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Signs of Hope – A continuing series September 30, 2022

Posted by guestposter in Uncategorized.

Gewerkschaftler suggested this recently:

“I suggest this blog should have a regular (weekly) slot where people can post happenings at the personal or political level that gives them hope that we’re perhaps not going to hell in a handbasket as quickly as we thought. Or as the phlegmatic Germans put it “hope dies last”.”

Any contributions this week?

Runaway public spenders September 30, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Fascinating the revulsion that a certain columnist expresses in the IT in relation to ‘runaway public spenders’ with regard to the Budget this last week. Consider some quotes:

But crises aside, it is clear that a normalisation of the spend-spend-spend mentality is in the ascendancy in the ethereal exchange we call “the national debate”. Fiscal rectitude as a rule seems to be going out of fashion in this State. Government and opposition politicians, advisory boards, civil society groups, business lobbyists; all hum for a bigger State paid for by the Magic Porridge Pot.

He even attempts to make a rather strained comparison with, of all things climate change (given the likely economic impacts and necessity for, well, state expenditure the comparison comes across as missing the point entirely), arguing that:

That’s why it is so bewildering to hear some of the same people who want to to reduce the climate burden on future generations take such a different tack on public spending. The classic call is for more permanent spending on health, despite the annual over-runs that show our health system’s spending framework is broken. It doesn’t matter that the bucket has a hole in it. They want it filled anyway.

The same mentality swirls around discussion of almost every issue on the national agenda. Throw money at it. Little is said about the fact that soon, money will not be cheap any more, with interest rates shooting upwards. We want to save the planet so our children are not swamped by rising seas. But there is less compunction about leaving them drowning in public debt to pay for our public services now.

In a way his column suffers from unfortunate timing, for the very next day the Tory party lost its collective mind and ran with a right-libertarian budget framed around public debt and a rush for growth. The Irish government approach, for all we can critique them from a left position, seems almost the epitome of sober caution by contrast.

That said what’s interesting is when one digs in a little. For example here’s a slippery slope argument if ever one saw one:

The shift in thinking is most obvious in the lofty current spending promises of Sinn Féin, the Government-in-waiting, and in the yelping of Government backbenchers who want their ministers to chase that party down the road of inflated public spending. Where it leads, we cannot be certain. But there is financial trouble ahead and we all know it. Inevitably, that will affect borrowing. The argument that says permanent spending growth can always be paid for with more taxes is not an honest one.

It’s not clear why he thinks that spending growth would be ‘permanent’ in the way that he suggests. Why would it not flatten off at some point? Why must it be inevitably ever greater? History suggests completely the opposite dynamic dependent upon circumstance.

Or take this:

The Department of Finance’s “where your money goes” website states that gross public expenditure this year will be €97.2 billion. That is 30 per cent higher than it was just five years ago. Since then, an extra €7.4 billion annually goes on health alone, with a further €3.7 billion on debt repayments and European Union contributions. Really, where does the money go?

Well, he knows precisely where it goes. Health is taking up more since there are more people and there’s a demand, a reasonable demand at that, for more comprehensive services. What’s fascinating is that he paints all this almost as a moral failing. 

As rectitude goes further out of fashion, it ought to be remembered that there is nothing noble about eating tomorrow’s jam today.

But rectitude is not an objective yardstick. The reality is that – in this and many states, there has been underfunding of areas which are the primary role of the state – and generally regarded as such across many decades whether of left or right. That the state now, after a history of such underfunding is attempting to make up the distance lost, is facing greater expenditures – particularly in the teeth of a pandemic and an energy crisis (and with the additional numbers as the population grows – something he does not appear to consider in any detail) is no great surprise. 

What’s telling is that look back at his writings across the pandemic and one sees this sort of prurience in regard to supports from the state that he acknowledges are necessary. For example he wrote in February of last year about state supports for the hospitality sector:

The only way to sort the carrion from the living would be to whip away the State supports for business and see which ones keel over. While that might be ideologically in keeping with the medium-term functioning of a liberal economy, it would be an abhorrent breach of public trust on the Government’s part.

It would be an abandonment of SME owners and their workers, and would shatter the notion that we are all supposed to be in this pandemic together. Such importance is not merely symbolic. It would bring huge pressure to bear on social cohesion, which is straining as it is. If that frays, a lot of things may unravel.

Perhaps even more telling is the following from him:

The defining issue of our era, the housing crisis, does require massive intervention by government to, for example, directly build more social housing and incentivise the construction of more cost rental properties. The current mess is a classic case of market (and political) failure and there is not much that individuals can do but sit tight and wait for it to ease….The Government makes a rod for its own back when it pretends it can solve everything. By stepping in as the saviour on every issue it sets itself up for blame when, invariably and inevitably, it fails to meet expectations because it won’t admit the limitations of its ability to control every outcome…

Politicians must focus their efforts and our resources on helping those who need it most and have nowhere else to turn. Thankfully the majority don’t fall into that category. Sometimes we just have to get on with things and do what we can, and not get so enraged when someone states the bleeding obvious.

One could write whole theses on some of the unsupported assertions in that above. 

And what of this, from July of last year.

In the medium-term, businesses operating in the housing and land markets will feel the effects of further Government intervention. For myriad reasons, the market has failed to deliver on a basic public requirement so the Government will pick up the slack.

Looking even further beyond the pandemic, other public priorities such as the fight against climate change will, over time, spur even greater State intervention in the everyday operations of businesses.

Or this from 2020 where, as noted before, he deplored supports for industry during the pandemic while simultaneously effectively seeking more of them! 

It should not be forgotten that pubs were among the first parts of the economy to close for the common good in the second week of March, well before the Dáil passed legislation giving the Government powers to order them to do so. They agreed to do what society expected of them. The entire tourism and hospitality sector is now on tenterhooks awaiting the July stimulus, to see what support measures are introduced in return.

It is profoundly depressing to watch an entire industry reduced to this. The longer this runs on and the deeper the need for State intervention becomes, the greater the risk that we create an entire swathe of the economy that cannot survive into the medium term without taxpayers’ cash. Keeping businesses on benefits will be corrosive to our enterprise culture.

One could argue that he is at least consistent in his distaste, though he seems to take sharply divergent paths as regards the necessity for state supports when it comes to some areas of expenditure as against others. 

Civil servants and political activity September 30, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Raised in comments recently – to this day there remains a bar on civil servants above a certain level engaging in political activity or being members of political parties. This circular is useful.

Civil servants other than –

  1. Civil servants in the craft, state industrial and manual grades and

    grades below clerical grades,

  2. Clerical grades and non-industrial grades with salary maxima equal to or below the Clerical Officer maximum who have obtained permission from their Department to engage in politics,

  3. Special advisers and the personal appointees of Ministers, Ministers of State, Parliamentary office holders and the Attorney General holding temporary unestablished positions,

  4. Persons expressly permitted to do so by the terms of their employment,

But should there be?

Energy security September 30, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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The underwater explosions at the two Nord Stream gas pipelines this week are intriguing for many reasons.  

As Dan Sabbagh in the Guardian noted:

It may never be possible to determine definitively whether Monday’s underwater explosions at the two Nord Stream gas pipelines were the work of Russian sabotage, but it is certainly the way to bet.

The incidents took place close to – but just outside – the 12-mile territorial waters of Denmark’s Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, the kind of calibration that might be expected from a state actor mindful of the country’s Nato membership.

It may never be possible to determine definitively whether Monday’s underwater explosions at the two Nord Stream gas pipelines were the work of Russian sabotage, but it is certainly the way to bet.

The incidents took place close to – but just outside – the 12-mile territorial waters of Denmark’s Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, the kind of calibration that might be expected from a state actor mindful of the country’s Nato membership.

He also notes:

But the fact remains that two undersea pipelines have been ruptured in a 24-hour period. They are designed to be tough: each section of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, the company’s literature says, has a steel case 27 to 41mm thick, in turn surrounded by a concrete coating of 60 to 110mm.

One of the explosions measured 2.3 on the Richter scale, which Danish experts described as in line with a powerful bomb from the second world war. It is not therefore an entirely trivial incident, whose consequences were tellingly being talked up by senior Russian figures on Tuesday.

The response from the Kremlin would be entertaining if not for the seriousness of the circumstances. 

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, said: “This is an issue related to the energy security of the entire continent.” However, Nord Stream 2 has never opened and the original pipeline was shut indefinitely for repairs at the beginning of September. So the EU’s claim that there was no security impact was more believable in the first instance.

But the big problem for the Kremlin is that it has managed to generate three – presumably, unintended outcomes from this invasion. One, an effective military defeat due to the inability to achieve a victory and worse a situation where the conflict has dragged on. Many will take note, not least those on Russia’s borders. This is a strategic and military disaster for the Kremlin. And worth noting once more about those in the Russian armed forces who have been coerced into this conflict and those many more who on foot of the effective general mobilisation will likewise be coerced. 

Secondly, the consolidation and expansion of NATO. If Ukraine was indeed regarded as a ‘proxy’ (I use their language – I don’t believe that to be the case, nor I suspect does Putin) too far by the Kremlin they went a strange way about dealing with the situation given that the outcome of this invasion has been Finland and Sweden banging on NATO’s door to join and the de facto support for NATO from across the EU (and beyond). That’s a geopolitical disaster for the Kremlin (one could add that it’s fairly clear that NATO has extended some of its protections to Ukraine, but only on a limited basis. There is to be no significant or serious offensive actions against Russian territory. That too is a disastrous outcome for Moscow compared to the status quo ante).

But thirdly the wilful destruction of Moscow’s largest energy market – that being Europe, the EU and individual European states. At one fell swoop Moscow has managed to destroy all trust in its bona fides as a supplier, to push EU states to seek other sources (not least, ironically, alternative and nuclear and in doing so perhaps mitigate some of the impacts of the climate crisis) and to ensure that it will never be a future supplier. This is an economic disaster for the Kremlin. 

Any one of these would be challenge of huge proportion for any state facing them – and challenges without actual potential resolutions. That they all flow from the invasion of Ukraine tells us much about the sheer lack of insight into potential and/or likely responses. 

But it is this last point about energy markets that makes the Kremlin’s response to the Nord Stream 2 explosions so strange. Do they not realise that that particular bird has flown. Whatever else Russian gas is not going to be a major factor in the energy mix in Europe from here on out. 

Just as an addendum, what of the fossil fuels Russia has. Where do they go now? A mixed view to be honest. Very mixed. And this too.

Ireland-Ukraine : International Solidarity of the Left – Public Meeting Tuesday October 4 2022, 7.00pm, Teachers’ Club 36 Parnell Square West – Russian Troops Out of Ukraine Now September 29, 2022

Posted by guestposter in Uncategorized.

Details here on Tomás Ó Flatharta

Brexit and Tory politics… September 29, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Interesting point on the Guardian politics podcast. John Harris noted that no-one voted for the current Tory programme under Truss, other than Conservative members. This wasn’t brought to an election and yet it is being imposed. 

Harris noted that Raf Baher who was on the podcast has a theory about Brexit… 

It was Brexit that uncoupled British politics and Conservative politics specifically  from reality – that was the point at which Conservative politicians said ‘we don’t have to bother with the real world – we are off in the realm of our own ideological fantasies and prejudices’ and what you get then is an approach like this. 

What you getting here is the very pure idea of Brexit that they couldn’t have solved in 2016. This is a 20% Brexit not a 52% Brexit [that] they got all the rest of it by banging on about immigration and appealing to the Red Wall with a totally different prospectus. They won that and now they’re getting the Jacob Rees-Mogg Brexit which was never a majority proposition and you’d never have won a referendum if you’d fought on those terms.

“That is called Singapore on Thames”… said Harris. 

But Janan Ganesh in the IT had the following thoughts that I think do begin to explain part of the problem. The issue is a Tory elite that thinks it is the United States.

If anti-Americanism was bad, look what its opposite has done. Britain is in trouble because its elite is so engrossed with the US as to confuse it for their own nation. The UK does not issue the world’s reserve currency. It does not have near-limitless demand for its sovereign debt. It can’t, as US Republicans sometimes do, cut taxes on the hunch that lawmakers of the future will trim public spending. Reaganism was a good idea. Reaganism without the dollar isn’t. If UK premier Liz Truss has a programme, though, that is its four-word expression.

So much of what Britain has done and thought in recent years makes sense if you assume it is a country of 330 million people with $20 trillion annual output. The idea that it could ever look the EU in the eye as an adversarial negotiator, for instance. Or the decision to grow picky about Chinese inward investment at the same time as forfeiting the European market. Or the bet that Washington was going to entertain a meaningful bilateral trade deal. Superpowers get to behave with such presumption.

And the following I think is persuasive.

Why does Britain think that it can, too? Don’t blame imperial nostalgia. (If it were that, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal would show the same hubris.) Blame the distorting effect of language. Because the UK’s governing class can follow US politics as easily as their own, they get lost in it. They elide the two countries. What doesn’t help is the freakish fact that Britain’s capital, where its elites live, is as big as any US city, despite the national population being a fifth of America’s. You can see why, from a London angle, the two nations seem comparable.

Of course it’s not directly comparable. Nothing ever is. But it’s close enough to be at least part of the explanation. And Ganesh goes further noting how limited the political horizons in Westminster actually are. He notes the remarkable obsession, a consuming obsession, with the US in Britain (he also notes that those like Truss have never actually set up a business. It’s all theory). So blinded are they by the global superpower that they don’t actually appreciate that the US market is completely different to that which Britain faces. As Ganesh notes, in an effectively monolingual market of hundreds of millions of people expansion is much easier. Try that in a country of a tenth of that and see how it goes.  And needless to say the economic superpower on their doorstep doesn’t get a look-in – because they themselves torpedoed that. 

As always what strikes me is the essential lack of seriousness of these people. They’re inexpert, amateurish, driven by attachment to ideology which while self-serving is fairly clearly of limited utility in engaging with the broader world, let alone the material constrains that they themselves face. 

SDLP split from FF September 29, 2022

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Uncategorized.

Last night it was announced that the SDLP is withdrawing from it’s ‘partnership’ with Fianna Fáil. No real surprise as I don’t really know what they got from it. It caused internal tensions within the SDLP and in that three years there were SDLP figures canvassing for Labour,  Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

What now though for Fianna Fáil in the North. Prior to the ‘partnership’ there was the ill fated launch of Sorcha McAnespy as a Fianna Fáil candidate. She had to stand as an Independent and despite being a decent candidate didn’t do too well. Whilst naturally many members were delighted to have a partnership with the SDLP,  it also stopped talk of Fianna Fáil running candidates in the North.

With the ‘partnership’ over, there are already calls from various Fianna Fáil figures to run candidates in the North. With the Ard Fheis this weekend,  it will be interesting to see if the party running in the North gets much attention. The ‘partnership’ was seen by some as a manoeuvre to halt calls for the Party to run in the North.

I wonder too will any of Martin’s potential successors hitch their wagon to the party running candidates in the North. I suspect they will, as I gather the membership have a vote in a leadership election…. interesting times ahead.

A chill in the air… September 29, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

RTÉ treated this as something of a joke.

It might sometimes be viewed as a house filled with hot air but Leinster House bosses are resisting calls to switch on the heat this week.

As the autumn chill rippled through the old building today, many politicians felt the air was a little nippy leading one observer to quip that “there are a lot of cold creatures in this house”.

But all were informed this evening that the heating will not be turned on until next Monday at the earliest.

Traditionally, the heat is switched on from 1 October in Leinster House but not even the post-Budget glow on the Government’s benches could keep the cold at bay for some this afternoon.



The Facilities Management Unit (FMU), which controls the heating switch, received several inquiries.

So it sent an email to “all members of the parliamentary community” stating that “it was important that the Oireachtas shows leadership in relation to the Government’s climate action targets and the national effort to reduce consumption”.

Waiting until Monday would also “offset increases in energy costs”, the FMU advised.

I work in a city centre location not that far from LH. The building I’m in, which is also part of the state sector, was very cold this week. It’s a modern enough building, but not warm. Not warm at all. That’s grand. I can wrap up warmly. But this is a real challenge. And if it is like this now – in late September, I wonder what it will be like come actual Winter with temperatures plunging much lower than the 14-15º predicted for next week. And not just in Dublin but more northerly points? And what about houses and apartments? The Budget does take some of the bite out of energy costs, but whether it is anywhere near sufficient remains to be seen. 

This I did not know. 

Leinster House is heated through a mixture of gas and bio-mass. The bio-mass boiler uses waste wood chippings from furniture factories.

Trade Plan A September 28, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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A follow up to last week’s post on trade deals and the centrality of the US one to Brexit proponents world view. 

When Truss was international trade secretary, a free-trade agreement with Washington was very much Plan A. It was to be the crowning glory of Britain’s triumphant liberation from Brussels: an apotheosis of economic sovereignty and transatlantic solidarity. In Eurosceptic mythology, the Washington deal was a bridge to utopia, and the slam-dunk rebuttal to all those gloomy remoaner economists who fretted over the cost of leaving the EU single market.

That Tory party ‘doomsday cult’ September 28, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Never thought I’d read this from this quarter, an analysis of the Tory ‘mini-budget’ (I see David McWilliams latest podcast also picked up on the phrase above).

Investors ‘inclined to regard Conservative Party as a doomsday cult’, says analyst

Investors seem inclined to regard the UK Conservative Party as a doomsday cult, according to Paul Donovan, chief economist of UBS Global Wealth Management.

In his morning comment, Donovan gives an absolutely blistering verdict on the government’s plans:

The global signals from the UK’s mini-budget matter. Modern monetary theory has been taken into a corner by the bond markets and beaten up. Advanced economy bond yields are not supposed to soar the way UK gilt yields rose.

This also reminds investors that modern politics produces parties that are more extreme than either the voter or the investor consensus. Investors seem inclined to regard the UK Conservative Party as a doomsday cult.

Tax cuts are unlikely to give the UK a meaningful medium-term boost (the supply constraints in the UK economy are more about health and education). A short-term “sugar high” is likely but may be limited. A high-income earner’s rational response would be to increase savings in anticipation of future tax increases.

That point about ‘modern politics producing parties that are more extreme than either the voter or the investor consensus’ is intriguing. Who could he be talking about? It would seem reasonable to suggest that these are parties of the right – the Republicans most obviously, but also similar manifestations across parts of Europe and indeed in Italy most recently. That the markets, or rather those who represent them in some imperfect fashion, have woken up to this aspect is interesting, but have they realised how damaging they are more broadly in economic terms? Perhaps they have. But markets are notoriously unable to be self-controlling, as we have seen time and again. Getting the message sure, but too late. 

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