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Housing and my union dues March 23, 2017

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Housing.

Today I was very happy to see some of my union dues being put to good use beyond my own personal needs or interests. My union is a supporter of the Nevin Economic Research Institute, and the Institute published its proposals for responding to the housing crisis: the establishment of a new state company to commission or undertake a programme of building, acquiring and renting new homes in Ireland. Tenants would be charged rents that reflect the cost of building (and financing the building) of the new homes.

It is a brilliant proposal, and if implemented would achieve a number of outcomes: most obviously, to provide the additional housing that is so badly needed in Ireland, but also to interfere with the highly distorted market in a constructive way by providing a significant volume of rented accommodation at prices that match to cost of providing it (building costs, maintenance costs, repayments on capital advanced, etc.) and therefore provide an economic lever to shift the price of rental housing across the market downward into more reasonable territory. (I think it is that second aspect of driving down excessive prices, rather than the cost of the initial investment, that is more likely to impede the implementation of the proposal.) Finally, it would shift the underlying values in public policy by treating housing as a social good, a right, and the basis of a home, and not merely a market commodity to be traded in the short term for the maximum possible profit.

I’m very happy that some of my dues contributed to funding that work (however tiny a fraction it may have been).


The 79-page working paper on the proposal is here: http://www.nerinstitute.net/download/pdf/irelands_housing_emergency_time_for_a_game_changer.pdf


That public sector public sector pay thing, again July 28, 2016

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Equality.
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Those public sector workers are creaming it, unlike the private sector workers, right?

The key results of the report suggest that earnings of employees in the study fell during the 2008 to 2010 period with the exception of the bottom quartile (Q1) where earnings remained almost constant. The period 2010 to 2013 was characterised by increases in earnings in both the public and private sectors. In all quartiles in the private sector average earnings in 2013 were higher than in 2008, with the highest earners (Q4) experiencing the largest increase over this time period. This contrasts with the public sector where the highest earners in the public sector actually experienced a fall in average earnings over the 2008 to 2013 period while those with the lowest earnings (Q1) experienced the largest increase in earnings.

Oh. That’s from a new study from the Economics Department of UCC using data on earnings from the Revenue Commissioners.

And then there’s this:

Over the period there has also been a marginal increase in inequality in the sample considered. However, there is divergence between the public and private sector. While the private sector experienced rising inequality over the full period the public sector actually experienced falling inequality, with earnings converging during the 2008 to 2013 period. There was relatively higher growth in earnings in the highest earnings quartile in the private sector. In the public sector a fall in earnings in the highest quartile and increases in earnings in the lowest quartile are evident.

In fairness, it comes with caveats: you had to be in paid employment full time for the full year every year between 2008 and 2013 to be included in the study, and that means thousands of workers are excluded.

An Antidote to the Sunday Papers March 15, 2015

Posted by Tomboktu in Class, Class/Class politics, Economics.

As an antidote to the Sunday papers, I thought I would offer two items that I have read recently that might be of interest to CLR followers.

In some ways, the concept of inequality is unhelpful here. There has rarely been a political or business leader who has stood up and publicly said, “society needs more inequality”. And yet, most of the policies and regulations which have driven inequality since the 1970s have been publicly known. Although it is tempting to look back and feel duped by the pre-2008 era, it was relatively clear what was going on, and how it was being justified. But rather than speak in terms of generating more inequality, policy-makers have always favoured another term, which effectively comes to the same thing: competitiveness.

My new book, The Limits of Neoliberalism: Sovereignty, Authority & The Logic of Competition, is an attempt to understand the ways in which political authority has been reconfigured in terms of the promotion of competitiveness. Competitiveness is an interesting concept, and an interesting principle on which to base social and economic institutions. When we view situations as ‘competitions’, we are assuming that participants have some vaguely equal opportunity at the outset. But we are also assuming that they are striving for maximum inequality at the conclusion. To demand ‘competitiveness’ is to demand that people prove themselves relative to one other.

From How ‘competitiveness’ became one of the great unquestioned virtues of contemporary culture by William Davies (a 1,522-word blog post) http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/the-cult-of-competitiveness/


Right-wing commentators are largely in agreement with the dominant neoclassical conception of a subject whose ‘bad choices’ and ‘anti-social values and norms’ ensure continued poverty and marginality. The liberal-left, often drawing upon symbolic interactionism and post-structuralism, counter this by claiming that the powerful demonise and stigmatise the economically excluded and label them with a broad range of negative characteristics. At its most extreme this becomes a process of ‘othering’, where the forbidding image of an uncivilised, feckless, dangerous and criminal other is projected upon the excluded subject, making its inclusion appear impossible. Whilst avoiding the right’s dogmatic voluntarism and moralism, however, we are also keen to move beyond the liberal-left’s equally doctrinaire notion that this symbolic ‘othering’ is the primary cause of social exclusion or indeed the issue that demands political attention.


At the risk of antagonising some of our peers, we should perhaps also consider the possibility that many in the social democratic mainstream who issue their call for ‘real jobs’ and the return of a comprehensive welfare system are secretly aware that their demands can no longer be met. Perhaps the most striking gap in social democratic thinking about social exclusion is that, in seeking to reintroduce the ‘excluded’ back into the civic mainstream, they are arguing for the reintroduction of resource-poor workers back into the very system of relentless socio-symbolic competition that expelled them in the first place. Social democratic discourses of inclusion are always shot through with the idea that expanding opportunities is the way back to an inclusive society. Are they not essentially arguing that the poor be given another shot at ‘making it’ within the system as it currently exists, rather than arguing for a fundamental reappraisal of the conditions under which social and economic justice can actually take place? Our goal here is to side-step this debate about the reintroduction of ‘real jobs’ and the intellectual injunction that we up-skill the poor and equip them with the drive to compete. Instead, we want to ask searching questions about the drivers that lead to the expulsion or marginalisation of the poor, and, more fundamentally, whether inclusion is possible at all in a capitalist economy currently experiencing a permanent reduction in its growth-rate and a seismic shift in the balance of global economic power.


In terms of actual policy, there is very little difference between mainstream politicians; in essence, the cynic’s cliché that ‘they’re all the bloody same’ has become a reality. The general electorate must choose a candidate on the basis of some vague sense of who will benefit them personally. Political opposition to neoliberal excess and the brutal reallocation of money and assets from working populations to the super-rich – upwards of £13 trillion currently hidden away in global tax havens (Stewart, 2012b; see also Shaxson, 2012) – is expressed in the most attenuated and apologetic manner only by the political opponents that liberal capitalism itself appoints. Because there is no longer an organised political opposition, because the left has abandoned any conception of class struggle or an egalitarian future – or even a social democracy in which the huge gap in wealth and power can be seriously truncated – to focus exclusively on defending the human rights and arranging the piecemeal ‘social inclusion’ of marginalised identity groups, capitalism itself exists for ordinary voters as pure doxa, the common belief of what is and always will be. Indeed, such is the certainty of its permanent reign, even the word ‘capitalism’ had largely fallen out of use in political and academic circles. For the liberal-postmodern subject, existing in the absence of a politics that seeks to offer an account of subjective hardships, injustices, anxieties and rage, the social field of ceaseless struggle for symbolic and cultural capital becomes naturalised and the subject accepts – and then embraces and clings to – the myth of meritocracy. Their own inner torment, their enduring sense of lack and their fear of economic and cultural irrelevance compels them to throw themselves anew into capitalism’s competitive struggle for social distinction. Until real politics returns, the very idea of transforming the other into a true neighbour, cleansing the realm of politics of its corruption or creating a new reality built upon social justice seems impossible, even ridiculous. The compensation, the safety barrier that prevents the plunge over the edge into total nihilism and despair, is the hope that the self might one day make the journey from exploited to exploiter. Such hope is presented daily by the mass media as liberal capitalism’s great attraction, and today’s subjects plot their journeys to ‘inclusion’ and eventual safety up the league table of contemporary consumer culture.

From ‘Introduction: Post-crash Social Exclusion’, chapter in of Rethinking Social Exclusion — The End of the Social? by Simon Winlow and Steve Hall (20-page PDF) http://www.uk.sagepub.com/upm-data/57537_Winlow__Rethinking_Social_exclusion.pdf

Event: A politically feasible maximum wage? July 16, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Class/Class politics, Economics, Equality, Ethics, Excess.
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A politically plausible ‘maximum wage’?

16 September 2014

How we can make the ultimate antidote to inequality more than an egalitarian fantasy
Tuesday, September 16, 6-8pm, The Ark, Eustace Street, Temple Bar
Speakers: Speakers: Sam Pizzigati (Currently editor of Too Much, the global weekly on excess and inequality published by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.) and Dr. Mary Murphy (Central group Claiming our Future and Lecturer at NUIM.


The idea of a “maximum wage” — a cap on the annual income any one person can claim — has been around ever since the time of Plato. In today’s staggeringly unequal world, that idea is making a comeback, in everywhere from Egypt to New Zealand.

But could a “maximum wage” ever actually become politically viable? A variety of North American activists think so. In Canada and the United States, their emerging strategy revolves around leveraging the power of the public purse — our tax dollars — against the global corporations now manufacturing inequality at an incredibly furious pace.

These activists are mounting a frontal assault on corporate compensation systems that have individual power suits routinely making more in a morning than most of us can make in an entire year. How far has their new movement come? How far could this movement take us? Join Sam Pizzigati of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies, America’s boldest progressive think tank, for an up-close look at a promising new direction in egalitarian public policy.

About Sam Pizzigati
Veteran labor journalist Sam Pizzigati currently edits Too Much, the global weekly on excess and inequality published by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. The New York Times has called him America’s “chief proponent” for the notion of a “maximum wage.”

Pizzigati has explored that notion in a series of books and articles that have appeared on both sides of the Atlantic. His most recent book, The Rich Don’t Always Win: The forgotten triumph over plutocracy that created the American middle class, 1900-1970, traces the influence of income-cap advocacy over the first half of the 20th century.

In an earlier book, the 2004 Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives, Pizzigati helps explain why we need a ceiling on annual income — and offers both a glimpse at what “maximum wage” life might be like and a strategic gameplan for moving ahead in an income-capping direction.

Pizzigati has edited the national publications of four different American trade unions. He spent 20 years directing the publishing program of America’s largest union, the 2.4 million-member National Education Association.

Pizzigati currently lives just outside Washington in Maryland, where he served as a founding board member of Progressive Maryland, a statewide coalition of labor, community, and civil rights groups.

Basic Income Ireland Summer Forum 2014 May 26, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Equality, Other Stuff.
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Date: Saturday 7 June 2014

Time: 1:00 to 5:00, with informal discussion afterwards

Venue: Carmelite Community Center – 56 Aungier Street, Dublin 2

No Charge
Donations/membership subscriptions will be accepted on the day

1:00 – 1:45 Welcome and light lunch
1:45 – 3:10 Recent developments in Basic Income internationally:
Keynote speaker: Yannick Vanderborght, will speak on transnational cooperation in the campaign for basic income and on recent developments in the theory and politics of basic income. Followed by a participatory discussion.
3:10 – 3:30 Tea and coffee break
3:30 – 5:00 Advancing Basic Income in Ireland:
Brief presentation and participatory discussion

Afterward Social gathering in The Swan, Aungier Street.

Registeration: http://www.basicincomeireland.com/basic-income-2014-summer-forum-signup.html

The Economist on Piketty May 6, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Books, Capitalism, Economics, Inequality, Journalism, Marxism, Taxation Policy, The political discourse, The Right.

I bought the Economist because the cover said it has an article about Piketty. (Reading articles about his book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, is quicker than reading the book!)

The headline on the actual article is weird: “Bigger than Marx”. That is true neither of the physical heft of the book nor, if everything I have read about it so far is valid, of the contents.

And then the content of the Economist’s review: 13 paragraphs: two are neutral; four approving; seven critical of the book. The Economist cites five critics of his thesis or aspects of it and zero supporters.

Not that I’m terribly surprised at their overall view, but they might have been subtler. Or maybe I should applaud their transparency.

Basic Income Ireland 2014 Summer Forum April 28, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Equality, Inequality, Uncategorized.
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Basic Income Ireland invites you to our

2014 Summer Forum

A half-day conversation about Basic Income.

Date: Saturday 7 June 2014

Time: 1:00 to 5:00, with informal discussion afterwards

Venue: Carmellite Community Centre – 56 Augier Street, Dublin 2

No charge. Donations/membership subs will be accepted on the day.

Registration: Please register in advance at http://www.basicincomeireland.com/basic-income-2014-summer-forum-signup.html

A Basic Income is a payment from the state to every resident on an individual basis, without any means test or work requirement.

It would be sufficient to live a frugal but decent lifestyle without supplementary income from paid work.

The idea of Basic Income is being advanced world-wide as part of the solution to the issues facing today’s world.

Come join us to discuss the Basic Income solution and to plan activities for the coming 12 months.


1:00-1:45 Welcome and light lunch

1:45-3:10 Recent developments in Basic Income internationally

Keynote speaker: Yannick Vanderborght, one of the leading figures in the new wave of basic income activists. Professor of Political Science at Saint-Louis University, Brussels; Chair of Regional Coordination Committee of Basic Income Earth Network; co-author with Philippe Van Parijs of L’allocation universelle (2005) and co-editor of Basic income: An anthology of contemporary research (2013) and other books on basic income.

Yannick will speak on transnational cooperation in the campaign for basic income and on recent developments in the theory and politics of basic income. Followed by a participatory discussion.

3:10-3:30 Tea and coffee break

3:30-5:00 Advancing Basic Income in Ireland

Brief presentation and participatory discussion

Afterwards: social gathering in The Swan, Aungier Street.

Further information on basic income is available at basicincomeireland.com and on Facebook – Basic Income Ireland and Twitter: @basicincomeirl.

Register now: http://www.basicincomeireland.com/basic-income-2014-summer-forum-signup.html

Further information: Basic.Income@nuim.ie

Please circulate this notice to your friends and contacts.

FairPhone June 11, 2013

Posted by Tomboktu in Community, Economics, Employment Rights, Environment, Ethics, Human Rights, Technology.
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[WorldByStorm suggested today that I move this up from a comment to a full post. I’ve uodated it because the time reference in the original is now out of date.]

Last year, I mentioned (in passing) that when I when I first bought a mobile phone, I made a point of buying from a telecoms company that recognises their workers’ union. I did not mention then that I had also done some research to see if I could buy a model that reflected my concerns — where the minerals are from, or union recognition for the people who make the actual phone.

So, I was pleased to see fairphone.com opened their new phone to pre-purchase.

On June 5 they hit their target of 5000 orders in order to go into production, and there are two days left to order one of the first batch.

And at the weekend just gone, they were working on aspects of the design their second phone.

The ethos is summed up in the invitation to the group of designers who participated in that workshop:

FairPhone was created because most people have no idea where the component parts of their mobile phone come from, how they are manufactured, and by whom. Bas: “Mobile phones are part and parcel of a complex economic and political system. We want to make this system visible to everyone. We do that by manufacturing the FairPhone, which unravels that system step by step.”

They recongise that their product is far from perfect — the rights of the workers is not secured through union recognition — but it’s better than any other phone I know of. Worth a look, I would suggest.

Take action in the legislative process of EU-Seed regulation! May 2, 2013

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Environment, Ethics, European Politics, Seed diversity.

This was sent to us at CLR earlier today

Take action in the legislative process of EU-Seed regulation!

There is urgent action needed to avoid damage by the upcoming new EU regulation of seed marketing. The new regulation will de facto ban old and rare varieties and farmers varieties and threaten the exchange and selling of seeds of diversity. DG SANCO (the General Direction of the EU for Sanitary and Consumer affairs) has been working on a proposal for a new regulation since years.

On Monday, the 6th of May they will present their proposal to the conference of commissioners. They could not get a consensus of the two other affected DGs, DG AGRI (agricultural affairs) and DG ENVI (environmental affairs). Both opposed the last draft of the proposal, and DG SANCO is not looking for a consensus.

The new regulation has mainly been drafted by Isabelle Clement-Nissou, an employee of GNIS, the French lobby of the Seed Industry. Madame Clement-Nissou was sent as a national expert to Brussels by the French government and is supposed to ” support ” DG SANCO. The drafts for the proposal became worse from the first to the second draft; and it is expected that the final proposal is going into the same direction. Since there is no consensus between the three DGs, the commissioners have to vote on the proposal.

If a majority of commissioners votes against the proposal, it should be stopped. If they vote in favour, it will be given to the EU Parliament and to the Council. The seed industry is pushing the legislation, because they’ve spent a lot of money to influence the seed legislation. Furthermore, they don’t want it to be postponed after the election of a new parliament in May 2014. They take the risk that the commissioners vote against it − and we think: the commissioners should do so! There is only a little chance to get a majority of commissioners to vote against the current proposal, but we still should try.

Each country of the EU has one commissioner in Brussels, so we need 14 votes against the proposal. The commissioners of DG AGRI and DG ENVI should vote against, so we need 12 more.

Please write to the commissioner of your country and convince him/her to vote ” NO ” on the proposal of DG SANCO on 6th of May.

Try to make a link from his/her department to the seed issue, and try to make clear to him/her that the proposal for a new EU seed legislation will affect the cultural and biodiversity heritage of your country and the freedom of farmers to use the seeds and the varieties they want to.

NO PROHIBITION OF SEEDS OF DIVERSITY! By the obligation to register varieties before marketing, the new regulation will be a de facto prohibition of old and rare varieties and of farmer varieties. Please write to your commissioner in Brussels no later than the 28th.

He/she has to make a statement on the proposal from 24th of April on, the sooner, the better. On the 6th of May, we must obtain at least 14 objections, otherwise this proposal will become the official proposal.


Dear Ms Geoghegan-Quinn, I have recently been made aware of the upcoming proposed changes to EU seed marketing law. This proposed new regulation will de facto ban old and rare varieties and farmers varieties and stop the exchange and selling of traditional seeds.

The apparent background to this is that DG SANCO (the Directorate General of the EU for Sanitary and Consumer affairs) has been working on a proposal for a new regulation driven by lobbying of the big agricultural seed companies. Apparently, however, two other EU directorates, DG AGRI (agricultural affairs) and DG ENVI (environmental affairs) both opposed the last draft of the proposal because it was so bad for agriculture and biodiversity. DG SANCO is now pushing ahead with the new law by putting it directly to the Commission this week.

I would urge you to vote against the current proposal, as it impacts everyone who cares about our seeds and our freedom to save, use, and exchange them.

Given our Irish heritage and background in agriculture and indeed the many rare and beautiful varieties unique to our country, it is vital that you understand how the proposal for a new EU seed legislation will affect the cultural and biodiversity heritage of Ireland, and the freedom of farmers and growers to use the seeds and the varieties they want to. By forcing registration of all varieties of every crop species that exists, the new law will prohibit old, rare and traditional public− domain farm varieties. This will guarantee huge profits for the seed industry but will be a terrible loss to the people of Europe as our agricultural heritage is outlawed overnight!


Yours faithfully,

More info at: www.seed-sovereignty.org

“Income Inequality: Evidence and Policy Implications” March 25, 2013

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Inequality, Taxation Policy, Uncategorized.

Emmanuel Saez does not propose replacing capitalism, but within its terms, this is a useful lecture that could do with an airing here.

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