Idealism

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Privilege

Can you really prevent the country from knowing what was said in the Dáil? Of course you can’t. The idea is plainly ridiculous. If you’re rich enough though, you can send out a flotilla of lawyers to try.

I can’t say whether that’s the action of a balanced mind, but it does seem clearly to be oppressive and anti-democratic. The whole notion of an interlocutory injunction is problematic at the best of times, allowing you to censor media without having to first prove that the information in question is either harmful or untrue. We only accept it because we’re used to speech being insanely curtailed in this country. But attempting to impose one on the national law-making assembly seems just downright hubristic.

And I think I’m beginning to detect another sickening aspect to this story: An attempt by Fianna Fáil to spin Denis O’Brien as Fine Gael’s creation because of his dealings with Michael Lowry, in the hope of making themselves seem the clean party by comparison. This is specious of course. The fortune of Denis O’Brien and of others like him grew under both governments, as each pursued virtually indistinguishable policies of making the rich richer.

And with that greater wealth came greater power, until the super-rich think nothing of biting the states that fattened them. The democratic form of government has never been in greater danger than it is now; not from revolutionaries or evil foreign dictators, but from the elites it itself created, beginning to believe that they can do just fine without it.

How About A Meanness Test?

The IMF has some helpful suggestions about how we might meet our loan repayments. To sum up: Make the poor poorer. Social welfare rates that are “too high” are a disincentive to work, apparently.

Ask yourself though, what level of unemployment assistance would be low enough for the IMF? Just one euro a day would be sufficient inducement to stay at home, if the job market was also only offering one euro.

And right now the job market is offering most people precisely no euro at all, because there are no jobs for them. To those, even a zero level of dole payment would still act as a disincentive.

To follow the IMF’s logic to its conclusion therefore, we need to fine people for not working.

It is orthodox nonsense of course. All lowering welfare can do is make more people desperate for work, so increasing the labour supply. It doesn’t magically create jobs. If viable employment just appeared because people wanted it badly enough we wouldn’t have a lot of famines in the world, would we? The only thing lower welfare can magically create is poverty, and poverty in turn increases despair, dissent, conflict and crime.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, IMF, but we have already lowered the social welfare rates. Several times. Did it lead to an increase in jobs? No. Funnily enough, the number of unemployed actually rose.

Oddly, the proposal which seemed to get all the media attention is the idea that means-testing might be introduced for child benefit. I think I see why. We have come to expect that the poor will routinely be taken outside and kicked bloody at every budget. Means-testing child benefit though, that could hit middle class people. Controversial!

(Though I noticed that Radio 1 immediately hosted an argument about whether we need child benefit at all. “Why should I pay to bring up someone else’s children?” etc. RTÉ once again failing to distinguish between socially useful public debate and the entertainment value of terrible people shouting at each other. There is really not that big a step between Liveline and the Jeremy Kyle Show.)

Well, should families who don’t actually need child benefit still get it? It seems illogical on the face of it, but there are some good, idealistic reasons behind the payment. One is that a mother, especially of young children, usually doesn’t have much income she has real control over – and that can be true in rich homes as well as poor. This makes her hugely vulnerable, her children effectively hostage to whoever holds the purse strings. The children’s allowance makes here less dependent on her husband or other family members, less vulnerable to bullying and manipulation. It seems like a good thing to me.

Now we may ask is it any business of society to intervene in that way. And in these days of ascendant right-wing selfishness, I am sure there will be plenty willing to debate it. But you know what? That’s our debate. I don’t let the bank tell me what Christmas presents to buy or what food to eat, even if I’m buying them with money they lent me. They can dictate the interest rate and the repayment schedule, but not my values.

IMF, if you want a role in formulating social policy then stand for bloody election. Otherwise, butt out.

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Rabbit Of Government Versus Truck Of Euro

So having looked at the reasons to reject the Fiscal Compact, let’s examine the government’s pro-treaty arguments.

 

Fiscal Compact in Ireland - YES Campaign [MEP] Olle Schmidt support
But fear not, here’s the opposi… oh

Well that didn’t take long. Really there is no positive argument beyond the stability of the Euro. As good a thing as that might be, it seems a trifling technicality when compared with the very real and immediate suffering the treaty would impose. So it is perhaps not surprising that the government has focused instead on reasons not to vote no. Effectively they’re reduced to the null argument: Well what would you do? If we need more money, how would you raise it?

By asking this they hope to split opposition. Different opponents of the treaty have different ways they’d prefer to raise income, and if they can move the debate on to that then people may forget it’s not the urgent question. It’s like someone driving straight at an oncoming truck and saying “Well which way would you swerve?” The government’s case rests almost solely on the argument that we may require aid from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), and that this would be preferable to other loan options. But that’s actually composed of two questionable assumptions:

Firstly, we are obviously going to avoid another “bailout” if we at all can. The necessity will depend very much on global markets, how fast we can regrow our economy and so on. The really mad thing here is that if we sign up for the Fiscal Compact, the restrictions it will place on our opportunities for growth make it so much more likely that we will need a further emergency loan.

If we do, will the new ESM be the best lender? Well it will almost certainly offer the lowest interest rates going – for sure lower than any we’ll be able to get on the open market for a long time. The problem is the  conditions. Obviously the ESM won’t lend us money to invest in growth, because that’s what the whole Fiscal Compact is ideologically opposed to. We can borrow to pay for emergency things, like public wage bills or – irony warning – loan repayments we can’t meet, but not to invest.

And the mad part of this is that if we do sign the treaty, we are committing ourselves to these conditions even if we borrow from somewhere else. Even if we raise funds on the open market, even if we go to the IMF, even if the European Social Fund never comes into existence – which is a very real possibility – we still have a commitment not to borrow to invest, on pain of having our budgets dictated to us. Joining the Fiscal Compact is agreeing to abide by the conditions of a loan we may never get. Who does that?

Quite opposed to there being no other option for funding except the ESM, there is almost an embarrassment of of them. None of them is a picnic of course, but I would argue that any one of them is preferable to the Fiscal Compact. This post is already too long, but tomorrow let’s play the government’s game and see what other options we have apart from destroying our own economy just to be obliging.

On The Road, On The Border

Ballybay

Lying on the floor of a cottage by the sea, theoretically trying to sleep, feeling guilty about how little I’ve written in the last couple of days. It has been a great break though. An adventure in a lot of ways, particularly driving ways. I’m not used to steering by satnav, and kept missing my turning. I have literally no idea where I’ve been. Wandering around the back roads, I think I crossed the border with Northern Ireland about six times. You can tell because the quality of the roads suddenly drops. Not so long since it was the other way around; the British really seemed to stop trying after the peace agreement. I also ended up driving on motorway for the first time, something I wasn’t allowed to do before I passed my test. Shouldn’t have been doing out now either, I was going in the wrong direction.

Had my first flat too! Changing a tyre is quite exciting when you’ve no idea how to do it. The Japanese like puzzles, so they make it interesting. Along with the jack they give you a couple of bits of metal to see what you make of them. As it turns out, one levers off the hubcap, one undoes the wheel nuts, and if you fit them together and revolve them in a really rather surprising way, it turns the jack. All pretty straightforward really; I had it nearly figured out by the time I was finished.

Charge Of The Lie Brigade

“Better communities start at your doorstep.”

That’s what it says on the final reminder to pay your Household Charge (the new property tax being introduced here in Ireland). They manage to combine meaningless bullshit, calculated deceit and veiled threat all into one brief phrase. That shows flair.

Don’t pay the charge and your neighbors suffer, it seems to say. As if central government is lowering its funding to local authorities by precisely the amount the household charge should raise. Of course, central funding for local spending will be reduced by far more than the household charge was ever going to raise – even if everyone could pay, never mind will. The shortfall will eventually be made up by allowing local authorities to raise the charge. So central government can keep lowering its contribution, effectively raising taxes while avoiding blame.

Neat.

I just wish though, instead of this careful blend of wheedle and threat, instead of pitting neighbour against neighbour, they’d try being honest for once.

“We’re sorry, we know it isn’t fair to ask you to bear such a big portion of this debt. But as you probably know, the more money people have, the harder it is to get it out of them. We promise we’ll go after the the tax-dodging bastards, but right now we need money fast and it looks like it’s got to be you. What do you say?”

I’d pay that.

But I Regress

Income Tax rates by Country based on OECD 2005...
It's insane how low our direct taxes are

Incentives for property investment? There are times I want to go into government buildings with some sort of brain detector, see can I find anything. The reason why the property market is moribund is that property is still insanely overvalued. Urging people to invest in something overvalued is not only what got is into trouble in the first place, it’s surely a form of fraud.

Insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing while expecting a different outcome.

This budget is going to make me worse off. This is not what I object too though. What gets me is that it will make people who are better off less well off than it will make me. This is something to do with it being a “jobs budget”. They don’t want to create a disincentive for the poor to work by taxing the rich too much.

I think they do their economics by voodoo and shibboleth. They have raised money today by every means conceivable except raising income taxes, because raising income taxes is a Bad Thing. The result is that we have a highly regressive budget that hurts the poor far more than the well-off. Certainly it could be counterproductive to pile on excessive taxation. But is it not even more mad, in the midst of economic disaster, to have some of the lowest direct taxes in the developed world?

My mother, confused about why she’ll be able to afford less fuel this winter, asked me “So why can’t they tax the rich?”

I thought for a minute, and replied “Mainly, because they’re rich.”

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Our Man In Luxembourg

European Court of Auditors
The Headquarters of the Society of Shepherds. 

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation Richard Bruton has said the Government wants to see the nomination process of Kevin Cardiff to the European Court of Auditors through to its conclusion. (RTÉ News)

Why – what did he ever do to them? This is just going to be humiliating.

You can see the government’s standpoint – while also seeing how hopeless it is. They want to emphasize that they are a different regime from the one that let the Irish economy down the plughole. Well and good, but they have an uphill battle merely to convince the European Parliament that any Irish nominee deserves to be on the Court of Auditors.

We just had an economic collapse due largely to the ridiculous lack of oversight by our Department of Finance, with every sign of excessive personal closeness between government and the money industry. Why should anyone from a country like that be even allowed a nominee? The “Court of Auditors” is a rather dull-sounding name, but this is the EU body specifically tasked with fighting corruption. It’s like having the wolves nominate their shepherd representative. There’s really only one reason why they will accept any Irish representative at all: They have to. It’s in the treaties.

So there was every reason to expect that a nominee to the court from Ireland was going to come under the closest possible scrutiny. Yet what do we send? A man who held a top position in our disastrous Department throughout the boom and bust. A man who was actually present when the inexplicable bank guarantee was given.

They must think we’re joking.

Just Sign Here Here Here And Here

Shelby County Courthouse, Memphis, Tennessee, USA
"So what's the surpri... Was that a click?"

This is worrying stuff.

You’d hardly notice, but we’re being asked to change the Constitution this Thursday. Twice. Yet nobody is acting like this is much of a deal. The amendments are being thrown in with the Presidential election like some sort of democratic side order, and getting about as much attention. This despite the fact that a Constitutional amendment actually, you know, changes something, while a ceremonial President – in spite of the impression they try to create in their election campaigns – can change about bugger all.

These are not trivial matters either. One would remove the bar on reductions to the pay of judges, something placed in the Constitution deliberately to prevent the sitting government pressuring the judiciary. The other would allow the houses of the Oireachtas¹ to conduct their own quasi-judicial investigations. That would seem to give them quite a lot of power. How much? Well according to part of the proposed amendment:

4º It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with due regard to the principles of fair procedures, the appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest for the purposes of ensuring an effective inquiry into any matter to which subsection 2º applies.’

So only the Oireachtas can say how much power it can give itself. Though it is of course restricted by law. Which the Oireachtas also creates.

Yes parliaments often have powers of investigation, but this seems very broadly drawn, and likely to make power in this country even more unbalanced. Government in a democracy is generally divided into three main branches: The executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. There is meant to be a measure of conflict between these roles, in order to ensure that everyone is watching what everyone is up to.

We’re a parliamentary democracy though; that immediately reduces internal contention because it means there is no effective difference between the executive and the legislature. Unlike countries with an executive presidency such as France or the US, the legislature elects the executive – which then pretty much dictates everything else the legislature does.

Another safety mechanism is a bicameral legislature; two houses each with oversight of the other – House/Senate, Commons/Lords, etc. Our upper house though is effectively the creation of the executive, which appoints the majority of its members. So no balance there either; whatever party wins most seats in an election just sweeps the board of executive and both houses.

That only leaves the judiciary as an independent power, and we are being asked to pass two amendments to our constitution, one of which will take away its chief protection against undue government pressure, the other of which will usurp some of its functions. Still wonder why I’m worried?

 

  1. Parliament/Congress

The Truth About The Truth About Dana

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, New...
Didn't really feel like putting up a picture of Dana. Here are some pretty rocks instead

Dana Rosemary Scallon, religious recording artist, Irish Presidential candidate and, er, American citizen, showed signs of distress in Wednesday’s TV debate and has said that “a vile and false allegation” about her family is “about to surface”.

W, as they say, TF?

Maybe it’s a fantastically complicated ruse to make herself look like a victim. It seems like the only chance she has now. A victim of what? Government, perhaps. The forces of secularism. But I’m guessing the media. She seems like the sort of person to blame the media for things. Which is fair enough I guess. It was the media after all that told everyone she has taken a vow of allegiance to the United States of America, something she seemed perfectly content not to tell us before becoming our President.

And as – in my own little way – the media, I’d like to point out to the US authorities that by running for the Presidency of another country, she is presumably breaking that oath. Last public figure to do that got assassinated with a drone, I mention in passing.

Speculation is rife of course. But I’m puzzled not so much about what the dark secret is, as by how there can be a false allegation known only to her and the… alleger? alligator? I mean, someone surely can’t be sending her anonymous mail to say “Do what I tell you, or I’m going to make up some shit about your mother.” A false allegation would be hurtful, yes, but a secret false allegation just doesn’t make any sense. Furthermore, it makes no sense to tell us about the existence of it.

The only conclusion I can draw is that, whatever it is, it’s probably true.