Monthly Archives For October 2015

whoischarlie

Zombie Catholicism

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Book Review: WHO IS CHARLIE?  Emmanuel Todd (Polity, 2015) 

The targeted killing of staff at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris took place on 7th January 2015 and on the 11th of the month a mass protest demonstration in the city attracted between 1.5 and 2 million people. The march had an impeccable pedigree, headed as it was by the likes of Angela Merkel, François Hollande, David Cameron, Jean-Claude Juncker, Nicholas Sarkozy and Donald Tusk. ‘I am Charlie’ became synonymous with ‘I am French’ and when the now state-subsidized satirical magazine was relaunched its cover showed Muhammad with a penis-shaped face and wearing a turban from which hung two round shapes like testicles. For protestors a pencil on a poster became a symbol of liberty, forgetting the way caricatures of Jews had been a stock part of Nazi anti-Semitism.

The people on the protest march did not represent a cross-section of French society: the less well-off from the suburbs, whatever religion they did or did not profess, were not on the streets of Paris; nor were the working class of provincial France well represented. It was a largely middle-class affair with its roots in the old Catholic substratum of France and not in the secularism of the country’s republicanism. Emmanuel Todd sees his country lying to itself, provoking the thought that Charlie is an impostor, and reminds readers that two years earlier Paris had witnessed another huge demonstration, between 340,000 and 800,000 people, protesting at the legalisation of homosexual marriages. Such large numbers did not characterise reactions to the spread of anti-Semitism in France that resulted in the killing of three Jewish children in Toulouse in 2012 or the killing by a French citizen of four people in the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014.

Religious beliefs and practices have dramatically declined in France, just as elsewhere across Europe, with the proportion of children born out of wedlock increasing from 5.5% in 1960 to 55% today and the numbers of practising Catholics falling from 33% to 6%. Such a change can destabilise the group psyche of regions where Catholicism was deeply rooted, creating metaphysical anxiety, and Todd’s term for the anthropological and social fallout from this is ‘zombie Catholicism’.

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thiswealth

This Wealth is Your Wealth, This Wealth is My Wealth

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Recently, RTE aired ‘Ireland’s Great Wealth Divide’.  Though there were some problems with the analysis (ignoring the wealth of data published by the CSO, the confusing conflation of income and wealth, the unsubstantiated assumption that Ireland was ‘good’ at wealth generation) and the prescriptions (there wasn’t any) it at least gave an airing to a subject that doesn’t get much airing: inequality. 

A major gap in the programme, however, was a failure to acknowledge one of the biggest wealth divides – that between public and private wealth. First, let’s define wealth.  It is the value of all assets, whether those assets are held by households, businesses or states.  It can comprise physical assets such as buildings, land, machinery; liquid assets such as cash; and intangible assets – assets are not physical and are hard to value (e.g. a brand’s goodwill).  It is on the basis of this wealth that we generate income.

Private wealth is owned privately – by individuals or businesses.  Wealth indexes – likethe Credit Suisse report featured in the RTE programme – measure the wealth that is held by households.  Public wealth, on the other hand, is held by a public agency:  Government Departments, public agencies, local authorities and commercial enterprises.  These, too, generate income, create economic and business activity and are used for individual and social need (e.g. a local authority house). 

The amount of public capital is vast and under-appreciated.  Let’s run through a list that is far from exhaustive:

  • Land
  • Commercial, residential and heritage buildings – in use and derelict
  • Hospitals, schools, prisons, clinics, galleries, museums, libraries
  • Waterways – rivers, lake, canals, on-shore and off-shore
  • Roads, bridges, rails, airports, docks and seaports
  • Assets of commercial public enterprises
  • Financial assets:  Strategic Investment Bank, cash balances, Central Bank, retail banks

This is a vast portfolio of assets that generate income, business activity and living standards.  Much of it difficult to value – how do you measure, in Euros and cents, Lough Ray or the off-shore seas (though this can be done if the property can be privatised; anyone want to buy the Shannon?). 

How did this wealth come into being?  Apart from natural resources, these came about because of investment.  Public decisions in the past to invest in infrastructure, businesses, public services and capital assets form the basis of our public wealth today.

In fact, there is so much public wealth around us that sometimes we take it for granted without understanding how absolutely important it is – and what role it can play in future wealth and income generation for all of our benefit.

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cavaco-silva1

The Portuguese election: quicksand in the center, an emboldened left and a desperate president

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An article by João Camargo, an activist in the Precarios Inflexiveis Movement on events in Portugal

The Portuguese center-right ultraliberal government, which went “far beyond the troika” won a relative majority in the 4th of October general election. With 36.8% of the vote and 1.994 million votes, the previous governmental coalition (PSD and CDS) was the winner. In second place came the Socialist Party, with 32.4% and 1.746 million votes. The biggest surprise and strongest rise was the Left Bloc, which had 10.2% of the vote with 551 000 votes, followed by the Communist Party, with 8.3% and 446 000 votes. When compared to the previous 2011 election, the right-wing parties lost more than 700 000 votes, the Socialist Party (PS) had 160 000 more, the Left Bloc (BE) rose by 260 000 and the Communist Party (PCP) by 3400 votes.

The PS, which has for the last forty years been running the country with the Social-Democrats (PSD) and the conservatives (CDS) suffered a massive shock, although the polls in previous weeks clearly predicted this outcome. Not seen as an alternative to the rightwing’s austerity, it had a disastrous campaign after its best-known leader, previous prime-minister José Sócrates, was arrested for corruption. It now faces its greatest dilemma: turning right and approving a right-wing government or turning left and opening a whole new scenario, never seen in Portuguese politics: a PS government supported in Parliament by left-wing parties (BE and PCP, which now amount to 18.5%, one million votes).

The President of the Republic, former prime-minister (1985-95), Cavaco Silva, had previously stated, far exceeding his mandate, that he would not empower a relative majority and an unstable government. After a long career once more he has lied. Two days after the election, after meeting with only his own party (PSD), Silva told the country he had asked Passos Coelho (former prime-minister and head of the winning coalition) to form a stable government, in which there couldn’t be parties that didn’t assume “international and historical treaties and agreements”, as well as “the grand strategical options” adopted for the last 40 years: that is, NATO, European Union, the Euro, the EU’s Budgetary Treaty and the future TTIP. This option clearly meant to exclude BE and PCP from any governmental solution. Nonetheless, it was to the left that António Costa, leader of PS, turned.

The PS-PCP meeting, the day after the President of the Republic laid out his “rules” as to who could be in government, came as a shock: the communists said that they would support a PS government and could even eventually be a part of that government. The communists felt the pressure from being overtaken once again by the Left Bloc and gave a historic sign of the political possibilities of participating in a broader coalition. During the campaign, in the debate with PS leader, BE’s spokeswoman Catarina Martins laid down conditions for talks on a left agreement, telling the PS to retreat on three points of its program: no freezing on current pensions, no welfare reform with cuts on future pensions and no flexibilization of labour laws. On the election evening speech, Martins was also clear: “The Left Bloc will do everything to prevent the right wing coalition forming a government. We now await for the response of the other parties”. PCP spoke afterwards and supported this idea. The final decision would be in the hands of the PS.

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Social-Democrats

The Continuing Story of Óglaigh na hÉireann

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All around the snot-nosed parishes of Ireland

small people of both genders, and neither,

are flapping open

copies of The Sunday O’Duffy

getting worried

about the continued existence

of the Citizen Army, Fenian Brotherhood,

Official IRA.

s

We can’t have

parties who perspire to government

secretly controlled by cabals

of men (and ladies) whose faces

we never see; apart from those

faces prescribed by prevailing winds

and the agreed rules

of the European Union,

which we need never see

but rest eternally assured

are there. Or thereabouts.

s

The only weaponry allowed

those seeking elected office

are five piece suits to help little

men appear substantial,

and no more than six

plastic chairs on which the faithful can

every other month gather

to recite the Our Father,

or discuss the rising

price of sewage. Even

s

the Social Democrats must come clean

about the continued non-existence

of their army council, and what role precisely

Fintan O’Toole plays in its

military high command.

s

A mature democracy like ours

needs parties whose manifestos

political correspondents

with excellent haircuts (and none) can safely

spread across their living room floors

and roll around naked on

without fear of being interrupted

by men and women wearing

illegally held

balaclavas.

s

KEVIN HIGGINS

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boom_and_bust

A Return to Boom-and-Bust

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Never mind the details.  If we are to believe even half of the media leaks, the Government is preparing to return us to the kind of boom and bust fiscal policy that dominated the pre-crash period.

The context is different but the character is the same.  Between 1997 and 2007 corporate tax was slashed, capital gains and inheritance taxes were halved while the effective personal tax rate fell by 25 percent.    During that period budgets rode the wave of property tax revenue but when the crash hit our hollowed-out tax base was exposed. Revenue fell by over 22 percent or €16 billion in the first three years of the crash, resulting in a massive deficit.   The economy was built on the quicksand of unsustainable tax revenue.

Fast-forward to the 2016 budget to be presented tomorrow and a whole number of tax-cut goodies are being dangled in front of us:

  • USC
  • Self-employed
  • Landlords
  • Inheritances
  • Capital gains
  • Corporate tax (knowledge-box) and other business taxes

The Taoiseach has made it clear this is the first of a series of tax-cutting budgets.   We are hurtling back to the future.

Some may argue that increased tax revenue can more than make up for this.  But budget management now determines that excess revenue will have to be used to pay down debt – paying for tax cuts and/or spending increases will require equivalent tax raising and expenditure reduction measures (beyond the fiscal space of €1.5 billion).  The EU fiscal rules put us in a whole different game.

However, this game doesn’t prevent fiscal irresponsibility any more than they wouldhave prevented the pro-cyclical polices prior to the crash.  And this is where the problems arise.

Today, tax cuts will be subsidised, not by property boom revenue but by depressing badly needed public spending increases.  The Government has set aside €750 million for spending increases.  But:

  • A minimal €200 million has already been assigned to capital investment.
  • The Government’s Spring Statement and the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council state that €300 million is needed just to keep pace with changing demographics.
  • And a further €200 million is needed just to inflation-proof non-pay expenditure on public services. 

That’s €700 million before we even get out of the starting gates.  And this doesn’t include the Lansdowne Road Agreement or increases in social protection (somewhat offset by declining unemployment payments).  More importantly, this doesn’t factor in the considerable social repair that needs to be undertaken in the wake of austerity.  And as for expanding public services to European norms – that’s not even on the agenda.

While expenditure may exceed this €750 million, it will have to come from somewhere – including cutbacks in other areas of expenditure.  This is not as ominous as it sounds; savings from reducing the prescription medicine bill can be redirected into other areas.  But there is a limit to these savings.

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renua_the_boom_and_bust

Renua’s Carnival Ride Back to Boom-and-Bust

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The silly season usually refers to August.  Now we have the silliest of seasons –the run-up to a budget in the run-up to a general election.  Minister Richard Bruton has recently called for a low flat rate tax on immigrants and returning Irish, along with cutting capital gains tax to 10 percent.  Brian Lucey has called some of the ideas both bad and stupid.

But Minister Bruton runs a poor second to Renua in the race-to-the-ridiculous stakes.  Renua has called for a flat-rate tax.  It represents a massive transfer from the lowest income groups to the highest income groups.  It will require low and middle income groups to fund not only their own tax cuts but even higher tax cuts for those on much higher incomes.   As Brian says of Minister Bruton’s proposals – it is an idea whose time has not come (and hopefully never will).

Renua proposes that income tax, employees’ PRSI and USC be abolished and replaced by a flat-rate tax of 23 percent.  This will be complemented by what is called a ‘Basic Income’ that tapers out slightly above average earnings (this is not actually a basic income – it is a hybrid of a tax allowance and negative income tax).  Renua doesn’t detail how this tapering works so we can’t do an income distribution impact assessment for all income groups.  However, here are a couple of examples from their own pre-budget submission with some estimates of my own.

Renua

Yes, you’re reading the graph right.  A low-paid worker on €20,000 would end up paying more tax.  Someone on an average wage would benefit by €800.  However, it’s bonanza city for those on €100,000 and more.  Calculations for €36,000 and higher are my own.

There is a similar regressive impact when considering couples.   Renua states that a couple on €50,000 (both working, same salary) would gain €1,665.  A couple on €100,000 would gain €9,741 – or more than six times the nominal amount.  Couples on even higher incomes would benefit disproportionately more.

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johnMcD

‘Butskellism’ versus Keynes and Marx

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This article originally appeared on Socialist Economic Bulletin on Wednesday the 7th of Oct

Economics of budget deficits

The debate is continuing on the purpose of government borrowing and the role of ‘balanced budgets’ – which was started by John McDonnell’s position of balancing the budget on current expenditure but borrowing for investment. This is not surprising given that economic policy has to be the core of the programme for a Labour government.

A thoughtful addition to the debate is this piece by Jo Michell in theGuardian, who asks for a real alternative to Osborne, which SEB has provided in relation to the Fiscal Responsibility Act. But an important misunderstanding should be clarified. That article argues that advocacy of a balanced current budget over the business cycle would be to ’emulate Ed Balls and austerity lite.’ That is incorrect. It would only be the case if the level of government investment were maintained at current miserably low levels. Instead what is proposed here is a transformational increase in public investment, sufficient to foster a sustained recovery led by public investment. Far from this being ‘austerity lite’ it makes state driven investment a key to economic policy – entirely unlike the policy of Ed Balls.

The piece below examines this attachment to persistent government budget deficits, which have been combined with a simultaneous long-run decline in public investment.

The position on Osborne’s proposals that a Labour government should balance the budget on current expenditure over the business cycle but borrow for investment is set out in an earlier article here. It follows from the fact that the purpose of economic policy is, or should be, to optimise the growth in the sustainable living standards of the population. Increasing living standards requires growth – internationally over 80% of increases in consumption are due to economic growth. Since it is not possible to increase the fundamental productive capacity of the economy without investment, investment is the decisive factor in producing growth (in an overall framework of increasing the division/socialisation of labour). Therefore economic policy, including fiscal policy, should aim at increasing investment and gradually enhancing the proportion of output devoted to investment. This is the precondition for more rapid growth – ‘growing the economy out of the crisis’ as John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn put it. Borrowing should primarily be confined to investment, only resorting to support consumption in specific exceptional circumstances – such as to maintain living standards of the least well off sections of the population during economic downturns. Social protection should be financed via taxation – levied in a disproportionate way on the richer sections of the population.

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mckee_park_donal_Murphy_Photography

Housing Without Profit, People with a Home

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The following is based on a talk I gave to the housing conference held on Saturday: ‘Towards a Real Housing Strategy’.  There were excellent contributions from academics, activists and victims of the housing crisis.  The contributions from Dr. Lorcan Sirs (DIT), Dr. Sinead Kelly and Dr. Mick Byrne (both from Maynooth) were particularly provocative, as were many others;including Fr. Peter McVerry and Dr. Rory Hearn.

The current model of 100 percent local authority provision of social housing is no longer capable of meeting the new challenges – not only because of future fiscal restraints and competing demands from other sectors – health, education, social protection, economic infrastructure, etc.  Future social housing provision will need to accommodate low and average income households – something which the private rental sector will struggle with, especially as transnational landlords, inward foreign investment and up-market accommodation are squeezing so many out.

This requires a new public sector-led model to adequately house a larger section of society and ensure that rents do not become a burden on the productive economy. 

There are three principles that can inform this new model:

  • It is not-for-profit (cost rental)
  • It blurs the distinction between the ‘social’ and the ‘private’ so that the not-for-profit housing leads and eventually dominates the entire rental sector (unitary market)
  • It reduces the impact on public finances (off-the-books)

This will, in the first instance, require new housing providers. 

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pfc

Progressive Film Club Screenings: Sat 24th Oct

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Date for your diary – our next screening features a documentary from Mexico (Spanish with English subtitles) and a gritty feature film from Dublin.

Sat 24th October 2015
New Theatre · 43 East Essex Street · Dublin 2
        
3pmOut of Focus [2013]
San Fernando is no ordinary prison. In Mexico City’s most notorious juvenile detention centre, boys between the ages of fifteen and eighteen are serving sentences for serious crimes. When they are released after many years they have their whole lives ahead of them—but what then? “In my community and throughout Mexico,” says Cholo, “even around the world, as an artist I want to be known, not only as a thief and a loser.” As part of a film and photography workshop organised by the film-makers, the juvenile inmates’ hopes and dreams are artistically reflected in short stories, sculptures, songs, poems, and films. They tell of their experience with violence and crime but also of dealing with each other and the importance of friendship. ? Directed by Adrián Arce.? Running time: 37 minutes.

4pmSmolt
In the style of a bootleg VHS, Smolt is a unique portrayal of an eventful few days in the lives of Darren and Leon, two Irish lads who generally have to fend for themselves. While killing time selling second-hand cigarettes, the boys run into some trouble with a girl, a gun, and a shipment of counterfeit football jerseys. Smolt offers an intimate, visceral slice-of-life of two young lads in the concrete playground that is Dublin. ? Directed by Michael Higgins. ? Running time: 67 minutes.
See trailer:-
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qj59Jh-VMdE

Admission is free – as usual.

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Top 4 Tips To Pick The Best Casino Online

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With thousands of options at hand when it comes to online gambling venues, many experienced players and newcomers have a hard time picking the ones that can best suit their needs. Luckily, specialists have thought…

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Top 4 Tips To Pick The Best Casino Online

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With thousands of options at hand when it comes to online gambling venues, many experienced players and newcomers have a hard time picking the ones that can best suit their needs. Luckily, specialists have thought…

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wakeupcall

The Wake Up Call

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One of the more frustrating aspects about the budget season is that everyone is focused on the detail, the particulars; even more so when an election is looming.  The whole thing is backwards.  One should first start with a long-term programme.  Then we can see how the details of any particular budget serves that programme (or doesn’t).  No one is doing that.

Except the Nevin Economic Research Institute.  In their recent Quarterly Economic Observer, Dr. Tom McDonnell has produced an outline of such a long-term term framework and vision – a sustainable, prosperous and increasingly productive economy capable of raising incomes and reducing poverty.  It is rigorously argued and evidence-based and probably one of the best economic frameworks to emerge from the debate for some time.

This is not sexy stuff.  But it is the stuff of economic and social prosperity. 

Most of it all, it should serve as a wake-up call – not only to the Government but to progressives and trade unionists as well.  The programme is set out in Section 4 of theQuarterly Economic Outlook.  It is still in skeletal form; I understand that Dr. McDonnell will be producing a more comprehensive paper in late October.  But let’s go through some of the the headline proposals NERI is making.

Infrastructure

  • Increase public investment
  • A new infrastructure bank to provide stable, long-term finance
  • Expert evaluation of infrastructural needs and specific projects (cos-benefit analysis)

This is a crucial area.  Think social housing, advanced-speed broadband, renewable energy generation, water & waste.  The Government’s capital programme released this week is a complete flop.  Investment will rise by €600 million over the next three years while tax cuts will cost €750 million next year. 

The emphasis on an infrastructural bank is intended to allow access to low-cost loans over the long-term, which works with the nature of infrastructural projects which have a long return horizon.  And we desperately need independent analysis of our infrastructural needs combined with publicly available and scrutinised cost-benefit analysis to ensure that we are getting value-for-money and that projects are economically viable, not politically expedient.

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