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That ‘rate of inequality’… a social democrat writes. March 4, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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I was almost entertained by Pat Rabbitte’s sterling defence of Ireland as having a ‘rate of inequality below the average in the European Union’. Almost because it’s so self-serving on his part… It comes as part of a counter-critique to Eoin Ó Broin who wrote in the SBP the previous week about the topic. Rabbitte can’t resist a few digs at SF:

While Labour pins its hope on tackling inequality by getting as many people as possible back to work, Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin in this paper last Sunday sees inequality as a pathway to electoral advancement for Sinn Féin. The evidence suggests that Sinn Féin has done well from austerity.

Well, no more or less so, presumably than the LP did in advance of 2011 from its anti-troika stance (and just on that David McKittrick in Prospect Magazine on the rise of SF notes that it’s not its policies on the North that has gained it support but its broad anti-austerity approach. There’s a lesson there for that party). But of course one must immediately forget any such unpleasantness.

Anyhow, in order to rebut Ó Broin’s thoughts yet further he writes;

I agree with Ó Broin that “inequality is not an accident”, but a “direct consequence of policy choices”. But he conveniently overlooks that because of policy choices made by this government, Ireland is a more equal society than the average EU member state.
There are two ways of measuring inequality. The first is to look at the distribution of income generated by the market – in other words, the income people have before they are taxed or receive welfare payments. The second measure of inequality is what people have in disposable income after taxes and welfare transfers. Clearly the second measure is the truest test of how a country tackles inequality, because it shows the extent to which a country taxes those with wealth to redistribute it to those with none.

Which leads him to this:

In Ireland, the distribution of income generated by the market is quite unequal. But it is utterly transformed by the impact of the Irish tax and welfare system. After the impact of taxes and transfers is taken into account, the rate of inequality of disposable income in Ireland is below the average in the European Union.

Now on reading that the thought struck me that that’s all very fine but he’s talking about a state which lacks many of the props of other European states that have – for example, functioning health services or other broad social supports which impacts disproportionately on those on lower incomes, and on the disposable part of those lower incomes (Michael Taft points to France for evidence of same…). And funnily enough I’m not the only one to think that. Read TASC’s ‘Cherishing All Equally’, their report released a short while ago and they explicitly note that:

Lower taxes and higher disposable incomes do not necessarily make people better off, as a greater number of goods and services have to paid for as out-of-pocket costs rather than provided as public services. Unlike public services, the prices of private goods and services are rarely subsidised, which can make them more expensive. In addition, lower tax revenue for public services leads to a wide range of costs and fees being imposed in addition to taxation, such as GP fees, schoolbook costs, road tolls, waste charges and water charges. While there are arguments in favour of some charges (especially if kept to a low level), the overall system in Ireland is too heavily weighted in favour of fees and charges, which makes it regressive for people on low incomes who often cannot afford them. (pp78 TASC)

And moreover:

Although people on low to average income levels pay relatively less tax and social insurance than most of their European counterparts, the combination of fees for public services and the range of goods and services that have to be purchased privately takes a greater proportion of people’s disposable income. In many cases, this system takes all of people’s incomes without meeting all of their basic material needs. (pp78 TASC)

In other words Rabbitte is incorrect to focus on disposable income after tax as if that’s the final word in the discussion.

But then one has to have at least a part suspicion that he’s being, shall we say, economical with the facts on all that when one reads him immediately after the thoughts quoted above present us with the following trope:

In other words, there is less inequality in Ireland than in the average EU member state because of the policy choices taken by government to protect people against poverty. This reflects the impact of one of the most progressive income tax and social welfare systems in Europe.

How many times must it be pointed out that the progressive nature (in the technical sense of the term – something that other LP TDs on occasion haven’t actually seemed to understand is a technical term, not a value judgement) the income tax system is rendered much less so when placed in context with the entirely non-progressive (in a technical sense) nature of VAT etc. Indeed, speaking of other taxes as we were only a moment ago above, he could take a look at the new charges including the LPT (which has a nod towards progressive taxation, but only a nod) and the water charges which doesn’t in the slightest, and with no less an authority as Sean Barrett – and no friend of the left he – arguing that it is a de facto poll tax. Nor is the line about the supposed ‘most progressive income tax and social welfare system’ necessarily stand up even on its own terms. TASC again:

It is also important to note that Ireland’s high progressivity score (as measured by the OECD) is a result of having low taxes on low incomes rather than particularly high taxes on high incomes.
The OECD’s measurement of progressivity does not take account of many tax credits and reliefs available in Ireland (other than the basic personal credits) and, as such, they represent nominal and not real tax levels.

Oops. But he lingers not at all on any of the unpleasant implications of anything like that. Nor, indeed, do any of the LP cheerleaders sent out over the last week or so to tell us how marvellous the current government is and how we live in all but a utopia when it comes to tax and welfare which presumably could hardly be improved at all. Yet again I must remind myself that some of these folk were once Marxists. Or at least they said they were.

From there we’re into boilerplate complaints about Fianna Fáil’s iniquities and how the people- the bastards! – aren’t recognising Labour’s adherence to ‘increased social welfare spending’, indeed he explicitly mentions that ‘Of the cumulative €30 billion in budget adjustments since 2008, about €20 billion has been allocated to reducing the deficit, but almost €10 billion has been allocated to increased social welfare spending’. Very good, but how much of that was the inevitable outcome of greater expenditure required due to massive unemployment? We are not told.

And then there’s this:

What is not in dispute is that those measures, unpalatable as they may have been, worked. The employment figures are testament to the success of the government’s economic and jobs policies. The next election will be fought against a background of a strongly growing economy. But will the dividend come in time to benefit Labour?

I know, given the week that is in it there’s been a lot of stuff about the LP on here, but more and more the logic of what he and others say is such that one has to wonder what particular special element does he think that party brings to the table? Because at best he presents an apologia for a very mild softening of an FG approach. And at worst? Well, what’s the point? The sense of defeat, of a throwing up of the hands in the face of what are admittedly huge problems, or perhaps worse, a sense that they must be tolerated, even accepted, so that we must take unquestioningly the idea that Ireland is now such an epitome of social and equality policy that anything the hated Shinners might say to the contrary is simply mischief making, is surely signal of something that is almost detached from politics as most of us would understand the term?

Their masters voice… March 4, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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IBEC wants lower taxes in next Budget.

Whatever you say sir:

Recovery allows for income tax cuts, says Tánaiste

What you want to say – 4th March 2015 March 4, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free.

‘Margaret Thatcher and the BBC’s Irish Troubles': Irish Studies Seminar at NUI Galway, Thursday March 5th March 3, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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The next Irish Studies Seminar at NUI Galway will take place on Thursday 5 March when
Prof Robert Savage will present ‘Margaret Thatcher and the BBC’s Irish Troubles’. Margaret Thatcher was one of the most dominant yet divisive political figures in post-war Britain.

As Prime Minister she introduced massive cuts in public spending, challenged then crushed the powerful coal miners union, led a successful military campaign to win back the Falkland Islands and confronted the IRA during the 1981 Hunger Strikes.

Throughout her tenure as Prime Minister her relationship with the BBC was fractious and marred by seemingly endless controversy. Margaret Thatcher was determined to win the ‘propaganda war’ unfolding in Northern Ireland and was convinced the BBC was undermining her efforts to defeat terrorism by providing its supporters the ‘oxygen of publicity’.

As violence continued to bedevil the province she grew increasingly upset with her government’s inability to control the contested narrative of ‘the Troubles’. This lecture will consider how a number of broadcasting controversies led a frustrated Thatcher Government to introduce formal political censorship in 1988.

Robert Savage is Associate Professor of the Practice of History at Boston College. Manchester University Press will publish his new book, The BBC’s Irish Troubles: Television, Conflict and Northern Ireland in May. He is also the author of A Loss of Innocence? Television and Irish Society 1960-1972, (winner of the 2010 James S. Donnelly, Sr. Prize for Best Book in History and Social Sciences from the American Conference for Irish Studies), Sean Lemass: a biography (2014 and 1999), Irish Television: the Political and Social Origins (1996) and Ireland in the New Century, Politics, Identity and Culture (editor and contributing author, 2003).

The seminar will take place at 4.00pm in the seminar room at Martha Fox House, Distillery Rd and we look forward to seeing you all there.

Left wing government and taxes March 3, 2015

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

Missed this at the weekend, but the framing of this story in the Independent is telling isn’t it? This in the course of discussing Jack O’Connor’s hardly startling revelation that:

“If we had a left agenda, a left government in Ireland for the last four years, they might well be more unpopular than this one,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Because a left government would have increased taxation to sustain public services. They would have required the rich to pay more, but they would have required everybody else to pay a little bit more as well,” he added.

It might well, and there’s no getting away from it. But, note how it is used in the following:

The admission is significant, given that Mr O’Connor is vigorously campaigning for Labour to be part of a so-called “alliance of the left”. He has called on the party to stop ruling out Sinn Féin as a potential coalition partner.

But his assertion that workers would be paying more tax today under a left-wing government may damage Mr O’Connor’s campaign.

Put aside what O’Connor wants or doesn’t in relation to a ‘left-wing’ government, more interesting is how even his don’t scare the horses stuff, which is still positioned well within the orthodoxy, is regarded with if not hostility certainly in a negative light. That’s a perfect example of how the media and political narrative is shaped – the acknowledgement that properly sustained public services require greater taxation which is in and of itself problematic.

With friends like these… March 3, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Interesting outline of the upcoming address to Congress by Benjamin Netanyahu and how the Republican leadership and he may have been too clever by half.
To be honest what’s most remarkable is how deceitful the whole process has been, the White House not being told until almost literally the last minute, claims that it was part of a bipartisan process in the two Houses, the pressure on Congress from Netanyahu and Likud to override the President’s foreign policy approach, the appallingly inappropriate nature of the visit on the eve of an Israeli general election.

The thing with political tricks like this is that when they so overtly look like political tricks the tawdriness of the process begins to come through.

And when you have the Anti-Defamation League arguing this is a bad idea there’s no question that some sort of a line has been crossed in US/Israel relations at government level.

What is truly bizarre is that these actions make previous bi-partisan support for the Israeli government move onto new and very very shaky ground. That’s some bet Netanyahu is making, that the Republicans are going to retake the Presidency next time around, or that the current Republican lock on the Houses is perpetual. Obviously I’m no fan of the current Israeli government or its policies but I’d have to wonder at what sort of advice he is getting or what if any long term strategy is in play.

Independents… March 3, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.
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A lot of media interest about the news that an alliance of Mayo based community groups are advertising for candidates to run at the GE on their behalf. That’s not so surprising, one E Kenny is after all the incumbent in that constituency along with count ‘em, three other FG TD’s. Won’t be that many next time out.

Had to smile on reading this:

Asked about the group’s plans this afternoon, Mr Kenny said anyone could stand for office when nominations opened ahead of polling day.

He rejected suggestions that Mayo was not being adequately represented at a national level and said there was more happening in provincial and rural Ireland than ever before.

Well, it wouldn’t be the first time representation in numbers or profile didn’t seem to tally with actual representation. And super-majorities don’t lend themselves to greater representation either. Though perhaps it is simply that there’s not much sense of alternative voices in the constituency, and who could blame them?

Got to wonder how they will do.

But this is useful too:

UCC-based Dr Liam Weeks, who is publishing a book called ‘Independents in Irish Democracy’ in the next year, says voters do not have traditional ties to political parties like they did in the past.

That, he says, is good for independents, and new political parties if they emerge between now and when the general election takes place.

But what of this?

Professor of Politics at UCD Dr David Farrell has said as we approach the next election, and after years of austerity budgets, he does not expect major political transformation or upset in the way people vote.

However, he sees space for a new political party to emerge.

But where? Right or left?

In a recent business briefing for Davy, Prof Farrell mined through the 2011 National Election Study and showed the best space for a new party to emerge is on the centre-right of the political spectrum – precisely the space that independent TD Lucinda Creighton seeks to fill with Reboot Ireland.

Really? Really? In a state where FG, FF and the LP provide an almost inescapable centre right/right of centre lock on political activity? That doesn’t sound right.

After Labour? March 3, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.

Pat Leahy in a piece on Labour’s problems, which are multiple, argues in the SBP – very very dubiously, that ‘austerity has “worked”: the economic recovery is strong and it is undeniable, even if it is patchy, uneven and clearly not touching chunks of the country’. Just in passing, those chunks appear to be significant. Very very significant. So significant that there’s no ignoring them, and they’re not going away and nor is their position improving. That we are not in free fall is undeniable but any limited and localised ‘recovery’ is hardly worth the name. And by the by for more on this Michael Taft has chapter and verse on how the very notion of a ‘recovery’ is cosmetic.
Still, Leahy has to admit that:

But the political and spiritual price for Labour has been brutal: support as measured by opinion polls down 60-odd per cent, a massacre of council and European Parliament seats last year, the defection of six TDs (one came back).


Labour deputies and candidates are faced with a seething hard left, vociferously certain of the party’s certain decimation. “They fucking hate us,” says a senior party figure. “But then again, it’s mutual.”

Nor has anything improved their plight:

And then there was the painful defenestration of the party leader, pushed last year by deputies frantic to do something, anything, to revive the party’s fortunes. At the time Eamon Gilmore departed through the window, the party was polling at 7 per cent.
The defenestration, painful or not, didn’t work. What was the result of the latest poll?
In last Sunday’s Red C tracking poll for the The Sunday Business Post, the party was at 7 per cent.

And Leahy notes that Adrian Kavanagh’s latest projection is of just four seats for the LP in the next Dáil on current projections. I’d be most interested in IEL’s run down on LP seat opportunities in order to compare and contrast (and those who missed his overview of FF’s situation can see it here).

And Leahy notes that that would be in its own way as catastrophic as the situation faced by FF last time out. But there’s one major difference. A larger party with 19 or 20 TDs after a catastrophe is in a markedly different position to a considerably smaller one which returns just 4 TDs. It’s not just the blow to its representation, but a raft of other considerations, its self-image, its purpose. The question becomes what is the LP for if it cannot win sufficient vote share to propel it to double figures in terms of TD numbers.

Granted in 1987 the LP had 6.5 of the vote and returned 12 TDs, as Leahy references. But. That was then in what was still albeit an increasingly competitive voting environment one where the LP wasn’t supplanted by parties to its left. Next time out it is possible the SP will have in various guises up to four TDs. SF will have many many times that number. Ind/Others of various stripes will be returned in great numbers. What will differentiate a newly ensmallened (to coin a word!) Labour from all of them? What should, and why would it? Just as the Green Party learned a bitter lesson about how removal from the political arena not just diminishes ones voice, but also renders it irrelevant so the LP is likely to discover that for itself.

Of course the rump LP might work with an FG led government, it almost of necessity would have to. But there’s an unhappy precedent there, that being the situation of the Progressive Democrats in 2007 onwards where although Mary Harney had a Ministerial position the party itself withered on the vine with insufficient representation or life of its own.

Leahy argues that it’s not all grim news for the LP, that if it’s in the 7-9 per cent range at the moment it’s a little short of its position in the 2000s where it returned reasonable numbers. A growing economy, better news all round and why shouldn’t it gain two or three per cent and go on to win back a fair number of seats.
But having essayed this cheery vision he almost immediately snatches it back:

…[Labour] faces two problems in turning this to its electoral advantage.
The first is that different sections of the electorate have wildly differing conceptions of economic policy, and of how it affects them.
The constituency of people who believe that the economic model upheld by Labour in government has not served their interests is larger than it has ever been in this country. And it includes many people from whom Labour would have traditionally looked for support – and who Labour always viewed as its special duty to protect.

This feeds into another dynamic. It’s all well and good to talk about recovery, but this is rather like the suggestion that ‘austerity’ is at an end when austerity isn’t a single event and its impacts are multiple and cumulative. Those impacts aren’t washed away simply because the government suggests austerity is over. Those who have to face the reality of those cumulative impacts know full well what the situation is, and those are mainly the base of the LP. I’ve noted this already this week, that it’s bizarre the LP could and would believe that its approach could satisfy that base.
There’s more, as Leahy outlines:

That there is an economic recovery is and will be undeniable. The difficulty for Labour will be convincing people that they are responsible for it. Even if you set aside the fact that the coalition largely implemented policies it opposed when in opposition, Labour will have a job making sure that it gets the credit, rather than Fine Gael.

Actually, in a way this is the continuation of the first problem, but… even disagreeing with Leahy’s assertion of a recovery being undeniable, let’s finesse the idea slightly. There is a recovery for some. That does nothing to help the LPs chances because that some aren’t the support base of the LP either and are unlikely to vote for it. Nor is their former support base open to the idea that the LP is responsible.
Leahy concludes as follows:

In 2011, Labour embarked on a term of government which it knew would be deeply traumatic. If it was successful in government, according to the people who made that decision then, the party would be rewarded. If it wasn’t successful, then they would all have bigger problems than the fate of the Labour Party.
That seemed sound at the time. Four years on, it all seems less clear cut.

What was the political calculation that allowed the LP to think it could come through this period unscathed if it went into coalition with Fine Gael? And let’s do a small exercise. Imagine if the LP had stood aside? How would they have benefited, becoming the major anti-austerity voice in the state? But could they have done it given their current make up? I’m dubious.

Any teachers in the house… March 2, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

…who might care to comment on this, William Reville’s latest column in the Irish Times, one in a long list of them to give ‘left-liberal’s’ a lash. This time over the superiority of ‘whole class teaching’ and ‘rote’ as against ‘newer teaching methods’ which apparently accounts for a decline in educational attainment levels in the West as against rising ones in China etc. Seems a bit pat to me, for example I’m not sure how one teaches a range of areas through rote and nor is it clear that one has been entirely jettisoned in favour of the other or that it is anything other than a mixture of approaches depending upon subject, but other opinions welcome…

Reclaim the Bridges in Dublin for International Women’s Day March 2, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Feminism, International Women's Day, The Left.
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Reclaim the Bridges

March 8th 2015

Starting 1 pm

Grattan Bridge (Capel Street), Dublin

Other actions nationwide – see WP for details.


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