'enormous government deficit' if we didn't have a banking crisis - how can she possibly know that? We have an enormous government deficit because there was a banking crisis and the state guaranteed the banks. Unless Ms Kennedy is the secret offspring of the fella from Quantum Leap, there's no way she could possibly know what our government deficit might have been in 2010 if 2007 or 2008 hadn't happened.
12.00 'We all partied'
No, really, we didn't.
Figures on 'at risk of poverty rates' from Eurostat here and they're as a % of total population. Sorry the lines are slightly wonky, but I counted down from the top and the line highlighted is the correct one.
11.40 Bit of a hiatus there, my apologies. The analysis monkeys got out of their cage and went on a bit of a rampage. I escaped with only a few minor flesh wounds so I'll soldier on. Eddie Brennan just sent me a pdf compiled by ICTU, TASC and the SSRC on wealth in Ireland. The monkeys are scouring it now for information which I'll post anon. If anyone would care to give them a hand (they're worn out after all the rampaging and we don't feed them well) you can download a copy here.
11.18 Another little bit on the minimum wage - this time on its effect on 'competitiveness' (and apologies if I seem to be scare-quoting an awful lot today, but so many of these words seem to have either no meaning or so many conflicting ones that leaving them stand as actual words seems wrong). From the same post on the TASCblog quoted earlier, a few points from the National Competitiveness Council's annual report from 2010. Now, this report has an introduction by An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen.
He even did his hair for the photo so the report must mean something to him. According to TASC, the report:
demonstrates that the minimum wage is not a factor impacting on business’s capacity to survive the current challenging trading environment. They found that Ireland’s cost competitiveness has improved considerably for a range of key business inputs such as energy, property and a number of business services. However, the areas where key inputs in Ireland remain relatively expensive include broadband, waste disposal and legal fees. There is no mention of the minimum wage being prohibitive for business ... and in fact the report found that “Irish salary levels are broadly in line with the euro area average across the benchmarked occupations”(p.22.)
Mr Cowen's response: 'La la la la la. Ooooh, look over there! A bee!'. Or, in words:
"The reduction in the minimum wage is about making sure that we have a competitive economy."
It reminds me of Eamonn Ó Cuív's response to a question from Richard Crowley on how, exactly, reducing the minimum wage would create more jobs: 'The evidence is irrelevant. We just have to do what we have to do'. I'm paraphrasing, but only ever so slightly.
11.10 Audrey Bryan makes an important piont with ref to my talk about the IMF not bullying the government into a cut in the minimum wage:
While the proposal to cut the minimum wage may not have been initiated or imposed by the big bad IMF per se, if what has happened in other countries is anything to go by, policies of this nature are often expanded upon, institutionalised and legitimised within the broader context of IMF loan conditionality and technical assistance. So I think we need to look deeper at how the policy decisions and ideologies of both national and international or 'inter/national' actors intersect and mutually reinforce one another.
If you, Audrey, or anyone else, would like to contribute that analysis we'd absolutely love to have it; especially in light of all of the hot air in recent weeks about our 'sovereignty'. Send it on to firstname.lastname@example.org.
11.00 ‘We need to step back from the hurly-burly and see it [€8.65] as a boom-time minimum wage’ – economist and former AIB director Jim O’Leary, CIPD Ireland conference, 11 May 2009
From TASC (it's a long quote and I hope they don't mind me taking such a large chunk):
Despite what you may read or hear, the minimum wage rate is not the second highest in Europe for the following reasons:
1. First, when comparing minimum wages across a number of countries you can only do so by taking the Purchasing Power Parities into consideration i.e. calculating how much you can buy with your minimum wages. This is done by expressing the minimum wage in terms of a common unit called the Purchasing Power Standard (PPS). When expressed in PPS terms, Ireland’s ranking drops from second to sixth place, reflecting our higher cost of living. Ireland’s monthly minimum wage is €1,152 in PPS. The UK is in fifth place with a monthly minimum wage of €1,154 (in PPS) and France in fourth place with a monthly minimum wage of €1,189 (in PPS)(details here).
2. Second, Eurostat data calculates wages per month. Ireland’s monthly rates are calculated on the basis of a 39 hour week, France on the basis of a 35 hour week and the UK on the basis of the 38.1 hour week. If we differentiate for the number of hours worked in the three countries we find that the hourly minimum wage is €7.84 (PPS) in France; €6.99 (PPS) in the UK and €6.82 (PPS) in Ireland.
3. Third, the data only refers to those European Members that have statutory minimum wages. This means that the dataset does not include the Scandinavian countries. Collective bargaining is used to set minimum wages in these countries and an October 2008 study by Swedish economists showed that Sweden, Finland and Denmark all had higher hourly minimum wages in 2006 than Ireland, as did Norway which is not a member of the EU.
4. Eurostat also calculates the minimum wage as a per cent of average monthly earnings. The minimum wage in Ireland was 42 per cent of average industrial earnings in 2008, which puts Ireland in ninth place in the EU, or in twelfth place if we include the corresponding 2006 percentages for the Scandinavian countries
When calculating the cost of employing a person, it is more accurate to look at the overall cost of labour which is made up of labour and payroll taxes (PRSI). Ireland has one of the lowest levels of employers’ social protection contribution in the OECD. The Irish rate (10.8 per cent) is significantly lower than the OECD average (15.2 per cent) and the euro area average (27 per cent), which reduces the total cost of employing workers in Ireland. The hospitality sector is the largest employer of low wage workers and labour costs in Ireland in this sector are the third lowest in the EU 15. Only Greece and Portugal had lower costs per employee than Ireland.
Pipe-Put-In-Smoke, Jim O'Leary. And the rest.
10.55 Continuing the conversation about conversations (see 09.00 and 10.10), Dara McHugh writes:
'Is the bailout in the interest of the irish elite? Or does it indicate their inability to go an independent direction? I think this bailout will wreck the irish economy and the irish capitalist class with it. Deliberation would, to me, indicate independent analysis from different elements of the elite. Its lack indicates their weakness and dependency. It is indicative that the best commentary on the Irish economy and alternative options tends to come from outside of the country (right-wingers like Pritchard Evans and Munchau, more progressive thinkers like Bill Black, etc.). So - the lack of a conversation, indeed the overt efforts to stop one, are indicative of the weakness of the Irish elite. They're unable to develop their own ideas about how to proceed and, apart from doing everything to save their friends, are happy to do what the ECB tells them. As it is, the Irish economy (and Irish elites) will lose out to try to protect the Eurozone.'
10.45 Wolfgang Munchau in the Irish Times:
An Irish economist recently accused me of triggering the crisis when I questioned Ireland’s insolvency in one of my columns in the Financial Times . Likewise, other people have been accusing Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, of triggering the crisis with her ill-timed proposals for a regime to bail in investors. The European Commission has been accused of triggering this week’s panic in Spain because of an ill-timed critical report about the country’s economy.
You must be kidding. If the euro zone depended on a column, it would have no future.
Irrespective of the substance of any such claims, you have got to ask yourself: can this really be a cause of a crisis? The bad timing of a report? Or a newspaper column?
Quite right, too. I'm no market analyst, but I would suggest that, while it's a nonsense to say that a newspaper column or a report can cause a crisis, such things will be opportunistically seized upon by individuals within those markets, as well as those that report on them, to deflect attention from the real source of the crisis - the self-interested opportunism of those who play within the markets. Yes! I said it - the markets are not a dragon, a cartoon man, a totem, a god, something 'out there' working in their mysterious, glorious ways. They are populated by people, who have one over-riding interest: making loads n loads n loads of money. Next person to refer to them as an objective entity gets a punch in the face. I have a bike, so I can cover most of the Dublin media - does anyone want to volunteer for punching duties in the rest of the country? We could do up a rota.
10.32 This is...utterly unsurprising:
THE Government slashed the minimum wage by €1 in an attempt to drive down all wages across the economy, Taoiseach Brian Cowen claimed yesterday. The Government says it made the move to increase job creation, since a higher minimum wage discouraged employers from hiring more workers.
And lest we think that the poor government has its hands tied by the IMF on this one see this from the Indo in January:
LOW-PAID workers will soon be asked to accept wage cuts as their bosses plead an "inability to pay" in court under new legislation. Struggling employers will be able to apply for an exemption from wage agreements under the new law being introduced by the Government. However, they will need the consent of the majority of workers before they can cut hourly pay rates under proposals being brought by Junior Minister for Labour Affairs Dara Calleary.
Bosses in the agriculture, retail, catering, hotel and retail sectors, which are governed by separate Registered Employment Agreements (REAs) to the minimum wage legislation, will shortly be able to access an inability to pay clause in the Labour Court.
Bear in mind that the catering and hotel trade is the least unionised in the country, so Mary Coughlan's assurance in the same piece that
the introduction of the clause was not a "diktat" from employers and would have to be negotiated with workers. "This will not be a situation whereby employers would insist that people take a reduction in their salary. It is a safeguard..."
doesn't hold an enormous amount of water.
At least the Indo has the good grace to use the word 'claimed' in the above. It makes a refreshing change from the Irish Times's sneaky editorialising, as here:
Taoiseach Brian Cowen welcomed the fact that there would be no change to the corporation tax rate of 12.5 per cent which was vital to Ireland’s economic recovery. Speaking at a press conference he said a large portion of the loans, some €50 billion, would go towards paying for social welfare payments, pensions, health and education “as we manage the transition to a sustainable deficit and debt position”.
(emphasis in the above mine). See how they use quote marks in some places but not in others? See that? Hah? Yeah.
10.20 Stephanie Rains writes:
'Further to your post from The Guardian about the UK's richest 1000 people - does anyone have the equivalent figures for Ireland? But even before we have those, these figures are one of the reasons why arguments about who is paid what, and whether it's OK for a civil servant to earn 100,000 euro a year, are very useful for the real owners of wealth - they distract the rest of us from focusing on their wealth, none of which is derived from salaries. No-one earning 100,000 (or 200,000 or even 300,000) as salaried income is one of the 'real' wealthy. And it's important to keep remembering that.'
10.10 In response to my question earlier about conversations on 'social good' in the Irish MSM Harry Browne writes:
I don't really agree that what we've got here is a problem of insufficient deliberation, or even insufficiently wide-ranging deliberation. I really think the questions are much more fundamental ones about class power, and all the expertise and knocking-heads-together in the world is not going to address that.
To that, I would say, yes, I agree, but I do think the breadth of mainstream deliberation is a significant factor in dictating the scope of the 'allowable'. Even the phrase 'class power' is one that's rarely seen (allowed) in mainstream discourse. As in most things, it's neither entirely one thing nor the other, it's (to borrow a phrase) "the never-ending quadratures"* of the material, the social, and the discursive.
*Correction, 10.15 - I just googled 'quadratures' there for the craic; "The never-ending quadratures of the ego's self-verifications" is a line from Lacan I've always liked for its elegant cadence. Turns out 'quadrature' doesn't mean anything in this context. Damn you Jaques Lacan and your misappropriation of mathematical terminology. I should have learned not to take them at face value after the Sokal hoax. So let's just say the line above should read 'the complex and relexive inter-relationships of the material, the social and the discursive'. Now, back to Pat Kenny!
09.50 It's when you see it written down like this that you want to bang your head repeatedly against the wall in the hope that the concussion will be bad enough that you'll never read again:
According to the Sunday Times Rich List, the collective wealth of the 1,000 richest people in the UK rose to £335.5bn in 2010. 53 of the richest 1,000 are billionaires. In 1997, when Labour came to office, the collective wealth of the richest 1,000 stood at £98.99bn. No other group has received such a massive boost in its wealth. Even if they have all the clothes, mansions, cars, yachts and jets they want, they still cannot spend it all. They came into this world empty-handed and will exit in exactly the same way, but leave behind impoverished citizens and employees when they could easily give 25%, or some £84bn of their wealth away without any noticeable effect on the quality of their life.
Prem Sikka in the Guardian there. I'm not even going to say much about that. Just read it, go away and have a cup of tea, come back, read it again, pace a bit, then (a) shrug and indulge the idea that these people must surely somehow deserve all that money. No doubt some of them have their own 'penny apples' stories, and sher, it's a meritocracy, isn't it, we all have the same opportunities; those lads and ladies are just better than us - they worked harder, longer, faster. Allow them a smidge of luck - cos when you're thinking magically you might as well go the whole hog - and go on about your day. Option (b): get really, really, really angry. And do something with that anger. Please.
09.35 It's been said before (not least on this site) but Jodi Dean's take on the bailout is worth quoting:
The so-called Irish bailout announced last Sunday is a striking case in point. What has taken place is not the bailout of Ireland. Rather, the Irish government has agreed to the demands from international financial markets that all the resources of the state be deployed to ensure that all Irish debts and financial assets held by banks and financial institutions are paid in full, at the expense of the working class. In other words, it is not “Ireland” that has failed and requires a bailout, but the holders of Irish debt—the European and international banks.
She goes on:
Since the beginning of the 1980s, following the end of the post-war economic boom, world capitalism has been characterised by what could be called the rise and rise of financialisation. One significant statistic points to the extent of the process. Some three decades ago, the stock of global financial assets was equivalent to around 100 percent of world GDP. By 2007 it had risen to 350 percent.
The New Yorker had a short piece (ha! *joke*) on 'the rise of financialisation' last week that's essential reading if only because, in standard New Yorker style, it's achingly even-handed but still contains lines like:
09.25 On Spain again, it's comforting to see that politicians there suffer from the same kind of delusional thinking as ours do:
"We cannot react to fluctuations of one or two days on the market, especially at times when, given the market tensions, there is a perception that liquidity is smaller than in normal market conditions," he said. "These are short-term fluctuations. We are currently in a period of turbulence. What is important is to execute planned policies and the markets will respond."
So says Spanish deputy finance minister Jose Manuel Campa. Interestingly, the piece in the EuObserver this was taken from prefaces this statement with the line:
Spanish deputy finance minister Jose Manuel Campa continued to try to inoculate his country against the contagion
betraying a cognisance of the fact that market talk is never idle, and is always a means to an end. A good thing to bear in mind when listening to 'financial analysts' on the radio and the telly, or quoted in newspapers. Those are heavy words, lightly thrown (and uncritically broadcast by an uncritical media).
09.20 I'll be on to the papers now shortly, but while you wait for me to read those read this missive from Our Spanish Speaker in Artane, Niamh de Barra, who very kindly trawled through the Spanish press for us yesterday:
"With ref to the morkish, the Director of the Bank of Spain, Elena Salgado (Minister of Economy and Finance), Zapatero (the president) and even the French Minister for Finance are all quoted distancing Spain from Greece and Ireland. "The situation is totally different here, the Spanish banking system doesn't have the same weaknesses that the Irish system has/had."
Elena Salgado is all over the place blaming Ireland (and obliquely, according to some papers, Angela Merkel) for the turbulence/tension in the eurozone. Zapatero is vehemently denying there will be a Spanish bailout. Last week, Salgado vehemently denied there will be a Portuguese one.
Regarding the Director of the Bank of Spain, José Luis Malo de Molina, the article in El País has this as its headline: "Bank of Spain establishes differences with Ireland" and then goes on to run the "stable, strong, different to Ireland" line. In El Periodico, the headline reads, "Director of Bank of Spain fears Spain will become one more victim of the markets" and half-and-halfs between strong and stable and Potential Doooom.
Also, Zapatero just cut dole and corporation tax for small- and medium-sized businesses.
From the opinion pieces: According to ABC and El País the Morkish don't exist as a conscious entity, and the statistically near-impossible can happen."
09.15 If you don't tweet, email email@example.com. If you don't have the internet, how the hell are you reading this blog?
09.00 Permit me a hollow laugh (that turns into a hacking cough; I have a cold):
Imagine a government that really wanted a new kind of politics, fit for the big society of Cameron's dreams. How would it have approached the biggest hole in the public finances since the end of the Second World War? Surely it would have encouraged searching select committee inquiries, preferably in public, into its macroeconomic thinking and the options that implied before completing the Spending Review. Leading supporters and opponents of the government's approach would have been cross-examined; non-governmental organisations, local authorities, industrialists and trade union leaders would have given evidence; parliament and the public would have had a chance to appraise their arguments
That's from the New Statesman. Riddle me this: apart from Fintan O'Toole, who in the Irish media has been talking like this? And I don't count anyone who just indulges in Cowen/Lenihan/FF/Greens/whatever-yer-havin-yerself bashing (appropriate and all as it may be). I'm genuinely interested to know: send me links to articles in the mainstream media that seriously engage with the idea that we need a serious national conversation about how decisions that affect us are taken; what those decisions should be; and whether those decisions could (and should) be taken within the context of an overarching idea of what the 'social good' is here.
08.50 My apologies to RTÉ, four minutes there from David Murphy on the ECB and the EU/IMF Memorandum of Understanding. My internet radio dropped just as David Murphy started telling us about the ECB investing 1000-2000 billion in the markets today - can anyone enlighten me as to what exactly he said?
08.45 One hour in and so far on Morning Ireland we've had: pub-chat; snow; snow; sport. You'd hardly think that only a fortnight ago there seemed to be a very real potential for 'change' in this country. If not a fundamental change in our politics and political attitudes, at least a change in our engagement with both. But then, maybe I'm making the classic mistake of equating the media with the populace. RTÉ may be bored of the crisis, but is its audience?
08.25 Snow snow snow snow snow snow snow. So while we're waiting for MI to get back to the morkish, here's a quote from Brendan O'Connor to point and laugh at:
‘Anyone can be like Fintan O'Toole and follow the consensus: be for the poor and against the rich; be for all good things and against all bad things. You can have that simple view of the world, but I don't know what the point would be because there are a hundred other guys doing that. I'd rather be a guy who thinks for himself and gets it wrong." Brendan O’Connor, Sunday Tribune January 24 2010
If you feel the need to become enraged by this, that's also acceptable. It's a wonderful journalistic aim though, isn't it: "I don't care what the arguments are, or where the weight of accuracy may lie, I'm just gonna say what I want to say because I'm just a frontier kinda guy."
08.00 Hoorah, my favourite bit of the morning - Morning Ireland's business slot. Christopher McKevitt's on today. He's talking to Austin Hughes of KPC Ireland. "The markets will savage the likes of Portugal," apparently. Wish these lads would make up their minds about what the markets (morkish) are: jumpy jittery people or angry fang-ed beasts. It's a divil a thing to try and explain to my niece when they keep changing the game like this.
Is it this? OR this?
07. 55 Morning all, Eadaoin O'Sullivan here, hoping I'll have a less trying stint at the keys than Gavan (heroically blogging in mittens), Harry (who had a bit of a Captain Oates moment) and Dara (attacked by monkeys) did yesterday. Morning Ireland so far (since 7.40) has been all election speculation. At the risk of getting a slap from the more politically animalistic out there, I have to ask, is this a worthy use of national airtime? It's mostly along these lines: "Of the two Fianna Fáilers who can hang on...it's difficult to know"; "There's a big fight ahead but I still think she'll make it". It's mildly interesting, but 15 minutes? Back when I was studying journalism a lecturer told us a key criteria for any story is the 'Hey Martha' factor. As in, Mr Martha calls into the kitchen where Mrs M is baking cookies (the story is a 1950s one): "Hey Martha, North Korea have just launched missiles at South Korea!" Rewriting this morning's bit of speculation (in a 21st century, Irish context): "Here, Ed! Mary Coughlan may or may not retain her seat!'. Ed: "Shut up, it's not even 8am".
Am I betraying my apathy viz our electoral politics or does this kind of fairly pointless pub-chat-ery bore others too? Tweet or leave a comment.