Economy

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Opening the Low-Low Corporate Tax Rate Door

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The Government’s paper on Ireland’s effective corporate tax rate confirms what the dogs in the street have known for a long-time:  Ireland has a low,extremely low, corporate tax rate.

There is that vexed question of what corporate income counts for the purposes of determining the actual rate of tax companies pay here.  Professor Jim Stewart produced data which showed that the effective tax rate of US multinationals operating here was 2.2 percent in 2011.  This was disputed because Stewart – using the US’s Bureau of Economic Analysis – included the $140 billion that US multinationals move through Ireland on their way to other places, including tax havens.  Some claim you can’t count this because it is not taxable in Ireland.

But, of course, that is the point.  The issue is not the Irish corporate tax rate per se but the role that Ireland plays in the global tax avoidance chain – the ability of multinationals to use Ireland to avoid paying taxes that would be due elsewhere.  That is the character of a ‘tax-haven conduit’.

In this respect, it is worth remembering:

Tax havens attract foreign investment not only because income earned locally is taxed at favorable rates, but also because tax haven activities facilitate the avoidance of taxes that might otherwise have to be paid to other countries.

The Irish corporate tax rate is the sign on the door.  It’s an inviting sign – a low-tax rate of 12.5 percent.  But the real goodies are what’s behind the door – the prospect of using Ireland as a transit point in the global avoidance chain.

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04-04-2014 16-49-51

National Competitiveness Council Twists the Evidence to Suit a Political Argument

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Take a very quick look at the green line on the chart below.  Very quick – the green line represents Irish labour costs.

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On a quick look, it appears that Irish labour costs started growing in 2010; and that by last year labour costs growth in the EU and Ireland converged.   Now take a closer look.  In reality, Irish labour costs actually fell in 2010.  In fact, the gap between the EU and Ireland are widening.  The chart was ‘structured’ to not only elide over these inconvenient facts but to actually give the opposite impression.  Welcome to the world of massaging stats to fit a political purpose.

For make no mistake – the National Competitiveness Council’s Costs of Doing Business in Ireland completely fails to present the reality of wages, labour costs and taxation in the Irish economy.  Instead, they construct ‘evidence and arguments that neatly into line with the Government’s desire to depress wages and cut taxes.  Funny that.

Are wages a danger to ‘competitiveness’?    First, let’s remind ourselves of the current situation, something the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) fails to do (again, funny that).  Using the last year for available date we find, using the mean average:

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Whether using the labour cost survey (which surveys firms) or the macro-economic data contained in the national accounts (where you divide employee compensation by hours worked) the results are pretty much the same.  We are well below averages – in particular, when compared to EU-15 countries not in bail-out (excluding really low-waged Greece and Portugal) or other small open economies.

So we start out pretty low.

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Pressing On Both Sides of the See-Saw

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The slump in the Irish economy continues to be driven by the collapse in investment. The fall in investment more than accounts for the entire contraction in the economy during the recession.

The chart below shows the annual totals for both GDP and investment (Gross Fixed Capital Formation, GFCF) versus the peak in 2008. The worst GDP outcome was in 2010 when it was €12.7 billion below the 2008 peak. But by 2013 it was still €9.5 billion lower. Not much sign of genuine recovery.

Investment has fared even worse. It carried on falling even after GDP had stabilised. The low-point was in 2012, when investment was €16.6 billion below the previous high-point. But in 2013 it was still €15.9 billion lower.

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Over the 6 years of the slump GDP has fallen by 9.6%. Investment has fallen by 47%. As a result, investment as a proportion of GDP has fallen from 20.8% to 12.1%. Since the level of investment is decisive for the long-term productivity of any economy, a falling rate of investment will hurt growth over a prolonged period.

The relative weakness of investment by firms in Ireland is shown in the OECD chart below. Over a prolonged period leading up to the crisis private firms (Private Non-Financial Corporations, or PNFCs) operating in Ireland invested much less than firms in the other industrialised countries.

This weakness has been further exacerbated by the crisis. Since 2008 firms’ profits have actually risen in cash terms, by €6.7 billion. But on the same basis, investment in transport equipment and other equipment have both fallen by €1 billion, road building and other construction apart from homes have slumped by €5.4 billion.

Private Non-Financial Corporations Investment:  Decade Averages

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One of the key factors which has worsened the crisis is that successive governments have cut the state’s own level of investment. On the same cash basis, government has cut its investment by €7.6 billion. This was not always the case. Previously, when the economy was growing rapidly government had a higher level of investment than in the other industrialised economies, as shown in the chart below.

This is the see-saw of the Irish economy: very low levels of private firms’ investment and relatively high levels of government investment. The policy of austerity is pushing down on both ends of the see-saw at once. As a result the economy is cracking.

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Three Cheers for the USC

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The Universal Social Charge (USC) is a great tax.  Many progressives were critical of its introduction and rightfully so.  In replacing the Income and Health Contribution levies, the USC ended up increasing tax on low income earners – at a time when the economy was still melting down, people were losing their jobs and income was falling. That was inequitable and economically irrational.

However that is a criticism over rates and thresholds – elements which can be easily changed. The reason the USC is great tax is because it is simple, transparent and, most of all, no matter how many tax accountants you hire, you can’t escape it.  The tax has almost no exemptions, reliefs, or allowances – unlike the income tax system.

Dr. Tom Healy of the Nevin Economic Research Institute made an interesting observation:

‘Perhaps there is a case for abolishing income tax as we know it, replace it with USC, make the rates more progressive (e.g. by introducing three or even four bands) and then re-term it as ‘income tax’! . . You see – the beauty of USC is that, it applies to many different kinds of income,  it is not riddled, to the same extent as ‘income tax’  with all sorts of reliefs and exemptions,  it is reasonably simple to understand and operate.’

Now that’s blue-sky thinking.  Check out this little stat:  income tax– with tax rates of 20 percent and 41 percent – raises €11.4 billion in revenue.  The USC, with a tax rate of 7 percent raises €3.9 billion.  At a much lower rate, it raises over a third of the entire income tax system.

To raise the same amount as income tax, the USC would need to be raised to 20 percent (with the lower rates rising proportionally).  A tax rate of only 20 percent would raise as much as income tax.  That’s pretty effective and efficient.

This is not an argument for a flat-rate tax.  Dr. Healy points to the potential of introducing three or four different tax bands.  In fact, in the EU-15 only Ireland and Germany have two tax rates.   Other countries have three or more:

  • Austria and the UK have three rates while Sweden has two central tax rates and one local
  • The Netherlands has four tax rates
  • Belgium, Finland, France and Italy have five tax rates
  • Spain has seven central tax rates and four regional rates
  • Luxembourg has 18 tax rates (yes, 18)

So a number of tax rates can be used, rather than an essentially flat-rate.

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From Alpha to Omega Podcast: #048 Whither Underconsumptionism?

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This week we have the second part of our interview with Professor Andrew Kliman. We continue our discussion about his latest book – ‘The Failure of Capitalist Production’ – and in particular focus on Andrews critique of the Underconsumptionist Theory of Crisis, which is pretty dominant on the Marxist and non-Marxist left alike.

We hear how the empirical evidence sits squarely in the face of this theory, what role financialisation has actually played in the economy, and the similarities between Keynesianism and Underconsumptionism.

We also talk about the new book Andrew is working on, and just how impressed I am by how well Marx’s theories are able to explain the world around us today.

You can find the article for the New Left Project that Andrew mentions in the interview, critiquing Sam Gindin’s view of the crisis as financial, here.

And you can find Sam Gindins response to Andrew here.

Enjoy

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Anglo: Not Our Debt Campaigners Alarmed at ECB Pressure

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Debt Justice Action – a coalition of community, trade union, global justice, academic, faith-based and other groups that hosts the Anglo: Not Our Debt Campaign –  has described as “alarming” media reports that the Irish government is being pressured by the European Central Bank to quickly sell on to the private sector the government bonds it issued to replace the Anglo promissory notes in 2013.

Spokesperson Niamh McCrea said that any such sale would “make an already bad deal even worse”.  She said, “The debts run up by a bank like Anglo, which is under criminal investigation, should never have been taken on by the Irish people through the promissory notes, and those notes should not have been turned into sovereign debt, as the government did last year, extending the repayment period but with no write-down of the debt”.

Andy Storey pointed out that as the bonds are currently held by the Central Bank of Ireland, any interest paid on them stays with the Irish state, but that “if they are sold to the private sector, as the ECB is now pushing to happen quickly, then the same class of creditors and bondholders whose gambles were made good by the Irish government will end up making yet more money by raking in the interest payments due”.

Ms McCrea called on the Irish government to “for once, resist ECB pressure and insist that the bonds remain with the Central Bank with a view to negotiating the write-down of this odious and illegitimate debt”.

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The Case of the Elusive Paid Job

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I’ve heard a great deal recently about economic recovery and job creation. Ireland’s unemployed should be optimistic, and if we’re not, well, who’d want to hire us with that attitude? All we need to do is ride it out, keep a positive outlook and before we know it we’ll all be upstanding citizens again, able to pay our bills without the weekly humiliation of social welfare. I’d like to believe that, but I don’t see any evidence of it: all I see in the jobs pages are some high-tech, highly specific positions in large multinational companies, jobs that require qualifications and languages that very few Irish people possess, and an enormous, unshakable, mass of Job Bridge Internships.

Yesterday I looked up one of the main recruitment sites and put “Cork” and “admin/PA/secretarial” into the search engine. I got five results for paid jobs (not Jobs Bridge), four of which were: “Finnish Customer Service Associate”, “Polish Accounts Assistant”, “Logistics Administrator with Turkish or Hebrew” and “German SAP Rep”. The outlook is similar whenever I search for vacancies. I’m under no illusion, I fully understand the requirements of EU free movement of workers, and I don’t deny the right of any person to take up work in another EU member state, but I cannot see how these jobs are going to filter through to the vast majority of unemployed people.

The system implies it’s our own fault; Irish people didn’t learn the right skills, we should have been able to predict the future. We’re told that we’re living in a globalised world now, and it’s up to us to stay “relevant” to ever-evolving labour market requirements, requirements that now, seemingly, we are surplus to. We are in over-supply: cheap, expendable and easily substitutable.

The Irish unemployed, it has transpired, must be happy to do Job Bridge Internships. After all, we are the great unemployable, why wouldn’t we be satisfied to work a full week for our dole? We deserve it for not learning obscure languages or qualifying in high-tech areas that didn’t exist five years ago. Every second job advertised, that doesn’t require unreachable and prohibitive levels of experience – from cleaner and meat-counter assistant to teacher, solicitor and scientist – is a Job Bridge Internship.

When I was in university it was common for students to work in retail or as waiters or waitresses part-time to fund their studies. Now almost every low-paid casual job is a Job-Bridge that requires the lucky participants to be on the Live Register for three months, so I can’t see how students could possibly hope to work. It’s not just students: so many people I know in their late twenties and early thirties, people with post-graduate qualifications and years of work experience, have not only done Job Bridges but have had to compete with other similarly qualified people to get them. When I hear of a friend getting an actual, paid job, it’s like a miracle, and even then it usually comes down to personal contacts.

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Friday Stat Attack: Ireland Holds the Record for Longest Domestic Recession in the EU

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Some commentators are celebrating our ‘recovery’.  Some have even said that we have recovered relatively quickly, after a dramatic fall.  Here we go again – rewriting history, distorting the current situation.

Ireland holds the record for the longest domestic demand recession in the EU.  And the really bad news is that we may not be out of it yet.  The following table breaks down the length of consecutive domestic demand recession that EU countries have suffered since 1960.

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Almost all EU countries have, since 1960, suffered at least a two-year domestic demand recession – with the exception of France and Malta (though data only goes back to 1996 for the island).  Some domestic demand recessions have been harsh – Estonia’s two-year experience saw a fall of over 30 percent; some have been mild – Poland’s two-year experience saw a fall of less than one percent.

Ireland – along with Spain and Greece – have the longest consecutive domestic demand recession:  six years.  And in the tradition of breaking the tie, let’s count the number of years that domestic demand fell since 1960:

  • Ireland:  12 years
  • Greece:  10 years
  • Spain:  9 years

With 12 years where domestic demand fell, Ireland wins on points.

Indeed, Ireland wins the double:  longest domestic demand recession and the highest number of years where domestic demand fell.  Since 1960, Ireland has spent 23 percent of the time suffering from falling domestic demand. That’s the cup.

But, surely, this is nit-picking – what with all that recovery going on.  So don’t worry about it.

Enjoy the weekend.

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Launch of ATTAC Ireland, 5/6 April

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Disarm the Markets: Launch of Attac Ireland with a public talk by Esther Jeffers (University of Paris VIII and European Attac Network) and IFSC walking tour with Conor McCabe.

Where: Room 4-027, Dublin Institute of Technology, Aungier Street, Dublin 2

When: Saturday 5th April, 2pm.

Attac is an international movement working towards social, environmental and democratic alternatives to neoliberal globalisation. Founded in France in 1998, it fights for the regulation of financial markets, the closure of tax havens, the introduction of global taxes to finance global public goods, the cancellation of debt, fair trade, and the implementation of limits to free trade and capital flows (see www.attac.org).

5th April marks the launch of the Irish chapter of Attac. Attac Ireland is delighted to welcome Esther Jeffers who will speak at the event. Esther is a lecturer at the University of Paris VIII and a specialist on shadow banking and finance in the Euro area.

Esther’s talk will be followed by an open meeting for anyone interested in becoming involved with Attac Ireland. This meeting will provide an opportunity for people to learn more about Attac, and to discuss how Attac Ireland could be developed to challenge financial power and injustice through education and activism.

These events will be followed on Sunday morning 6th April, with a walking tour of the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC) by Dr Conor McCabe (UCD School of Social Justice). Time tbc.

Follow Attac Ireland on Facebook

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In Ireland, the Jobs River Flows Uphill

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There’s a lot of confusion out there.  IBEC found the recent fall in consumer spending ‘puzzling ‘ – what with all the increase in employment.  Others have found it strange, too – strong employment growth but falling consumer demand.  Shouldn’t the big increase in employment translate into higher consumer spending and domestic demand?  What’s going on here?

Well, it’s only puzzling if you accept that employment grew by 60,000 over the last year.  However, once you lift the lid on the numbers and find that the 60,000-growth number in the CSO’s Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) is a statistical quirk, then it starts to make sense.

First, let’s note the CSO’s warning about interpreting trends in employment growth during the period they are realigning their sampling base with the 2011 census.  This realignment ensures that their Quarterly National Household survey sample is aligned with the population.  They do this after each census.

‘After each Census of Population the sample of households for the QNHS is updated to ensure the sample remains representative. The new sample based on the 2011 Census of Population has been introduced incrementally from Q4 2012 to Q4 2013. This change in sample can lead to some level of variability in estimates, particularly at more detailed levels and some caution is warranted in the interpretation of trends over the period of its introduction.’

Now let’s look at the employment numbers.  Between the 4th quarter in 2012 and 2013, employment grew by 60,900 – or 3.3 percent (not seasonally adjusted).  However, self-employment grew by 33,400, or 11.5 percent.  So, self-employment made up 55 percent of all employment growth.  Is this realistic?  No.

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That Tory Recovery in Perspective

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This post was originally published on Socialist Economic Bulletin on Tuesday the 18th of March.

This week George Osborne will announce his latest Budget. The specific measures in this Budget were not published at the time of writing. But it is a fairly safe assumption that he will boast that the economy is on track, and that there is a recovery. This is simply an exercise in redefinition.

The economy grew by just 1.9% in 2013. This is following a period of historically slow growth, the deepest recession in living memory and the weakest recovery on record. Yet many commentators and not just explicit supporters of austerity seem to believe this means we are automatically on track for a genuine recovery with all that means for growing jobs, rising real pay and improving living standards.

Unfortunately both the celebrations and the optimism are misplaced. Of course this does not mean that the economy will never grow again. It is even possible that growth will be a little better in 2014 than it was in 2013. But after most recessions the economic rebound is usually fairly strong. After a very steep recession the recovery should be very strong. That is not the case currently.

Annual growth in GDP of just 1.9% in 2013 is the best since 2007. But that is really a measure of the crisis of the economy and how badly policy has failed.

Prior to the current crisis, in the 20 years to 2008 the average annual growth rate of GDP was a little under 3%. In the same 20 year period from 1988 to 2008 only 3 years have seen worse growth for the British economy than last year’s 1.9% and all of those were associated with the recession under the Tories in the early 1990s (the ERM crisis).

So, a growth rate associated in the past with crisis is now redefined as recovery and heralded as success. Crisis is redefined as success; stagnation is now growth.

Current growth rates also remain well below the previous trend. That means the gap between where we are and where could or should have been is actually getting wider. It would take many years of sustained growth above that 3% rate in order to close the gap between the actual level of GDP and its previous trend. No major forecasting body suggests anything like that is going to happen over the next few years. The chart below shows the trend growth of Britain’s GDP in from 1988 to 2008.

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They Partied. We Pay: Public Meeting, Connolly Books, Sat. 29th of March @2pm

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We All Partied?

They Partied. We Pay.

Public Meeting

Sat 29th March, at 2pm

Connolly Books
43 East Essex Street,
Temple Bar,
Dublin 2

The Communist Party of Ireland would like to invite you to the first of our new series of public talks.

The first talk will deal with the establishment false claims that we have left the bailout and put behind us the “Programme For Ireland.”

Nothing more than spoof and spin.

Speakers:

Dr. Conor McCabe
(Author and Editor of Irish Left Review)

Gareth Murphy
(Trade Union Left Forum)

Kathleen Lynch
(Professor of Equality Studies, UCD)

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From Alpha to Omega Podcast: #047 The Failure of Capitalist Production

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This week I am delighted to have Prof. Andrew Kliman back on the show to talk about his latest book – ‘The Failure of Capitalist Production’. The book is a brilliant example of empirical economic research, and shows us how relevant and insightful Marx’s work still is, in helping us understand the workings of our capitalist economy.

We discuss the empirical evidence in the US that supports Marx’s Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit, the stagnation of capital accumulation, and the role of the IT revolution in the state of the economy. We also talk of the Great Depression, how it sowed the seeds for the renewal of the global economy, and what is behind the growing inequality we see around us today.

You can find Andrew’s book on sale here: (I very much recommend buying a copy!)

And his blog is here.

Enjoy!

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Friday Stat Attack – War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, Recession is Recovery

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RTE’s David Murphy described the Quarterly National Account numbers as ‘really good’.  Professor John Fitzgerald said the numbers showed a ‘reasonably robust recovery’.   We are told the actual numbers  aren’t all that important– the ones that show economic growth actually declining in 2013, the ones that show that the decline in the final three months of last year was the worst quarterly performance since 2008.  Don’t mind any of that downer stuff.  Like the following chart.

1_domestic_demand

Domestic demand comprises consumer spending, investment and government spending on public services (excluding exports and imports).  This makes up 75 percent of GDP.  It is one of the better indicators of the domestic economy, but by no means the only one.   Another great advantage is that it is not as sensitive to multi-national accounting activities as other indicators.

So what does the above chart show?

A flat-line for the last three years.

Stagnation.

Six years of a domestic demand recession.

It goes up a bit and a down a bit (slightly more down), but never strays too far from the flat-line.  Domestic demand fell in three out of the last four quarters.  Since the Government took office, it has fallen seven out of eleven quarters.   In the final three months of last year, the fall in domestic demand was the most severe since 2011.  ‘Really good’?  ‘Robust’?

Some commentators pointed to rising GNP.   The problem with using GNP is that it is determined by international flows; if a company keeps profit here, GNP goes up; if they export it, GNP goes down.  Whichever the company does has little impact on the domestic economy.  So GNP went up last year – but it was not based on rising domestic activity.

RTE news last night, as part of its coverage of the CSO economic numbers, featured a successful café.  The owner claimed that patrons have started spending a little bit more – which I’m sure is true (the business opened its third outlet).  This anecdote was used to portray the entire economy as starting to grow through higher consumer spending.

But the CSO reported that consumer spending fell last year.  It fell faster than the year before – 2012.  It fell three times more than the year before.  Nothing on that in the RTE report – that would cut across the constructed narrative of an improving economy.

Sigh.

Have a good St. Patrick’s weekend.  Have a better one than the economy is having.

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