Economy

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Welcome to the New Tax Avoidance Scheme, Same as the Old Tax Avoidance Scheme

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Well, not quite – but the effect may be the same.  Many international commentators welcomed the Irish Government for ending the infamous ‘double-Irish’ tax scheme.  But just as it shut this down, it announced a new scheme: a ‘knowledgedevelopment box’ designed to reduce corporate taxation to a little over six percent.

The ‘knowledge-development box’ is based on the concept of the patent box used by the UK and the Netherlands to attract multi-nationals with preferential tax rates on income flowing from patenting activity.  However, the scope for the Irish box could be wider.

After all, what exactly does ‘knowledge-development’ encompass?  In the UK and the Netherlands, companies get a tax break on income generated from inventions.  In Ireland, we may see all manner of activities thrown in – source code, copyrights, patents, branding, trademarks and that expandable concept – R&D.  And we’ll have to wait and see to what extent it facilitates more than just actual activity in Ireland (will it encompass activity ‘managed from Ireland’).

The Government was keen not only to put in a replacement for the double-Irish scheme, but to reassure key multi-nationals.  Government officials briefed ‘multinational investors’ on the rationale for the Government’s policy (question:  were any of you included in a conference call by officials prior to the establishment of the water charge?).  The message was clear: the Government may have been forced to abandon the double-Irish due to considerable international pressure – but don’t panic; a replacement is at hand.

It is argued that we need multi-national capital to create high-end employment in the global supply chain.  No one disputes this.  Ireland’s indigenous economy, even with the best policies in place, would not have created the pharmaceutical sector we have today.  However, this common-sense observation is then used to argue that the only way to achieve this is to pursue our current accommodative corporate tax regime (that’s a nice way to describe a tax haven-conduit).  Yes, we have another roll-out of TINA – there is no alternative.

But are there alternative approaches to attracting multi-national enterprises without resorting to tax tricks or ultra-low tax rates?  Does Ireland benefit more than our peer-group EU countries from multinational employment?  This argument – that we have been more successful than other countries in attracting multi-national jobs – has been restated so many times that it is taken as gospel.  But is it true?

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Austerity is Over? Now Back to the Real World

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Headlines and sound-bites abound: ‘austerity is over’, ‘the beginning of the end of austerity’, ‘we beat austerity’ and so on and whatever and sure, why not.

Let’s cut to the chase: austerity is not over. It is entering a new phase. We will now experience austerity ‘below the waterline’. Austerity by stealth, austerity beneath the radar: give it any description but have no doubts. We will continue to suffer austerity, probably up to the end of the decade.

You don’t have to believe me – just look at the Government’s own projections. They clearly show what is in store. And it is not pretty.

The following comes from the Budget 2015 Full Report (Table A.2.2, page 99). In this table the Government projects their spending plans out to 2018. You’ll see that spending pretty much flat-lines, with some slight downward pressure, up to 2018. However, this is what’s called the ‘nominal’ spend – the actual Euros and cents. To get a real world sense you have to factor in inflation.

The Government provides the inflation or deflator figures in Table 5. They estimate that inflation (for the economy, the inflation figure is the GDP deflator) will be over six percent up to 2018. Therefore, public spending – if it is to maintain its value – must rise by that amount. If it falls below that figure, we have a real cut; if it rises above that figure, we have a real increase. So what do we find?

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Primary expenditure excludes interest payments; therefore, it is the total spending on public services, social transfers and investment, with other small categories such as subsidies. We find that total real spending will fall by over six percent by 2018.

In regards to public services (estimated on the basis of figures produced in Table A.2.1 on page 97), we find that real spending will fall by five percent. That’s five percent less than we have today to fund schools, hospitals, policing, transportation, enterprise supports – all our public services. That is going to put a real squeeze on the breadth and quality of our services.

As to investment – the key to long-term growth – the Government intends to cut its spending by nearly 13 percent. This will undermine our infrastructural and business capacity. We will fall further behind our trading partners (and competitors) who are investing far more than us. Of all cuts this is the most irrational from an economic growth point of view.

But there’s another twist to this. For populations do not remain static. Our population is estimated by the IMF to grow by over three percent up to 2018 – which means more people to provide services and income supports to. So if we take the real spending cuts above and break them down on a per capita basis what do we get?

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It is worse. Now overall real primary spending falls by nearly 10 percent, with public services falling by over eight percent and investment taking an even bigger hit.

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A New Kind of Trade Unionism Emerging

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This article was originally posted on the Trade Union Left Forum on the 14th of October.

A new kind of trade unionism is emerging and consolidating itself within the right2water campaign, led by Mandate and Unite and supported by OPATSI, the CPSU, and the CWU. These unions are bringing the broader social and economic interests of their members to the fore and committing resources, time and effort to support mobilisation not only of members, but also the working class and communities more generally.

By viewing their members as workers (as opposed to people paying a subscription for work-place representation services) these unions are placing the workers’ immediate social demands alongside, and equal to, their immediate work-place concerns. This is crucial if the trade union movement is to really represent its members and to recover its power and leverage in society. Wage increases alone will not improve the lot of workers while the political economy of the country is being restructured from one made up of citizens to one of customers in a toll-booth economic and political structure.

The TULF on many occasions has suggested that the trade union movement has a unique position in Ireland in having the resources and channels of communication to support the mobilisation of working people in a way that no left party can. And now it seems that some unions are realising this potential, which is both necessary and welcome.

The right2water alliance is a genuine alliance of union, political and community groups, making a clear demand and statement, “calling for the Government to recognise and legislate for access to water as a human right. We are demanding the Government abolish the planned introduction of water charges.”

As well as the five unions mentioned, community groups and parties have signed up to the campaign. Some 40,000 people have signed a petition calling for the scrapping of the water charges, close to 100,000 marched at the demonstration on 11 October, and more local actions are planned for 1 November.

The right2water campaign is not dictating tactics to communities or individuals but is building and growing a broad campaign of groups and people based on the principle of water as a human right and as a publicly owned utility and resource. Some on the left have attacked the campaign for not demanding non-payment; but at this moment building the biggest, broadest alliance against water charges and privatisation is the priority. A turn towards direct non-payment may be necessary in the future, but right now the campaign’s strength is in growing and building the alliance rather than splintering over tactical matters.

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Open Letter on the Housing Crisis

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An Open Letter to the Dublin City Council, Real Estate Agencies in Dublin, the USI, the PRTB, the HEA, Department of Education and skills, the NAMA, Landlords, the Citizens and Students of Dublin City on the Housing Crisis in Dublin.

As well as being sent to all of the above today it was also published on www.increature.com issue 4 on Sunday the 12th October

Dear all,

We are two final year university students who live in Dublin and wish to express our profound discontent with some of the situations we found ourselves in during the housing crisis that took place this summer in the Irish Capital and the clear discrimination against students which is common practice in the rental market.

Between June and September, we were actively looking for private accommodation in Dublin. We sent several hundreds of emails, made hundreds of phone calls, many of which were from abroad, went to numerous viewings and spent a lot of time, money and energy looking for a place. This house hunt was long, stressful and, overall, a very unpleasant experience which resulted in us sacrificing a large part of our summer, spare time after work, family time and the possibility to advance with college work (readings, dissertation, etc).

We finally found a place two weeks before the start of the academic year. A place that we are not entirely satisfied with, but had to take because we had no other decent offers. We are somewhat relieved that we were lucky enough to have found something, as we are very aware of the fact that many students were not as lucky and are therefore forced to commute, live in hostels or even have to take a year out of college.

One of us is a final year Student in the faculty of arts and humanities who worked the whole summer in a well-respected office in Dublin and will continue to work part-time throughout the academic year. The other is a final year Political Science and Geography student who works during the summer months and is financially supported by her father who works in one of the European Institutions in Brussels. Both of us have letters of references from all our previous landlords stating we are responsible tenants, that the rent and all utility bills have always been paid on time and that we left our previous flats in good condition. Furthermore, we both have good work references from well-respect institutions.

Having such documents, one must wonder how it took us three months to find a mediocre residence.

To us, the answer is very simple. The housing crisis meant that it was hard for everyone to find a place in Dublin due to the fact that this year there was a 43% drop in supply in the rental market and a 7.5% increase in rental prices, but in particular students have a clear disadvantage and are discriminated against.

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Arise Kilnamanagh and take your place among the nations of the earth

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Book Review: Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin, Karl Whitney (Penguin Ireland 2014)

Dublin, perhaps uniquely, has suffered mythologization by genius and by sentimentality. Caught between Leopold Bloom and the Leprachaun Museum (yes, there is), the city of Dublin, the living breathing people and the physical structures they live in and on, has fallen out of sight. Joyce and Flann O’Brien caught its speech, but the one did it so perfectly people are afraid to read him, and the other was so accurate they think the humour is a laughing matter; James Plunkett wrote Dublin on a human scale and gave it flesh and blood characters, but is little known outside Ireland. We have ended up with Bloomsday and Paddy’s Day, the first now more kitsch than the second.

Karl Whitney has now written a book that gives us back Dublin as a city, not the set of a novel, or the battlefield of dreams of some misty eyed tourist in search of their heroic and downtrodden ancestors.

While some of the tourists might be inclined to follow Whitney’s Joyce trail—visit all of Joyce’s Dublin addresses in order (the Trieste equivalent includes his favorite knocking shop)—or even his Liffey descent—from where the river becomes tidal to the last bridge before the sea, crossing every bridge on the way—his bus game would be a bit too Situationist. In this one, you take buses for ninety minutes, changing bus every fifteen, crossing the road if a coin comes up tails. The first time he tries it, he ends up in an area with only one bus. A later attempt is no better. Taking a bus in Dublin has no element of play, but only `the extreme frustration familiar to the demoralized commuter.’ Whitney would not be the first artist crushed by the inadequacy of Dublin’s infrastructure.

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The ‘Taxes’ on Living Standards the Government Won’t Be Addressing

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With all this talk about taxation and Budget 2015 (and one of the few doing any plain talking is Fr. Peter McVerry – calling tax cuts for high-income earners ‘outrageous’) there are ‘taxes’ that people pay that the Government will do little, if anything, to address. Indeed, the budget will be framed in a way that undermines the Government’s ability to provide relief against these ‘taxes’.  What am I talking about?

We automatically assume that ‘taxes’ are something the Government levies.  Therefore, when we discuss ‘tax relief’ or ‘tax cuts’, we refer to reductions in things like income tax, USC, PRSI or VAT, though the latter doesn’t feature much.

However, there are ‘taxes’ that people pay when the Government fails to provide the services and income supports it should – if one accepts that we are a modern European state.  We can call these ‘taxes on living standards’.

Take, for instance, childcare:  in Ireland, a household can pay up to €800 a month and more for a childcare place.  In most other continental countries, childcare can cost as little as €150 per month and even less for the low-paid.  Why the difference?  In other European countries, childcare is financed through the public sector, usually local authorities.  In Ireland, people are forced on to the private market.  This is quite ‘taxing’ for these households.

If the Government rolled out affordable childcare, households with children could expect reductions of up to €500 to €600 a month – or thousands of Euros a year.  This reduction in childcare fees (‘taxes’ for those in need of this vital service) would be greater than any income tax cut.

Or take another example – public transport.  In other countries, public transport receives a high level of public subvention, or subsidy.  This ensures expanded services and affordable fares.  In Ireland, public transport receives an extremely small subvention.

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What is Going On in the Irish Economy?

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After a deep recession, after years of stagnation, the Irish economy is growing in leaps in bounds.  The ESRI is projecting by 10 percent growth over this year and next.  These are almost boom-time growth rates.  Should we be a bit wary?

It’s hard to disagree with the ESRI’s Dr. John Fitzgerald when he wrote:

‘ . . . the standard EU harmonised national accounts are not a satisfactory framework for understanding what is happening in the Irish economy.’

This is primarily due to the impact of multi-nationals and the IFSC which can give a false reading of headline.  Let’s go through some of these categories and then come back to the question:  how satisfactory or reliable are the national accounts and growth projections based on those accounts.  This is a bit long and may be a tad technical in parts but hopefully you can stay with it:  it tells a story about how a story is being told – and it is the telling we should be wary of.

Multi-nationals and the GDP

Everyone knows that GDP is not the best measurement of the Irish economy.  But it’s not just because multi-nationals make profits here and then repatriate them (that is, take out of the country).  The reality is that the profits are not made here but are counted here.  Let’s look at two key sectors where multinationals dominate:  manufacturing and information & communication (the latter is where the Apples and Googles would be located). Note:  this is data supplied by the Irish Government to the EU.

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Profits in Irish manufacturing nearly 8 times that of other EU-15 countries; in the Information & communication sector, it is over 3 times.  Clearly, these are not profits generated by employees in Ireland; they are generated in other economies and ‘imported’ here to take advantage of our low tax rate and our position in the global tax-avoidance chain.

The point here is that our GDP is distorted by multi-national profit-shifting – and that’s before you start taking account profit-repatriation.

Well, Then, We Can Use GNP

Well, no, that isn’t a satisfactory measurement either.  GNP is just the GDP after you take account of money flowing in and out of the country (and more money leaves Ireland than comes in).  Therefore, GNP is still distorted by the multi-nationals’ profit shifting that we saw above.

We can’t be certain if the ‘fake profits’ that appear in our GDP are automatically taken out by multi-nationals.  They may be retained or swim around the IFSC pool (don’t forget that US companies avoid US tax by keeping their money abroad). And not all money flowing out of the country are repatriated profits – they can be interest payments, indigenous multi-nationals investing abroad and households sending money out of the country.

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Five Points for a Citizen Economics

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Budget time is really the only window where citizens are encouraged to engage in economic debate, and even then the space of time is too short and the range of topics up for debate too narrow to make much impact. When it ends, and for the other eleven months of the year, economics is the preserve of technocrats.

That is a serious problem. Economics is the discussion of how things in our society are produced and distributed. If you leave it to experts there is a big cost for democracy. Yet, while people feel comfortable engaging in debate about politics in the Middle East or presidential elections in the United States, there is a reticence to talk about economics.

Part of this is down to economics as a discipline, which has become increasingly remote from day-to-day life. The primacy of the market as a means to resolve problems has led to the rise of ‘market scientists’, who are seen as the authoritative voices on running an efficient economy. The language deployed by these experts is deliberately exclusive. Certainly they are unlikely to start explorations of economics with parables about pin factories, as Adam Smith did in The Wealth of Nations.

Yet they dominate economics discourse. When economics is discussed with any substance in the mainstream press market scientists from universities, think-tanks and finance houses are given free reign to make objective statements about the common good. Research by Julien Mercille has shown that between 2008 and 2012 77% of commentators on austerity were from elite institutions.

Another factor leading to the retreat of ordinary people from economic debate is the narrowing space for democracy in the economy. The democratic sphere only extends to areas where there is or could be public ownership. Outside of this decisions are made by private individuals or organisations. As wealth becomes concentrated in fewer hands, fewer economic decisions are made with public participation.

This has bred a cynicism about what can be achieved by discussing economics. With capital increasingly breaking free from taxation – and mobile enough to defeat strikes – people have come to accept that social problems can only be resolved by appealing to private individuals and organisations to solve problems profitably through the market. And so we are relegated in the economy from citizens to consumers.

This must be reversed if we are to build a politics in Ireland that can reclaim our society from the political establishment and the interests they serve. Joan Robinson, one of the great economists of the twentieth century, was once asked why people should study economics. She replied, “so that economists can’t fool you”. Implicit in this comment is the need for citizen economics.

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Squeezing the Middle

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So the Government wants to give relief to the squeezed middle.

‘Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said easing the tax pressure on the “squeezed middle” will be a priority in the upcoming budget.’

The very first question is:  who exactly is the Taoiseach referring to?  The squeezed middle is an amorphous and infinitely elastic concept that can apply to just about anyone you want it to.  Let’s try and get a handle on this much-talked about but rarely defined group using the latest Revenue Commissioners statistical report.

Let’s define the squeezed middle as the middle 60 percent – between the lower and upper 20 percent group.  Remember, this doesn’t refer to everyone, just those in the workforce.  It excludes those without a job (pensioners, the sick and disabled, the unemployment, lone parents, etc.).

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We can see that, according to the Revenue distribution tables, the middle 60 percent of earners have incomes between €8,700 and €51,300.  However, there is a big caveat here.  Couples where both spouses and civil partners are working are counted as one tax unit.  This means that while in the tables, a tax unit will show an income of €60,000 – this actually means the combined income of two people.  So they may both be earning well below the average income.

We can adjust for this but we have to make assumptions.  To breakdown the one tax unit where there are two people working, I assume that one spouse / civil partner earns 60 percent of the total, while the other earns 40 percent.  When this is done, the revised income range looks something like this.

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This is just an estimate (other might come up with slightly different numbers, working with this data – but it won’t change all that much).  However, looking at the two charts there are three striking things:

  • First, there are many in the squeezed middle that earn very little.  They will be low-paid, part-time, and underemployed (or precarious workers).
  • Second, those earning over €42,400 are in the top 20 percent   (€51,300 using the unrevised chart)
  • Third, between 64 and 73 percent of those in the squeezed middle (depending on which chart you use) are taxed at the standard rate, the marginal rate or are exempt.

A substantial number of the squeezed middle do not earn enough to pay income tax or earn below the top tax rate threshold – so any income tax cuts, never mind cutting the top rate of tax, will have no impact whatsoever.  Is this the group that the Taoiseach is referring to?

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TTIP Trade Deal: Bad for Democracy

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European and American civil society have deemed the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) an anti-democratic threat to the environment, food safety and workers’ rights. Barry Finnegan explains.

While likely to generate increased profits for large companies by removing and reducing production costs associated with health and safety standards (referred to as ‘unnecessary and burdensome, restrictive barriers to trade’), neither citizens nor parliamentarians can get access to the details of the TTIP currently being negotiated by the European Commission and the US Department of Trade; while claims of economic and job growth have been exposed as mere marketing messages.

Private Corporate Courts

Despite the fact that the EU and the US have the world’s most advanced and well-financed legal systems, the TTIP makes provision for a new private ‘court’ called an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) which would allow a company who imagines its future profits being reduced as a result of legislation, to sue a government by way of a private arbitration case.

In the absence of a list of clearly identified problems with the Irish and European justice system, only one conclusion can be drawn from the TTIP negotiators’ desire for a private international court for foreign investors which would allow them to bypass Irish and European courts: namely to avoid the jurisprudence and constitutional rights accompanying the application of justice in democratic societies.

This point was well made by Business Europe (the lobby organisation for 35 European national business federations – including our own IBEC) in their document, Why TTIP Matters To European Business, where they explained how they want to be able to use ISDS in TTIP to overthrow the right of the Americans to use the US constitution to protect themselves. They explicitly state: “If in the US a domestic law is adopted after TTIP enters into force and its content violates the [TTIP] Agreement, it can still be found constitutional by domestic courts. So the only possibility for the investor to ensure its adequate protection is to bring the claim to international arbitration”.

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No Easy Victories

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The campaign for the Right2Water in Ireland is rapidly growing in strength and confidence. Working class communities have been staging determined and inspiring protests to prevent the installation of water meters in their areas, the best of the trade union movement has mobilised to help support and coordinate these efforts at the national level and the Irish political left has rallied to the cause. In response to the growth of the movement, the Irish State has let loose its dogs of war. As a result of which recent days have witnessed heavy handed and provocative policing from An Garda Síochána, concentrated mainly in Edenmore, Donaghmede and Coolock.

Footage of Gardai man handling women and minors, and generally trying to intimidate and bully peaceful protestors has emerged. Many protestors have reacted to this with dismay, and believe that the Gardai are in breach of their “oath” because of the way in which they are trying to force through the installation of unwanted meters. This idea that the Gardai are acting abnormally ties into other quasi-legal arguments within the movement about the need for “consent” to be liable to pay the water charges and related matters.

As the movement grows in strength, it is important, also, that its energies be focused, so with that in mind it seems right to dispel some of the misconceptions about the role of the law, and the police, in the struggle for the right to water. The movement and campaign for the Right2Water is the most electrifying and significant development in Irish politics for some years, but in order for it to reach its full potential we should heed Amilcar Cabral’s advice that we ‘tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures [and] Claim no easy victories’. By dispelling some of the appealing, but ultimately unhelpful, arguments swirling around the movement, it will be possible to move forward in a more determined, focused and effective manner.

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Apple Deal is ‘Tip of Tax-Dodging Iceberg’

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Press Release from Attac Ireland

Ireland’s deal with Apple, branded ‘illegal’ in a preliminary judgment by the European Commission, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tax-dodging by corporations here – with full cooperation from the State.

So says Attac Ireland, the Irish branch of the global activist group that campaigns for financial justice, including shutting down tax havens and taxing transactions.

Findings from the European Commission suggest that the State cut a special tax deal with Apple in return for job creation in Ireland by the multinational corporation.

“While the jobs created are relatively few, the loss in revenue to the Irish state is enormous,” Marie Moran of Attac Ireland said.

Globally Apple has $54.4 billion in offshore profits that have been barely taxed at all, thanks in part to a complex arrangement of Irish subsidiaries, known as the ‘Double-Irish’.

“Under Irish law, if the Irish subsidiary is controlled by managers who meet outside of Ireland, then it is treated for tax purposes as if it is a non-Irish company,” Conor McCabe of Attac Ireland explained.

“Companies such as Apple and Google, as well as pharmaceuticals, assign patent rights to these subsidiaries, which then charge the main Irish company a royalty fee for using these patents.” McCabe continued. “Under Irish tax law, royalty payments are tax-deductible. In effect, these companies charge themselves for using their own products, and then use that charge as a tax write-off. This is the Double-Irish.”

Marie Moran noted that while international attention is fixed on the case of Apple, the practice “has implications for a very large number of corporations based in Ireland for tax purposes. In fact, according to the Revenue Commissioner’s own reporting, the majority of companies based in Ireland pay corporation tax far below the headline rate of 12.5%, with some corporations paying no tax at all.”

“This arrangement is a form of corporate welfare that is not only potentially illegal but deeply anti-social,” Harry Browne of Attac Ireland added. “At a time when Irish citizens are bailing out the losses of private banks, and have faced cuts to social welfare, the State is complicit in measures that shore up the enormous wealth of the corporate sector, and erode social fabric and infrastructure.”

As part of its campaign for financial justice, the European Attac Network is calling for a global taxation for corporations, ‘unitary taxation’. This means that large corporations would be taxed as a single entity on the basis of a joint report of the activities and profits of all subsidiaries worldwide.

Under unitary taxation, profits would be split by a levy allocated to those countries, for example, based on the variable wage payments, fixed assets and sales. This measure would ensure that corporations cannot avoid tax payments through complex transfer pricing and other arrangements.

In addition to calling for unitary taxation, Attac Ireland calls for an immediate investigation into the legality of Irish tax arrangements, and a commitment from the Irish government to close down the socially costly and morally bankrupt ‘double Irish’ loophole.

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China’s is the world’s greatest contribution to the real development of human rights

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The following article was originally published on 2 June 2014 and dealt with a resolution passed by the US House of Representatives. However its arguments clearly deal with the issue of human rights in general. For the reason’s given in it, China’s is easily the greatest contribution made to human rights by any country in the world.

This version is taken from John’s post on Key Trends in Globalisation which was published today.

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On May 28, the U.S. House of Representatives chose to debate a resolution expressing its concern over the issue of “human rights” in China. This makes it appropriate to make a comparison of the real records of the U.S. and China on human rights.

This is a vital issue as human well-being is certainly the sole goal of any correct policy — including in that the right of each nation to pursue its national sovereignty and national culture, which is why China’s “national revival” and overall human progress are inseparably linked.

Real human beings have an immense number of needs and desires ranging from basic ones, to have good health and enough to eat, through to the most complex — the most advanced fields of human culture or science. Objectively only extremely developed societies, with enormous economic and social resources, can approximately meet all these needs.

Consequently the attempt to reduce “human rights” to a Western style political structure, as though having a “parliamentary” system were the most important question facing human beings, is ridiculous. The real issue was very well put by the BBC’s correspondent in China, Humphrey Hawksley:

“I hear from an Iraqi wedding photographer who had lost so many friends and family members that he would gladly have exchanged his right to vote for running water, electricity and safety; from an Argentine shoe maker who bartered trainers for food because his economy had collapsed; and from the African cocoa farmer whose belief in the Western free market left him three times poorer now than he was thirty years ago.”

The example of women in China and India can readily be taken to illustrate the real issues involved in human rights. A Chinese woman’s life expectancy is 77 years and literacy among Chinese women over the age of 15 is 93 percent, an Indian woman has a life expectancy of 68 and literacy rate over the age of 15 is 66 percent. India may be a “parliamentary republic” but the human rights of a Chinese woman are (unfortunately)far superior to the human rights of a woman in India. Anyone who does not understand or admit that there are better human rights if a person lives nine years less or more and whether they are literate or illiterate is either out of touch with reality or a liar.

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Mark Fielding Speaks to the Nation: We Don’t Owe You Squat

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In the excellent Irish Times series on the Living Wage, Mark Fielding, Director of ISME (Irish Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises) has put it bluntly to workers and the nation:

‘It’s not our responsibility to give someone a living wage.’

That’s telling them, Mark. You want a wage that can afford you a minimum adequate standard income, don’t come to us. Not our problem. Be lucky to have a job – if we decide to hire you.

This is Thatcherism Irish-style. There is no such thing as society, only Mark’s members. But to be fair to Mark, he’s got form on this issue.

‘ISME chief executive Mark Fielding called on the Government to scrap the minimum wage . . . He said the minimum wage had failed to benefit the low paid . . . ‘

So scrapping the minimum wage would ‘help’ the lower paid. Hmmm.

Mark is at pains to explain the extraordinary burden his members suffer:

‘The minimum wage is €8.65. But it’s really €9.68, when you take into account employers’ PRSI contributions.’

Oh, my – a wage floor of €9.68 per hour. That sounds really bad. Workers in our hospitality sector (hotels and restaurants) must be really costing Irish employers a bomb – especially in comparison to other EU-15 countries. But is this the case?

hos_sectOur labour costs (made up almost exclusively of wages and employers’ PRSI) are far lower than most other EU countries in the graph. Labour costs would have to rise by 27 percent just to reach the mean average; they would have to rise by over 50 percent to reach French levels.

Of course, this data (the latest from Eurostat) is from 2011. Maybe Mark is worried about recent trends in low-paid sectors. Let me put his mind at ease. Irish labour costs in hospitality rose by 1.3 percent up to 2013; in the EU they rose by 3.2 percent. We’re even further behind.

That a representative from a business organisation would give out about wages, or paying higher wages, or even paying a decent wage is nothing new or unexpected. However, this ‘whether-people-can-live-on-the-wage-I-pay-has-nothing-to-do-with-me’ position got me to thinking: do all employers think like this? Would they all agree?

It’s hard to say in this country where the debate is dominated, loudly and persistently, by so many Mark Fieldings. But it is interesting to take a look at business organisations overseas, in the US, where such groups are no slouch when it comes to promoting their economic interests.

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