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Unpaid overtime… July 22, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy.
15 comments

Interesting survey from the Guardian earlier in the month on managers and unpaid overtime. But managers tend to be in a somewhat more favourable position than most workers.

One comment really struck home:

In my previous job (fairly basic admin), I was called into see my line manager. She expressed concern about my commitment to the job because I was “coming in on time, leaving on time and taking my full lunch-break”. I was contracted and paid (not a brilliant salary) for a 37 hour week, yet was expected to put in extra hours for free. I resisted, for many reasons, including the fact that I was already working another part-time job (as my main job’s salary didn’t pay me enough to live on). I was then bullied by the line manager and the resulting stress caused me to resign. Since returning to employment six years ago, I’ve witnessed a gradual erosion of breaks and holidays – disappearance of short morning/afternoon breaks, pressure to work over lunch break, pressure to come in early/leave late, pressure not to take annual leave entitlement and pressure to work outside of work hours. All this for no corresponding increase in salary. It’s really hard to resist this pressure, but I think it’s vital to do so wherever possible, for the sake of your health, sanity and well-being.

I’ve seen similar trends across the last twenty four years of working the private sector and on contract in the public sector. It’s all cobblers really. In most contexts overtime is a function of poor organisation, management and logistic – and in areas where time contingency is an issue then leave in lieu (and paid overtime) should be the norm.

Have people seen similar?

City States July 22, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
7 comments

This piece on Slate from earlier in the Summer answered a question I’d long had as to why city states didn’t really survive into the modern era. It’s a curious one because in numbers they persisted into the 18th century (and perhaps arguably a little bit longer if one considers fairly unique cases like Danzig). And Singapore is sort of in that category.

But consider this:

Autonomous cities took off in Europe at a time in history when rule of law and political authority were weak. Wealthy merchants in a city would band together both to fund their common security and to enforce property rights when larger governments couldn’t.

And:

what went wrong? Often, these cities evolved political systems that gave wealthy merchants direct control over governance, and they used that power to make life miserable for the competition. 
“The big drawback is that once a group of people are running their own affairs, they’re also looking out for their own interests,” he says. “So they start setting up barriers to outsiders coming in and all these restrictions on others engaging in commerce within the city limits.”

It’s a sort of riposte to all that right libertarian stuff about removing the state and all will be well. Truth is that state like structures with the same vices, or worse – much worse, manifest themselves.

And…

As oligarchies closed to outside commerce, the European cities began to slowly decline. Their closest successors today might be autonomous Asian cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, which share their economic dynamism as well as some of their troubling cronyism.

Actually, remember a couple of years back when Singapore was held up by some as an example of the sort of state Ireland could ‘reform’ itself into.

Blaming the bureaucracy… because… July 17, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
3 comments

Back Room in the SBP argues that the arrival of Derek Moran as secretary-general of the Department of Finance suggests that the ‘civil service mandarins [have] finally got their man in Finance’. Back Room points to the fact that:

…as a senior civil servant, Derek Moran did receive such warnings [that government Ministers economic policies in the 2000s risked calamity] from mid-ranking civil servant Marie Mackle.
Her warnings, like those of her colleague Robert Pye, were essentially ignored. She was told by Moran not to bother repeating them. And last week, Moran got the top job at the Department of Finance.

The conclusion being that Back Room draws from this that it is ‘business as usual’ and ’nothing has really changed after Ireland’s economic unravelling over the last decade’. And Back Room later argues that – for example – policing reform will ‘only further embed the power of institutional interests at the expense of democratic accountability’.

S/he continues:

This may please those in our universities, trades unions and retired media grandees (quango-class Ireland) who can look forward to a steady stream of appointments. But it hardly furthers the cause of good government.
Critically, however, it further entrenches the oligarchical elements that run our state and diminishes the prospect of them being disturbed by ministers who must ultimately answer to the people.

So there you have the analysis, presumably those oligarchical elements are who? Well, it’s not entirely clear, but Back Room mentions ‘key insiders such as barristers, medical consultants and senior civil servants’, so perhaps that’s in addition to the trade unions, universities, etc.

But that’s perhaps the wrong lesson to take from this, not least because political/ideological approaches ruled process. The Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat governments were wedded to low and no regulation (see financial regulation, mentioned here in the last few weeks) as a policy and ideological approach. Similarly with low personal taxation. And that attitude was shared more widely, not merely with FG but also a Labour Party that in 2007 was willing to attempt to undercut FF/PD on the issue at the election of that year.

In other words while there might have been entrenched opinions within the civil service, but those opinions didn’t form from nowhere. To have kicked against them, and all credit to those who did, was to kick against an orthodoxy. A grievously complacent economic orthodoxy at that. And let’s not forget that this was a complacency and an orthodoxy that stretched into international institutions in their view of Ireland during the period.

Which is not to say that those who were concerned weren’t correct to raise their fears, but it is to misread the balance of forces to suggest that somehow the problem was a civil service that wouldn’t raise concerns. That might have been the case in small part, but it seems to me that the situation was actually worse than that, that the strength of that orthodoxy meant that only a small number actually contested it. And to contest it meant not just disputing attitudes within the Department of Finance, but the Minister, the Cabinet the government more broadly, FIanna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, the main opposition parties of the time, international institutions and bodies, the Irish media and so on.

Again, that merely underscores the courage of those willing to raise warning flags, but it also demonstrates the nature and scale of the task they faced.

And while it is indeed correct that civil servants should raise questions, one wonders – given the nature of how power is exercised in this particular democracy, what weight will be given to them. In essence it remains the elected representatives of the citizens of the Republic who determine policy and make decisions based on that. Civil servants can, and should, feed into that, but they don’t have a veto (at least not as such in that context), and consequently it seems curious to place so much emphasis upon them. They don’t exist in a vacuum, isolate from all else around them. If there’s an orthodoxy, chances are they’ll reflect that to some degree.

That’s the problem with orthodoxy. Back Room seems to believe that simultaneously the civil servants are both the problem and cure. I’m not sure that that is the case or can be in the contexts we are examining.

Wage increases… July 15, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
3 comments

According to the SBP this weekend the ‘retail sector is starting to emerge from the recession’ and how there’s now pay rises across that area of the economy. Low enough, all things considered – and particularly given, as in the case of Dunnes, wage freezes across the last six years. There the company has given a 3% wage increase (on foot of an earlier increase some while back).

It seems fairly clear that there is economic progress of sorts. How much all these increases will be simply absorbed by more expensive costs, including the raft of charges imposed during that six years, is an open question.

And here’s something you don’t read every day:

This pay pattern follows similar rises in many multinational pharma and manufacturing firms since 2012. In some cases, apart from the public sector, pay cuts have now been fully reversed, though smaller indigenous firms have been slower to either concede or offer real wage increases to match inflation.

All this serves to function on multiple levels. Economic pressures, the manner in which they feed into broader economic dynamics. Political pressures, too.
And against it is a backdrop of state provision which has been radically and grievously cut since the mid-2000s (and that in spite of demographic and other effects that require the opposite).

More on the waste industry… July 14, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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It’s good to finally – finally − see the media take an interest in the waste industry, and in particular Greyhound. Let me say, too, a good word for Shane Ross TD who has examined this subject before and to some effect.

The piece in the Irish Times is educative for those unaware of the nature of the industry and some of what has taken place. But be that as it may, there are some small elements in the mix that deserve examination…for example, look at the working conditions…

Workers work five shifts a week, from 7am to 4.45pm, with two 15-minute breaks, he said.

I think that that is an unconscionable level of break for workers in a physically testing work environment. That alone should have the alarm bells of anyone who claims to care about workers rights ringing.

As to the rest, no surprise and good to see it getting a public airing. In the IT some while ago one person in comments suggested that workers in areas of local government or those that had been part of local government didn’t deserve more than the minimum wage. Wrong. But that attitude prevails.

Free time and paid holidays in the US… July 13, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy.
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…and what about this (which I think I’ve linked to previously), a campaign in the US for paid vacations.

Check this small stat out:

More than 55 million Americans don’t get paid vacation.

And here’s an interesting and educative info graphic. Shorter_Workweek_Infographics_Small-04

Of course the situation here, and more broadly in Europe, is different – though I’ve worked in companies where holidays were restricted to July/August, or where it was expected that aspects of work would be looked at during them (and indeed during free-time/week-ends, more generally. But what is most striking to me is the sense from the stats above that both employers and employees almost expect their personal time to be work time.

Let’s talk about Australian politics… July 11, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Australian Politics, Economy.
5 comments

…I occasionally listen to Australian political podcasts, in part because the political context there is so similar in some ways and so different in others to our own. But this one here from ABC Radio’s Background Briefing is well worth a listen as to how business interests (and religious one’s too) operate in the context of ‘business-friendly’ governments to remove regulation. In this instance the charity watchdog, the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission.

It’s actually astounding listening, and you can read a transcript here too, but simply put the newish right wing Abbott government in its bid to ‘cut red tape’ has decided to abolish the one and a half year old organisation.

And as the reporter, Sarah Dingle, notes:

It’s not just corporate trustees who are opposed to a charity watchdog, some major church bodies are too, including Catholic health and Catholic education.
If the charities watchdog is dismantled, this $55 billion not-for-profit sector will be left to its own devices. That’s a problem. It’s been estimated the sector receives tax concessions of around $8 billion a year. And Commissioner Susan Pascoe is concerned that not all of them are entitled to it.

Legal and tax expert Professor Ann O’Connell noted:

It appears that there are powerful lobby groups who have influenced the minister’s position and that they are the ones who are really driving this. I think the advantage of having a body like the ACNC is that it shines a light on organisations that until now have not had to justify the fact that they are charities and that they are entitled to the concessions.

And amazingly before the advent of the ACNC…

…there was no requirement for charities to make full publicly available financial reports. Because of these new requirements, the Abbott government is determined to axe the ACNC.

And:

It might come as a surprise, but before the charities watchdog, charities and not-for-profits didn’t even have to file a tax return.

Indeed:

The charities watchdog realised it didn’t know if all registered charities even existed. As a result, the ACNC started a major project it’s called ‘proof of life’. After inheriting data on charities and not-for-profits from the Tax Office, the ACNC is now trying to verify it.

And as to tax deductible status?

…in excess of 5,000 charities, they’re not responding to the (ACNC), they still have tax deductable status, they may not be doing any charitable work at all. Is it of concern that they’re still eligible for tax deductions?
That means Australia has a $55 billion not-for-profit sector, enjoying unknown billions of tax concessions, and no one knows whether they’re even entitled to it.

The government Minister in charge of abolition, Kevin Andrews (Minister for Social Services) is remarkably sanguine about all this…

I presume if they’re in that situation (may no longer be carrying out a charitable function or even exist) they’re already in breach of some of the taxation legislation, so the Tax Office can move against them.

But as Dingle notes:

The Tax Office is going to find that hard. This year’s Budget saw savage cuts of more than 2,000 staff. The Abbott government is waging war on what it calls bureaucracy and red tape.

Now all of this is fascinating in a grim sort of a way. Andrews is fond of rhetoric about doing away with ‘red tape’ and so on… but it shows how much cover such language, indeed such ideas can offer for those determined to strip away oversight, and let’s not forget how in this state our financial regulator wasn’t even defanged, so much as established without incisors of any sort in the first place.

And who is its ally in this?

It says that includes the charity watchdog ACNC, and the voice of Catholic leadership—the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference—agrees.

You bet! And why would that be then? Because of that previously mentioned ‘ Catholic health and Catholic education’. By the way, to its credit St. Vincent de Paul Society ‘openly supports’ the regulator.

There’s more, and it’s well worth reading, not least the small fact that surveys of the charity sector demonstrate overwhelming support of the ACNC, something the Minister flat out denies is the case, despite another fact that of 150 submissions on the issue of abolition only 10 supported it.

But I think the lessons from this can be drawn more broadly. The deregulatory project is part and parcel of an approach which seeks to wrest not merely agency from the state (and any residual degree of it fulfilling alternative economic roles) but also actual oversight. Of course leftists want a lot more than regulation, or at least we should. But important to note how and where certain battles are taking place over the shape of future dispensations…

And apparently there are also noises from within government parties to remove the charitable status of a range of organisations. And who would those be? Well… read on.

What a waste… July 10, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, Uncategorized.
17 comments

I’m not a big fan of Fintan O’Toole (and his comments on comments are irritating), but his column on waste collection and Greyhound in particular isn’t too far of the mark. As he notes, no one every consulted him, or me, or you, about pushing waste collection to the private sector, and now that it is in the private sector as ‘customers’ we have no purchase at all on what the company, and its like, do whatsoever. But beyond even the fact a service which was not just good, but more importantly essentially invisible because it was good, has worsened appreciably, his point that we have been forced unwillingly and with no choice to collude in worsening the conditions of those working in Greyhound. Of course our collusion in their impoverishment is actually a collusion in our impoverishment too further down the line. By the way this piece here by Shane Ross from a few years back is well worth reading…

Reading in the SBP about the current dispute in Greyhound it is difficult not to come away with a sense of the futility of privatising these ‘services’ in the first place.

Greyhound claims that its new lower wage rates are still slightly better than those paid by rival companies. Cost has become a major factor in the competitive world of privatised refuse collection.

It’s an entirely artificial competition. There aren’t fleets of bin trucks from competing providers filling our streets, at least not in the north inner city, and it wouldn’t be a good thing if there were either. The competition, such as it is, is more drawn out and across a longer time period and in such a way that cost benefits (from the perspective of consumers) are minimal.

Some good reports from Monday’s protest both in terms of turn-out and the rhetoric coming from SIPTU. Let’s hope that latter will be matched by support and action.

There’s also the thought that it may all be pointless in a broader sense. Anna Karpf in the Guardian at the weekend noted the following:

Hilary Wainwright, in a powerful new booklet – The Tragedy of the Private, the Potential of the Public – describes water, health and education as “the commons” – an excellent term. What’s remarkable, and hitherto fairly undocumented, is how all over the world a quiet process of remunicipalisation is taking place. Wainwright gives examples from Newcastle to Norway. In the UK, she found over half of 140 local councils bringing services back from the private sector. In Germany, by 2011 the majority of energy distribution networks had returned to public ownership. Even in the US, a fifth of all previously outsourced services have been brought back in-house.

It’s also not difficult to understand why, when ‘privatisation’ has generated faux-markets, we have seen an attrition in service provision, impacted negatively on consumers and workers. Nor is it a simple return to business as usual models of ownership. Karpf also notes that …

….new social forms of ownership are emerging in which public utilities are run by coalitions of workers and service users. Theirs isn’t just a defence of public services but an attempt to democratise them so they are not the top-down bureaucracies of old or simply job-saving strategies (important though these may be). They become what Wainwright calls “new forms of collectivity” – unions and public managing common resources together for shared benefit.

Of course there are dangers in that too, as in any human effort, but compare and contrast with what we face with respect of one of the most basic and yet important of services in our daily lives. Those sort of genuine reforms which place workers – both as workers and as users of services – at the heart of communal endeavours are a world away from what has actually happened.

Depressed about the future? Want to feel more depressed? July 9, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, International Politics.
2 comments

Paul Mason, Economics Editor of Channel 4 News, has a piece in the Guardian which looks at the OECD predictions for the world economy until 2060 and essentially makes mince-meat of them, pointing to intrinsic flaws, and worse still to how even under their sunniest projections the situation globally is going to get worse.

And to be honest the OECD isn’t that chipper about all this either. Growth will slow, inequality will increase massively and then there’s climate change. But… the good news is that the world ‘will be four times richer, more productive, more globalised and more highly educated’.

As Mason notes, those two projections are hard to square, at least on the level of hoping for a decent standard of living for most people on the planet. And that’s where it gets really, well, ugly.
How ugly? Check this out:

World growth will slow to 2.7%, says the Paris-based thinktank, because the catch-up effects boosting growth in the developing world – population growth, education, urbanisation – will peter out. Even before that happens, near-stagnation in advanced economies means a long-term global average over the next 50 years of just 3% growth, which is low. The growth of high-skilled jobs and the automation of medium-skilled jobs means, on the central projection, that inequality will rise by 30%. By 2060 countries such as Sweden will have levels of inequality currently seen in the USA: think Gary, Indiana, in the suburbs of Stockholm.

And Mason notes that the report makes a number of assumptions that may or may not prove to be correct – for example that IT will increase productivity. Could be true, but not a given, and even the OECD is a bit sheepish, he quotes it as noting that that would be ‘high compared with recent history’.

Did I mention migration? Ah, yes.

To make the central scenario work, Europe and the USA each have to absorb 50 million migrants between now and 2060, with the rest of the developed world absorbing another 30 million. Without that, the workforce and the tax base shrinks so badly that states go bust.

Remember, this is the OECD. It’s not actually factoring in, for it doesn’t have to, the political aspects of all this and whether they are doable – whatever the rights and wrongs.

The main risk the OECD models is that developing countries improve so fast that people stop migrating. The more obvious risk – as signalled by a 27% vote for the Front National in France and the riotous crowds haranguing migrants on the California border – is that developed-world populations will not accept it. That, however, is not considered.

And let’s look at 2060. It’s not pretty, though given that I’ll be 95 then I’ve never had any great expectations one way or another. But I kind of like humans and like most of us here I don’t think that the way things are currently arranged is necessarily the way things have to be in perpetuity… but, in 2060…

…imagine the world of the central scenario: Los Angeles and Detroit look like Manila – abject slums alongside guarded skyscrapers; the UK workforce is a mixture of old white people and newly arrived young migrants; the middle-income job has all but disappeared. If born in 2014, then by 2060 you are either a 45-year-old barrister or a 45-year-old barista. There will be not much in-between. Capitalism will be in its fourth decade of stagnation and then – if we’ve done nothing about carbon emissions – the really serious impacts of climate change are starting to kick in.

If you read or listen to anything contemporary in economic thinking this gap between jobs is a growing concern to a broad range of economists from various political positions – almost as much as the increasing levels of inequality. Not that the Irish media would bother its little head with such matters. There’s a lot of ideas floating around, some of which sound almost faux-Marxist.
As to the OECD, Mason notes that…

The OECD’s prescription – more globalisation, more privatisation, more austerity, more migration and a wealth tax if you can pull it off – will carry weight.

None of which seems like a solution in any meaningful way. Anything but. As he also notes:
But not with everybody. The ultimate lesson from the report is that, sooner or later, an alternative programme to “more of the same” will emerge. Because populations armed with smartphones, and an increased sense of their human rights, will not accept a future of high inequality and low growth.

As to the report itself, I’d strongly recommend people read it – the conclusions if the 68 pages available above appear too daunting. Check out pages 7 through 9 on the PDF for policies to ‘address inequality concerns and adjustment costs’. Even there there are so many evident problems… for example:

Adjust tax and welfare systems to increasing mobility of capital and labour, e.g. by
shifting taxation towards immovable factors (e.g. property and extraction of natural
resources) and reform employment regulations, benefit systems and activation policies to
support workers’ mobility and ensure better matching of skills to jobs. Such policies can
raise employment and thus lower income inequality, even though they may not help to
lower earning inequality.

And so much is current orthodoxy that it’s near risible – though is that a note of concern in relation to the end of the last point as to potential political instability and pushback?

In some cases, pro-growth policies may entail trade-offs relative to other policy objectives.
For example, if increased investment in tertiary education were to be solely financed with public
funds, public spending in OECD countries could increase by on average 1% of GDP by 2060. Given
already large fiscal challenges stemming from the crisis, rising fiscal pressures from ageing and
high cross-country mobility of the high-skilled, reforms to ensure that the beneficiaries of higher
education carry a larger share of the funding burden should be pursued.

• In other cases, trade-offs may be more deep seated. With growth increasingly driven by
knowledge and skills, growth in itself could keep generating rising tensions and inequalities. On
current trends, earning inequality in the average OECD country may have risen by more than
30% in 2060 and would then face almost the same level of inequality as is seen in the United
States today. Moreover, structural adjustment will continue, especially across firms within
sectors (e.g. from low to high productivity and from polluting to less polluting firms) and in
emerging economies, and the consequences for workers’ wellbeing will have to be managed. If
left unaddressed, such increases in inequality and costs of adjustment could eventually backlash
on stability and growth.

On a slight tangent, there’s one very major caveat in the OECD report. Right there on page 11 of the PDF (pp10) it notes issues that are not dealt with in the paper “Analyse policy settings and the specific challenges that non-OECD non-G20 countries face. In particular, developing economies are largely outside the scope of this paper, in spite of their potential for strong growth and the significant policy challenges they face”.

That alone must give pause for thought because of the potential for any number of random effects they may have on the broader global context, from migration issues, impacts on climate change policy, local and regional warfare (up to and including thermonuclear), etc.

IBEC and ‘ending austerity’ July 8, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
2 comments

The report in yesterday’s Irish Times that IBEC calls upon the government to ‘end austerity’ is entertaining. Not just for its Joan Burtonesque rhetoric about reducing taxes (consumer taxes though – and a figure of €100m), doing away with the pension levy and yet more supports for SME’s, but also for the idea that that would ‘end austerity’.

That ignores the fact that austerity wasn’t something that wafted in on the last budget but is now a six, or is it seven, year long process that has straddled two governments. That – as noted only the week before last, local government funding has dropped 40% in that time, and with very significant cutbacks across all government expenditure during the same period.

In other words austerity is now, in effect, the actual system, that it permeates everything and will for years, perhaps decades to come. And all this before we factor in eurozone economic restrictions.
There’s far too many voices out there from what passes as the ‘centre’ and the right suggesting the war is over. Pushing back against what has been removed alone is the task of years for the left, let alone pushing beyond that. Telling that that inconvenient truth hasn’t been in any serious way the content of the Labour leadership contest.

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