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Incomes and inequality April 18, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy.
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Two pieces in the Guardian recently raise a number of useful questions. The first is a breakdown of UK incomes.

The figures paint a picture of what average incomes are in the UK for different household types. It may come as a surprise to some people that an income for a single adult of less than £39,800 is enough to be among the top 20% of earners for that group.


The median income for a single adult in the fifth decile is £17,600, but for a couple with two children it is £44,200, which may take them into the 40% tax bracket, helping to explain why so many families on average incomes feel they are in the “squeezed middle”. However, the figures do not distinguish between couples made up of two earners and those where just one is working.

There’s some reasonably good explanations as to what this means in comments below the piece… as one commentor says ‘what the chart really shows is the minimum income required to be in the top 5%, or top 15%, or top 25%, and so on’.

Meanwhile, what of this? An argument against inherited wealth. It does seem to me that inherited wealth, or the promise of same, is one of the great bulwarks raised up against progressive political approaches. It generates pools of inequality and privilege. And yet I cannot see how this can easily be addressed in a context where for example in the UK:

The “nil-rate threshold” – the value under which inherited wealth is untouched by tax – currently stands at £325,000, frozen since April 2009. But that’s only half the story. Since 2007, it has been possible for spouses to transfer their unused nil-rate band allowance to their surviving partner. This has lifted many estates in the £300-500,000 band out of inheritance tax altogether: at this point we are beginning to talk about substantial, indeed life-altering, sums of money.

In the Republic the situation appears to be as follows:

If you are a surviving spouse OR surviving civil partners taking an inheritance from your deceased spouse or civil partner, the inheritance is completely exempt and, no matter how valuable, will not be liable to Inheritance Tax.

And a variety of thresholds apply where tax is applicable.

Anyhow the Guardian piece makes the following point:

Why do we permit this? The transfer of wealth between generations is an injustice: it is a reward for no work, and a form of access to privileges that are otherwise beyond reach. Professor Thomas Piketty, in his new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, makes the argument that, after a social-democratic blip in the middle of the last century, inheritance is once again becoming the key route to wealth. Piketty argues that if wealth is concentrated and the return on capital is higher than the economy’s growth rate, inherited wealth will grow more rapidly than that stemming from work.

The idea of a ‘social-democratic blip’ is well worth considering. The essential rout of social democracy (or not even a rout, because that suggests that at least some fight was put up where it might be better to see it as a stealing away in the night) shows how even under fairly weak SD approaches it was possible to start tilting the societal direction leftwards whereas now in the absence of that it is now becoming possible to strip away the residual elements of that dispensation.

May Day DCTU march April 16, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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Women employees ‘accepting’ less remuneration than men for the same roles? April 15, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Feminism, Gender Issues, Workers Rights.

Ignore the fluff in much of this report and check this out, from the Irish Times, in relation to a Employment Market Monitor from CPl.

The survey also found that 40 per cent of employers said that women generally accept less remuneration than men for equal roles, particularly in the tech sector, while the monitor points to a strong first quarter for job listings, with the level of jobs posted in the science, engineering & supply chain segment showing the strongest growth since early 2013.

What, one wonders, is the definition of ‘accept’ used in that statement?

A flat water charge? April 14, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy.

Am I misunderstanding this, or is that the thrust of what is reported in the Irish Times today?

…the utility company [Irish Water] confirmed it wanted to impose a basic charge – reported to be approximately €100 annually – for delivering water to individual homes. The price would be a third of the expected €300 water bill.

So is that €300 per annum per bill, and does that essentially constitute a flat rate across all households? Then where does any tariff structure come on top of that?

By the way, off topic, but can’t help but notice a fair number of spelling errors on the IT online on occasion. Check this out:

Fianna Fáil called for clarity on the matter and accused the Government of reigning on a commitment to offer a free water allowance.

Coalitions… April 10, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

Some thoughts of Vincent Brown’s in the Irish Times are useful in regard to underlying dynamics in Irish politics. Not sure I’d agree with all of them, but worth thinking about nonetheless.

He argues that if SF was given the chance to go in with FF (or FG) it would jump at the prospect and in doing so would compromise on pretty much everything.

This may well be correct, but it does depend upon others being willing to work with them in government. He argues that:

As for Fianna Fáil refusing to coalesce with Sinn Féin – solemn promises will be made to that effect by both Fianna Fáil and, incidentally, by Fine Gael, ahead of the next election and they will have the same relevance and effect as other election promises.

Fianna Fáil? Surely, but Fine Gael? I’m not so certain. I suspect that antipathy and hostility to SF is close enough to a core value and the idea of the two parties working together in government is far-fetched. That may not be the situation for ever, but at the moment and for the next half decade or further I think it will be. Talk to almost anyone in FG – and sometimes it seems that that exercise isn’t actually undertaken, and its fundamental, it almost transcends politics.

And let’s not ignore another aspect of this. Although FF and FG are remarkably similar on many political axis, that hasn’t allowed them to ever work in coalition together. Not once since the establishment of the former party in the 1920s, not in more recent supposedly post-ideological decades, not when the crucial cleavage over the North diminished considerably. The closest they came to an arrangement was during the Tallaght Strategy period between 1987 and 1989 and that was very much a one way dynamic from FG (who for all the praise that is heaped upon them were in part making a virtue of necessity by not bringing the government down and precipitating yet another election).

In other words these things, these distinctions, can have a political power that is greater than might be expected when looking in from outside.

It’s not incorrect to argue that both FF and FG are neo-liberal, but that’s not the only aspect of their identity, and in some contexts not even the most important one.

The two parties offer two routes to political power, two apparatuses, two somewhat different world views and two cultures. There are even some aspects of class in relation to both (though given FF’s ineptitude in maintaining its working class base during the crisis that may have changed)

There’s one other thought that strikes me. While SF no doubt would dearly love to be in government in both parts of the island in 1916 the prospects for that look dim, at least on current projections. And the experience of other parties, Labour most obviously but also the Green Party and Progressive Democrats, may weigh on their minds too. Their Dáil cohort is reasonably youthful (as these things go). It’s more than possible they may think it sensible to sit this one out and go for it in 2019/2020. Or sooner. For the most likely prospect short of an FG/FF coalition is an FG led minority government, a recipe for instability.

All that said I’m not going to underestimate the appetite in SF, or any political party, for a taste of state political power. And the waiting game takes its toll. Anyone with any acquaintance with the Green party parliamentary crew will know that by 2006 they were getting very tired indeed of perpetual opposition. That’s a factor as well.

Public sector employment… April 9, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy.

A most intriguing statistic squirrelled away in a report in the SBP that public sector pay rises will start in 2017. We are already told that at least a third of private sector companies are envisaging pay rises this year. So even from within the orthodoxy that doesn’t seem to be so unreasonable (and tellingly IBEC’s chief economist didn’t directly attack the idea but instead deflected to musing about public sector pensions). But be that as it may, what of this?

The analysis said that public servants had a slightly longer life expectancy than other workers. It predicted that female public servants currently aged 60 would live to the age of 90, while male public servants at this age would live to 85.

I’ve a few theories about that, and it would be useful to see the longevity of those in large scale private enterprises. I suspect that in contexts where there are clearly defined roles and accountable structures it may be that a certain degree of stress – whatever the nature of the workload -may be removed.

Consultants deliver report recommending ‘more commercial’ colleges… April 9, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Third Level Education.

Who’d have guessed?

Third-level institutions need to adopt a “more commercial approach” if they are to survive, according to a major review of the financial health of higher education.

The study by consultants Grant Thornton argues for the outsourcing of “non-core” campus functions and a more aggressive policy of seeking donations from alumni to help balance the books.

Austerity in perpetuity? April 8, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

An excellent reminder from, of all places, the SBP that far from all the talk of recovery matters will proceed much as they have to date.

Government departments will shortly be asked to produce a list of spending cuts, as the coalition begins preparations for the October budget.
The cabinet was shown a memorandum at its meeting last week which required ministers to begin the process of identifying further cuts, but was withdrawn after discussion, and all copies of the document were collected.

And it notes that:

While a new programme of spending cuts is unlikely to be as severe as previous rounds, the government will restate its target to raise Ђ2 billion through new cuts and taxes in the budget when it publishes its Stability Programme Update in the coming weeks The Stability Programme Update (SPU) is required to be published as part of the government’s European obligations. Sources confirmed last week that the Ђ2 billion budget target would be maintained in the SPU, drafts of which are in preparation.

Moreover it also notes that the chatter about ‘tax cuts’ feeds into all this. And it quotes one sources as arguing that ‘the budget will have to include some sort of relief for middle-income families’.

It’s interesting, is it not, that given services are being cut yet further after sustained years of cuts it remains the middle-income bracket which is regarded as being of considerable importance. Interesting too to consider what would the results be of a similar exercise in the Republic to this from the centre right think tank, the Social Market Foundation, on the squeezed middle concept which suggests things perhaps not quite as cut and dried as the media usually presents them. That may be correct, incorrect or anywhere in between, but some data would be useful.

As regards the central point the SBP addresses, the idea of tax cuts – even putting aside all else -seems bizarre in the extreme. But then so does the apparent fact that there’s a mini-property bubble in Dublin. Perhaps it is the sense that even by their own lights there’s no real adherence to the approaches we’re told are the only way forward, and that given even the slightest wriggle room they’ll be taken advantage of.

Socialist Voice from the CPOI April 5, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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SV 112 April 2014 WEB

This can be downloaded or viewed online here.

Legal attack on SIPTU is a warning to unions [NOM]
At the same time, capitalist shock-troops are using different negotiating tactics: force and intimidation. On the one hand, employers’ organisations have been leaking stories about pay increases; however, they want the “pay increases” to come from a reduction in tax. In other words, everyone finances pay increases for employers, so they increase their profits, and there is a further reduction in public services.

Irish trade unions: A rump clinging to the coat-tails of a future “partnership”? [NC]
Recent media reports suggest that, with a supposed “recovery” on the horizon, employers and unions are increasingly making noises about a return to some sort of partnership structure. The leadership of the unions, most notably Jack O’Connor and Shay Cody, have raised the idea of reconstituting some type of formal Employer-Labour Conference.

US terrorism condemned [BO]
The offices of the Law Society in Chancery Lane, London, were the venue for the International Commission of Inquiry into the Case of the Cuban Five; but the British government sought to scupper the event before it even began.

Beyond the media-friendly soundbites [PD]
On the 19th and 20th of December last the European Council met; and to anyone who thinks that the EU is a benign body of people seeking to ease travel for all its citizens, and various other media-friendly soundbites, you are wrong—very wrong.

Trade in the euro area, 2010–2015 [KC]

There was a major increase in the annual surpluses of the surplus countries between 2000 and 2009 and between 2010 and 2015, as can be seen in table 1. The mean for the countries was up from 4.2 to 6.8 per cent.

“Industrial civilisation headed for collapse” [EON]
Did anyone read about the study partly funded by NASA that says “industrial civilisation is headed for irreversible collapse”? It was reported in the Guardian (London) in March.*

TEEU strategic action rolls on!
Following the threatened national dispute in the electrical contracting industry that prevented, once again, an attempt to cut the wages of electricians, the Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union has employed significant resources to sustain the terms of the National Collective Agreement, formally registered with the Labour Court.

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie [TMK]
Enda Kenny has lost control of his government, and of his party, and now even his own position may be in question. The wretched man is thrashing around in despair as his government lurches aimlessly from one mishap to another.

Political statement
At its recent meeting the National Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Ireland discussed the political and economic situation throughout the country.

Psalm 5 (a paraphrase) [Ernesto Cardenal]
Give ear to my words, O Lord
Hearken unto my moaning
Pay heed to my protest

Liberal imperialism: The freedom to plunder [NL]

“What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values. We can already discern its outline: an imperialism which, like all imperialism, aims to bring order and organisation but which rests today on the voluntary principle.”

Shakespeare at 450: An undiminished message [JF]
This month we celebrate the 450th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare. When Shakespeare wrote his great tragedies—yes, the ones studied at school, year in, year out—he had a very great and grave concern at heart.

Are you going to the pictures? [RCN]
Missing from many left-wing critiques of transnational corporations is the part played by cinema. We read daily about the depredations of the oil, financial and media giants. In Towards a Third Cinema by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino the cinema is described as “the most valuable tool of communication of our times.”

Housing in the UK April 4, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy.

Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor in Geography at the University of Oxford (whose book ‘All is Solid:The Great Housing Disaster’ is about UK housing) was on the always interesting Little Atoms podcast this week. He’s specialised in property and his analysis of the UK situation (a situation with similarities to our own) is well worth listening to. Not least for the following where he notes that far from learning from previous housing bubbles and crashes;

The government has encouraged banks and building societies to lend even more money than they’re prepared to lend they’e introduced this help to buy scheme funding banks and building societies to lend to people they otherwise wouldn’t lend to. And this has taken house prices way way up above the 2007 peak.

And as he also notes:

At the same time there is no appetite amongst policy makers for looking at the rest of housing for worrying very much about what happens about everybody who cannot buy…

…so we’ve seen a bonanza for private landlords, they’ve bought an enormous amount of property since 2008 and making a lot of money, people are now spending more, at least more than any generation in their family apart from say their great or great great grandparents on housing. And they’re starting to complain and worry about it but they’re not joining the dots and seeing that most people are going to do very badly out of this because you can’t all become very rich.


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