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Sick kids and sick workers… October 23, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy.
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There’s a report here from the Guardian about guidelines in Wales for parents of children about when they should send their children to school or not.
But it goes well beyond the issue of children and sickness. Let’s quote the geniuses who decided a blanket proscription in relation to the following:

A health guide, Miss School, Miss Out, approved by Public Health Wales, gives parents a table that lists illnesses alongside recommended time off.
For conjunctivitis, glandular fever and tonsillitis, the recommended time off school is – surprisingly – none. For chickenpox, it is five days from the start of the rash, and for shingles the advice is “keep home only if rash is weeping and cannot be covered” (although it suggests your child stays away from vulnerable children and pregnant women). If your child has head lice or threadworm, they should go to school.

I’ve had some of those as an adult, others as a child and the severity of same was such that I’d be very leery about not taking bed rest both for my sake and arguably as importantly that of others I would work or have studied with. But the giveaway line is, I think, this…

The guide asks parents to think about whether they would take a day off work if they had the same condition. It also asks if the child has a condition that can be passed on to other children (the answer in the case of most childhood illnesses being yes). If the answer to either question is yes, the guidance is to ring a national helpline for advice (0845 46 47 in Wales; 111 in England and Scotland), or visit a GP.

Most of us would apply precisely the same approach in relation to health in work or out of it. Bottom line is whether one is ill, not whether one is second guessing bosses or whatever. Of course not all work places are equal. I once heard a bunch of self described ‘socialists’ arguing that sick days should be taken out of holidays, that was the culture in the company where one of them work, and a process of socialisation (as it were) had made that the norm, despite the sheer inequity of it. Other workplaces are more flexible.

But I think the Welsh example is fed from myths about the private sector (and attitudes to sickness within it) and an almost punitive attitude in regard to work…that it must be done whatever the cost. The sheer stupidity of that is obvious. Ironically the Mayo Clinic in the US has more enlightened guidelines, as for example in relation to conjunctivitis… “children should stay away until their eyes are no longer runny and gummed up”.

Children or anyone.

A government called hope? October 22, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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A fascinating insight into the thinking of the government is offered by Pat Rabbitte in his weekly column in the SBP. Noting that on the campaign trail in the constituency that dare not be named he was interrogated by people about the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council he notes that one very good question was put his way, why is it that when growth is 2% or 5% the IFAC’s advice is always the same, that is to further deepen expenditure cuts and so forth.

He’s sanguine about the Budget:

Therefore, in Budget 2015, I think the government has demonstrated sound judgment. To completely ignore the groundswell for some alleviation of the burden on ordinary people would not have been sustainable. No survey of attitudes, however scientific, compares to an election or a by-election. Allowing for our national talent for exaggeration, the bald truth is that a very great many families have taken as much as they can bear.
True, the alleviation is modest. And it is a strategy not without risk. But it will go some small way to reinstate hope that things are getting better.

There you have it, hope…

But to add to some straws in the wind we’ve already seen, some intriguing stuff here…

There still remain issues that will test the resolve of government. The construction of a refurbished network to conserve and supply quality water to households and businesses is one such challenge. The acute housing shortage, particularly in Dublin, is another challenge. It was critical that the budget would help create an improved environment that facilitates government delivering on such important issues. Up to now the government has been losing the public debate on both water and housing, and no government can surrender to the “don’t pay” water campaign and retain credibility.

And yet, and yet, Rabbitte knows as well as you or I that the government has – at most – fifteen or so months to go. No great task to push the water charge to the margins in one way or another and hand it over to their successor (less so, of course, for FG than the LP given that the former is more likely to be in government come what may). And this would, surely, only be an extension of the strategy that Rabbitte himself so wholeheartedly bought into in relation to election promises not that long back, would it not?

He’s yet another who seems to believe it is the structural composition of Irish Water that enrages citizens rather than the charges themselves. For example:

Everyone in government knew a new utility with a capacity to borrow off the state’s balance sheet could not be established without outside contractors. The experience in Britain bears this out. However, ever since these contractors were described by the company as “consultants” the government has been playing catch-up. Notwithstanding the asset created or the sophistication of the systems put in place or the number of jobs created, words like “consultants” and “bonus” are contaminated.

This is a remarkably expedient analysis, and I can’t help but think that it does the government and its cheerleaders no good at all. Indeed, it must make for quite some effort of will to misinterpret what is obvious to any of us outside Leinster House what the dynamic powering opposition to those charges actually is.
And what of those sixteen months?

Water aside, the conduct of budget making on this occasion augurs well for the longevity of this government. The tension that existed between the two parties in the previous three budgets was noticeably absent. On this occasion there was no solo or even competitive leaking. What emerged late in the day was clearly authorised. Previous criticism of the Economic Management Council has been replaced by a recognition of the inherent sagacity behind its creation. A year is a long time in politics, but the smart money now must be on this government bringing in another and better budget in October 2015.

That’s another oddity? Does Rabbitte think that longevity alone, i.e. more or less completing its full term is a mark of success? Hard not to believe that he does. And is this the slender strand of hope that the LP looks to to secure its fortunes? That a better budget in 2015 will do the trick for the subsequent, and all to soon to arrive election?

It would appear so. I’m always leery about projections into the future, but given the government has had an awful couple of weeks, that the support for the opposition in all its myriad forms has held constant across years now I wonder just how much this is the political equivalent of whistling past the graveyard?

This being Rabbitte there’s the customary lash against the opposition… the implicitly ‘non-serious’ opposition:

This would be more likely than not to benefit government, provide serious parliamentary opponents with a route to test their proposals and expose those interested in opposition only for the sake of opposition. It should be tried.

Well, we’ve seen a ‘serious’ party go into government and we’ve seen the outcome. The trashing of pre-election promises, the buckling – almost the welcoming – of the orthodoxy… small wonder that many many seek to place their trust in other quarters.

A small antidote to this is provided by, of all people – though not uncharacteristically – Cliff Taylor, now apparently writing in the Irish Times who suggests ‘another and better budget in October 2015’ is unlikely to be much cop…

The Government can’t buy the next general election. It hasn’t got the money. Though, of course, it still can’t help itself trying – just a bit anyway.
At best it might be able to afford to trim income tax next October by something similar to this year and add a bit more to spending.

Though his definition of ‘hike’ and mine are obviously a little different…

The budget was a strange mix between old-style populism and these new-era realities. The hike in child benefit and the tax relief on water charges harked back to earlier times. The troika – opponents of universal benefits such as child benefit and supporters of the water charge – won’t like either of these. And they are right.

And what of the actual impact of the Budgetary measures?

In overall terms the ESRI analysis later in the week told the story. When you counted in water charges the overall impact on people’s incomes was small, between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent at most. The message that the days of big cutbacks are over may affect people’s psychology but the extra cash in our pockets won’t go too far.


May, being the operative word in the above sentence. And here’s another thought:

The budget itself involved a €1 billion spend, but when you subtract the water charges bill and other costs such as university fees the net boost was only a few hundred million.

And I’d tend to agree with his closing thought:

As demands grow on the Government in the year ahead – for higher pay, more spending on services, more tax cuts and so on – this is what Ministers need to remember. The Government can’t buy the next election. So why even try?

Oh, but they’ll try to make it seem like a giveaway in twelve months time. For all the good it does them.

The end of austerity and the reception the Budget was given… October 21, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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Pat Leahy and Michael Brennan, again in a long piece on the Budget in the SBP, note one basic point – for all the talk about the ‘end of austerity’ (a nonsense given that expenditure cuts aren’t being made up) and a ‘give-away’ budget, there’s this:

The picture wasn’t all rosy. Even before the budget was announced, government backbenchers knew what the opposition’s attack would be.
“They will say that all the tax cuts are being taken away in water charges,” said one Fine Gael TD.
And they did. Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and independents all highlighted the impact of water charges on voters’ pockets. They had to, because nothing in the budget seemed to be upsetting voters. Fine Gael and Labour TDs reported that the phones in their offices were eerily silent after budget day, with no deluge of emails either. One Fine Gael TD said there had been no reaction at all compared to the “venom” after the previous three budgets. A Labour TD also noted the difference, recalling how one voter shouted, “Shame on you” at him outside the local school, on the day after the respite care grant cut in Budget 2013. They all have similar tales.

I’ve heard similar tales of a quiet response to the Budget.

I think FG and LP would be making a very very serious error to believe that that indicates acceptance, as distinct from quiescence. And that’s no minor distinction. Hitherto we have seen how political anger has been manifested at the polling booth. That anger remains, as the proximate cases remain. Those water charges aren’t going away. Far from it. Nor is the cumulative effect of year after year of expenditure cutting budgets. And the marginal changes in taxation rates are indeed ‘taken away in water charges’.

The end of the age of austerity and the end of the left-wing independents and SF? They wish. October 21, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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Pat Leahy and Michael Brennan, again writing in the SBP have the following provocative little suggestion:

The truth is that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin were horrified by the budget – just as Fine Gael and Labour used to be horrified by the Fianna Fáil giveaway budgets of the Showtime era.

And this as well…

Higgins had been an isolated figure on the backbenches after Clare Daly quit the party two years ago. But he is now flanked by Murphy and by Coppinger, who won the Dublin West by-election in May.
What about the prospects of getting Daly back? Murphy said he would like to see a new movement of the left. “It could be a broad party which encompasses different strands of the left, which includes potentially the likes of Clare Daly or Joan Collins or Richard Boyd Barrett,” he said.
We’ll see. If the age of austerity is over, then the age of anti-austerity – so politically profitable for Sinn Féin and the left-wing independents – might also be over.

Hmmm… Cliff Taylor had some thoughts on this in the Irish Times this week. More on that in the next day or so…

But Elaine Byrne in the same edition of the SBP writing about the lack of appetite for reform at this point, as against earlier in the life of the government, had this thought:

The rejection of the Oireachtas inquiries and Seanad referendums was a message in neon lights that the electorate did not trust this government with more power. The anti-establishment shift in voting patterns was corroborated in the recent by-elections.
The combined Fine Gael-Labour vote fell by 46.8 per cent in Dublin South-West and 25 per cent in Roscommon-South Leitrim when compared to their 2011 vote. The local elections saw Fine Gael’s vote drop by 12 per cent and Labour plummeting to a third of the vote it achieved in the 2011 general election. The Sunday Business Post/Red C Poll for September revealed that coalition support is down almost 20 points from the inauguration of the democratic revolution.

The next poll will be useful to assess the impact, if any, of the Budget, but with those water charges still in train it would require quite some degree of optimism to think things are changing substantially on foot of it.

Smart-alecky… October 20, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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…this colour piece here by from the Irish Times really captures the tone of some of Leader’s Questions in the Dáil over the last week or two between Joan Burton and others, including Mary Lou McDonald. I think this last in relation to some of the back and forth over the water charges is spot on:

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald produced a copy of a letter Wicklow County Council sent to households on its rental accommodation scheme telling tenants that a failure to pay their water charges could result in their eviction.

And:

Joan, however, jumped right in.
She said Wicklow County Council was controlled by the Opposition. Warming to her theme, the Tánaiste suggested that when Mary Lou got time in her busy schedule “you might pick up the telephone and make a call to your own public representatives” and have a conversation with the management.
“I am shocked that they would permit a letter to issue like that,” she added.
“It’s a management issue,” shouted Sinn Féin’s Dessie Ellis. “They don’t have influence.”

And:

Funnily enough outside the Dáil Joan later clarified that she had asked her officials to contact Wicklow County Council to verify the facts of the letter.
In the Dáil bearpit she may have scored points against Sinn Féin but as to scoring votes … that’s another matter entirely.

Flat screen tv’s and smart phones… October 20, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy.
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The Now Show on BBC Radio is probably an acquired taste, but this I liked from a recent enough show.

The papers still talk about people having a ‘flat-screen tv’ as if it’s a thing of unimaginable opulence found only in the pads of millionaires whereas in fact it’s actually been impossible to buy anything except a flat scree tv for at least five years…

True that. And not a million miles from these shores someone made a similarly uninformed crack about mobiles… didn’t they?

Water charge protest in Clonmel today October 18, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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Clonmel Demo 2

Thanks to Paddy Healy for this…

A huge day in Clonmel today .A day when ordinary citizens,communities got together to say No to Water Charges. A day when the left stuck together.The WUA,Éirigí,SF,PBP,’Clonmel Says No’ stood shoulder to shoulder with South Tipp and West Waterford’s citizens. This is above politics. This is people power at its best!-Organisers

Attached: Photograph of Clonmel/Dungarvan Protest for the abolition of Water Charges at Mainguard Clonmel to-day

Clickhere for further details and
Blog.

Click Here for Photograph Siobhan Healy’s post.
Workers and Unemployed Action’s post.
Paddy Healy

Amazon – the global digital East India company. October 17, 2014

Posted by guestposter in Culture, Economy, European Politics, The Left.
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Many thanks to Gewerkschaftler for this post…

My trades union is engaged in a long term fight against Amazon for half-way tolerable pay and working conditions in its distribution centres in Germany. Basic stuff like trades union representation or even a works council, reasonable breaks, being paid for the time spent while standing in line for security checks. Compliance with local labour law. Some degree of respect for workers from the management. etc.

We are trying to extend this fight internationally and have had some initial success.

But it would help all those who are not uncritical admirers of totalitarian hyper-capitalism knew a thing or two about Amazon’s business strategy and role in the great cancer. Mathew Stoller’s piece here has a good brief survey of just how and why this electronic trading monopolist has become so powerful.

Firstly this isn’t an electronic retailer any more. Bezos’ ambitions are much wider – he is constructing a monopolist trading empire – something like a global East India Company. Amazon itself says that it competes in the following sectors:

physical-world retailers, publishers, vendors, distributors, manufacturers, and producers of our products, other online e-commerce and mobile e-commerce sites, including sites that sell or distribute digital content, media companies, web portals, comparison shopping websites, and web search engines, either directly or in collaboration with other retailers, companies that provide e-commerce services, including website development, fulfillment, customer service, and payment processing, companies that provide information storage or computing services or products, including infrastructure and other web services, companies that design, manufacture, market, or sell consumer electronics, telecommunication, and electronic devices.

Amazon is hardly taxed because all it’s profits are plowed back into aggressive expansion and the accumulation of assets. In this sense it is doing what capitalist are supposed traditionally to do, namely invest – as opposed to the recently hegemonic financialisation of everything, everywhere, regardless of what the company actually sells.

Why does it dare to invest? Because Bezos is convinced of his monopoly power. Here are some of the monopolist strategies:

It is a capital-parasite – in other words uses the working capital of it’s ‘partners’. As the company puts it:

On average, our high inventory velocity means we generally collect from consumers before our payments to suppliers come due.

Or in plain English:

… if you are a supplier to Amazon, you not only sell the company goods at cut-rate prices, but you are also effectively required to make Amazon a 0% loan that turns over as long as you have a relationship with the company. Amazon is a cannibal, running itself on the working capital of other, small companies.

Amazon’s strategy of vertical and horizontal conglomeration and the power it brings is a negative sum game in terms of the surrounding capitalist networks of production and exchange.

It’s quite clear that Amazon is a deflationary force, pushing down wages, prices, tax revenues, and new non-Amazon business activity. It has deflated prices in book publishing, and retailers across the board are terrified that Amazon is in the process of ripping their guts out. The company is having a ripple effect across the economy. To the extent that deflation is a serious problem, which it is, Amazon is a villain. And this isn’t just ‘technological process’, it’s straight up market power over workers, suppliers, and even governments.

Even the benefits to consumers are balanced by a quasi-feudal, company-store relationship between them and the big A.

The one group that is treated with exceptional grace is consumers. They get low prices and great service. But this relationship is increasingly feudal, with low prices and great service as the benefits I get for surrendering my liberties to Jeff Bezos. I may get excellent prices on my Kindle, but I am now a renter of those books. I can’t lend them to my girlfriend any more, unless Amazon says I can. Amazon can take them away at any point. It knows every page I’ve read, everything I’ve highlighted, it knows what I might want to buy. It knows what I’ve watched on Amazon prime, where I’ve lived, what I buy on a regular basis, whether I’m price sensitive, an impulsive buyer, what I might be selling. Amazon knows, and at any point can exert power.

Stoller’s ‘solutions’ are of the ‘regulate this un-American monopoly and it will be fine’ order. Allow me a certain skepticism, given the recent history of regulating capitalism. But he at least stumbles on the realisation that economics is always politics.

The problem with Amazon is not fundamentally one of economics. I mean, yes, it’s destroying wealth, but this is a symptom of the real issue. Amazon is a cannibal. It eats other companies in ways large and small, it eats the time of its workers, and it eats our government through tax avoidance, all to create a cash generating machine. It sucks in investment in as much of the economy to serve its ends, much as Walmart did in the 1990s (a substantial amount of American productivity basically boiled down to Walmart getting more efficient). Amazon is a tyrant, it rules through terror, and left unencumbered, it will destroy swaths of the U.S. economy. Arguments for Amazon as pro-consumer essentially boil down to ‘well its use of economic terror is efficient’. And the British East India Trading company sold really cheap tea in 1775.

All Bezos needs now is a armed partner. But wait – isn’t Bezos a big drone-fetishist, like many of his techno-optimist peers?

Resistance is hard, but essential.

Allende and Chile… any good book recommendations? October 17, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, The Left.
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Every year I try to focus on a specific topic and read as widely as possible on it. I’m now on to Allende and Chile (with – believe it or not – some side reading on the Nixon administration). Any recommendations on books that are good on that period, particularly experience of the government, and the years leading up to the government?

Global wealth and inequality: Here’s a sobering thought… October 16, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy.
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According to the Credit Suisse global wealth report (pdf), a person needs just $3,650 – including the value of equity in their home – to be among the wealthiest half of world citizens. However, more than $77,000 is required to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders, and $798,000 to belong to the top 1%.

And:

“Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world’s wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets,” said the annual report, now in its fifth year.

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