The following article by Conor McCabe, is taken from the first issue of the relaunched The Bottom Dog, published by the Limerick Council of Trade Unions. Copies of the full print issue are now available in Connolly Books. You can also follow The Bottom Dog on Facebook.
At the start of 2013 the independent TD for Wicklow, Stephen Donnelly, stood up in the Dáil and talked about the bank guarantee. He said it was passed because ‘of a diktat from Europe that said no European bank could fail, no Eurozone bank could fail and no senior bondholders could incur any debt.’ It is a curious opinion to hold, as the only foreign accents heard on the recently-released Anglo tapes are imitations done by Irish bankers of considerable wealth and influence.
The tapes shone a light on the short-term focus, the scramble for capital that was to the front of the bank’s management team. John Bowe, the head of Capital Markets at Anglo Irish Bank, told his colleague Peter Fitzgerald that the strategy was to get the Irish central bank to commit itself to funding Anglo, to ‘get them to write a big cheque.’ By doing so, the Central Bank would find itself locked in to Anglo as it would have to shore up the bank to ensure it got repaid.
The Irish financial regulator, Pat Neary, in a conversation with Bowe, said that Anglo was asking his office ‘to play ducks and drakes with the regulations.’ Once the guarantee was passed the bank’s CEO, David Drumm, told his executives to take full advantage but advised them to be careful and not to get caught.
This was reinforced by an article in the Sunday Independent on 17 November 2013 which looked to the British Treasury’s archives for information on Anglo and the bank guarantee. ‘The documents reveal’ said the newspaper, ‘that the Financial Regulator tipped off Britain that Anglo might be “unable to roll €3bn [in funding] overnight,” but not to worry as if that happened the Central Bank or Government would step in to bail it out.’
The idea for a blanket guarantee, however, did not originate entirely with the Anglo management team, regardless of how much they embraced it. In the weeks leading up to the decision, the idea of a guarantee was flagged in the national media by people such as David McWilliams and the property developer Noel Smyth.
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The Live Register has fallen below 400,000 – the first time since May 2009. While the Live Register is not an official measurement, the Seasonally Adjusted Standardised Unemployment Rate shows unemployment at 11.9 percent. Our unemployment rate is now down to the Euro zone average. This led the Minister for Social Protection to state:
‘Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the figures were encouraging and signalled Ireland’s return to being a “normal euro zone country”’.
Yes, when it comes to a straight unemployment rate we may well be a ‘normal euro zone country’. But there’s something that has been not so normal and which has impacted directly on the Irish unemployment rate. Yes, I’m talking about emigration.
Let’s compare the increase in Irish emigration since 2008 with that of other EU-15 countries. We’ll do this by taking the annual average number of emigrants between 2008 and 2011 (the last year Eurostat has data for) and comparing it with the annual average number of emigrants between 1998 and 2007.
Spain has been particularly hard hit – with over 400,000 emigrating in 2011. Ireland comes second followed by Portugal. After these three countries, the next hardest hit by emigration was Italy.
Irish emigration has been more than five times the average of other EU-15 countries. In terms of emigration, Ireland is hardly normal.
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According to Finfacts:
‘Michael Noonan, finance minister, signalled in a statement last Thursday that his Department is preparing a report on the corporation tax rate that is expected to be ready by the end of March as part of a publicity offensive to counter claims that Ireland’s effective rate (actual tax paid or provided for in an accounting period as a ratio of reported net income) is in low single digits.’
Apparently, the Government has ditched its previous claim that the effective corporate tax rate is 11.9 percent – when the study this was based on was shown by Dr. Jim Stewart to be defective as a comparator. Now it needs a new study to substantiate an old claim (it helps that the Government has already predetermined the conclusion, now they just have to fill in the numbers).
This blog has always endeavoured to assist the Government. So I’d like to point the Government to some reasonably robust numbers. It can use either Eurostat or its own Central Statistics Office. Either way, they show Ireland has a low-low effective corporate tax rate.
One part of the equation – how much corporate tax rate is paid – is easy to determine. What is more difficult to estimate is the level of profits. Both Eurostat and the CSO use the category ‘entrepreneurial income’. Eurostat defines it this way:
‘. . . net entrepreneurial income . . . approximates the concept of pre-tax corporate profits in business accounting. ‘
The CSO defines entrepreneurial income as
‘ . . a more comprehensive measure of corporate profitability.’
So, armed with this ‘more comprehensive measure of corporate profitability’, what are the effective corporate tax rates for EU-15 countries – combining both financial and non-financial companies?
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“The extremely low effective rate figures that have been quoted over the past week and attributed to Ireland are based on a flawed premise. The figures are estimated by dividing the amount of Irish tax paid by a total profit figure that includes substantial profits made by companies that are not tax resident in Ireland. They are running together the profits earned by group companies in Ireland and in other jurisdictions and incorrectly suggesting that Irish tax does or should apply to both.”
So, Michael Noonan rejects the recent findings of Jim Stewart of Trinity College, Dublin that US companies in Ireland have an effective corporate tax rate of 2.2%. In this he is following the insistence of Feargal O’Rourke of PriceWaterHouse Coopers who claims that Stewart erroneously includes companies that are incorporated in Ireland but do not operate here.
These are companies, like, for example, Google Ireland Holdings, Bermuda, which is ‘tax resident’ in zero tax jurisdiction Bermuda but is in effect a letter box company with a registered address in Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, that is, the office of solicitors Matheson Ormsby Prentice.
The basis of O’Rourke and Noonan’s (and the government’s) objection to Stewart’s finding is that the TCD economist uses US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data.
As Seamus Coffee puts it in a response to the 2.2% rate claim, BEA methodology highlights
“…that for companies, US residency rules are based on paperwork rather than activity. Under US law, the tax-residence of a company is the country where it is incorporated. All companies registered in Ireland are thus considered “Irish-based” under US law.”
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There are many issues to be sorted with the introduction of the Universal Health Insurance: will it be a competitive private insurance market (a la Netherlands with its rapidly rising health costs) or will it adopt a single-payer model; what services will it include; will it contain truly free GP care and will it include considerable subsidies for prescription medicine? And then there is the issue of whether an NHS-style system (most EU-15 countries finance their health systems out of general taxation) would be more cost-effective – that is hardly featuring in the debate.
Here I want to look at how it will be financed based on the Government’s current proposals. It seems clear that people will be required to purchase a basic health insurance package (contents unknown) from one of a number of competing health insurance companies.
But there is a real danger that the Government is intending to introduce a finance model that will be regressive (i.e. impact on low-average incomes more than higher incomes) and contain no obligations from employers to make any contributions. Both these elements fly in the face of social health insurance models that exist in Europe.
First, the method of financing will be regressive. We don’t yet know the cost though the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is reportedly claiming that it could be €1,700. In the Netherlands, which is supposed to be the Government’s template, the cost is €1,478 for each insured adult with reliefs for low-income earners.
Let’s assume, for this argument, that the package is €1,500. The Government is committed to exempting low-income groups (unemployed, etc.) and subsidies for the low-paid, though we don’t yet know the threshold. This helps, of course. The problem lies with income groups above the threshold – in other words, those that don’t receive a subsidy.
We can see immediately that a flat-rate payment will be more expensive – as a proportion of gross income – for those at the lower end. For instance, if you are on an average income of €36,000, the health insurance will be approximately 4 percent. If you are on €100,000, the health insurance will be 1.5 percent. That doesn’t seem very equitable – because it isn’t.
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OK, this follows on from yesterday’s post but whenever I hear someone on the media claiming that Ireland is a high-tax economy, I’m going to @ the programme with this graph.
The question is simple: if Ireland is a high-taxed economy how come we have the lowest tax on labour in the EU except for Bulgaria and Malta?
Don’t underestimate the import of this battle. Keeping taxes low (while at the same time fighting off wage increases) is just a continuation of the austerity battle. People paid for the crisis; now there will be an attempt to make people pay for the recovery. What little is given in tax cuts will be taken away from free health, free education, affordable childcare, public services and income supports; in other words, all the programmes and infrastructure that can raise living standards. People will be required to subsidise their own tax cuts – and this after we’ve been forced to subsidise financial institutions and the economic collapse caused by speculative activity.
So please feel free to use this graph to get the word around. We’re not a high-taxed economy – but we are a low waged economy with even lower levels of public services and income supports. The only high this economy experiences is rising profits.
Oh, and deprivation and emigration, too.
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No matter what the evidence, regardless of what the data tells us, there are some who are determined to assert the opposite. Take taxation – the evidence is absolutely clear: we are a low-tax economy. Don’t forget what this debate is about: we are a low-waged and low-taxed economy and there are vested interests, politicians and commentators who are determined to keep it that way.
So let’s go through this again (it’s been discussed here and here) but this time from a different angle, avoiding the difficult comparisons using GDP, GNP, hybrid GDP, etc. Let’s look at taxation on labour (i.e. wages and salaries, excluding the self-employed).
This represents the total amount of taxation on wages and salaries – income tax, employees’ social insurance and employers’ social insurance. This is the total taxation on labour.
Look at where Ireland lies – 25th out of 27. We’re above Bulgaria and Malta and that’s about it. In Ireland, total taxation on labour is equal to 30.1 percent of total wages and salaries. We are well below the average for the entire EU, 34.7 percent below average.
How can anyone claim that we are a high-taxed economy?
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Unite has produced ‘Ireland Needs a Wage Increase’ – a comparative study of Irish and European employee compensation. The bottom-line is that
- Ireland is a low-waged economy when compared with other EU-15 countries
- Productivity in Ireland is above the EU-15 average
- Irish profits are higher and rising faster than in the EU-15
In addition, the document highlights the plight of workers in low-paid sectors (their compensation levels are even further behind EU-15 averages), labour costs as a proportion of total operating costs (lower in Ireland) and future wage growth projections which show us even further behind.
The document also provides comparisons on a sector basis (e.g. manufacturing, transportation, financial services, hospitality, etc.).
This should put paid to the argument that Irish wages are somehow out of kilter with the rest of our European peer group – but it probably won’t as the wage-deflationists will just ignore these facts. That’s why it is even more important to get this information around.
The full document can be accessed here: Ireland Needs a Wage Increase
The summary can be accessed here: Ireland Needs a Wage Increase (Summary)
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Eurostat has a particularly grim measurement – severe material deprivation. They take nine deprivation indicators in which people cannot afford the following items:
- to pay their rent, mortgage or utility bills
- to keep their home adequately warm
- to face unexpected expenses
- to eat meat or proteins regularly
- to go on holiday
- a television set
- a washing machine
- a car
- a telephone
If people cannot afford four of these nine deprivation experiences, they are categorised as suffering from severe material deprivation. This is a harsher measurement employed by the CSO – which has a deprivation rate based on suffering from two of eleven deprivation experiences.
So what is the deprivation rate for tenants with a rent at reduced price or free – which is basically public housing tenants. In Ireland this would largely mean local authority, or social, housing tenants.
Ireland leads the EU-15 table – higher than even Greece and Portugal. More than one-in-four public housing tenants suffer from severe material deprivation. This shouldn’t be surprising – the CSO estimates that 52 percent of public housing tenants suffer deprivation using their measurement.
We are getting lots and lots of talk about tax cuts. Where do people who suffer from material deprivation fit into this agenda? Nowhere, it seems. They are being air-brushed out of the debate.
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As if we didn’t know, we now know what the Government’s intentions are regarding tax cuts:
‘Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has pledged to widen income tax bands as soon as the State can afford it to take people out of the higher tax bracket. Mr Noonan said the biggest problem facing the tax system was the low level of pay at which people entered the higher tax rate. He said in Ireland people started to pay the higher rate on incomes of just €32,800 and this was far lower than in other EU countries. “If I have the money that is where I will go. I would like to reduce the threshold at which people hit the higher rate,” he [said].
The standard rate tax threshold is the Trojan horse for the tax-cuts lobby. It is true that in the Irish system people enter the top rate of tax at a very low wage level.
Here, we enter the top rate of tax at €32,800. In all other countries, the threshold is higher; in Germany, you don’t enter the top rate of tax until €250,000. So that picture looks pretty clear, doesn’t it? Well, no because it is not the full picture. I will address the details of marginal tax rates on incomes in different countries in a subsequent post.
But to make a quick point – if Irish workers are ‘disadvantaged’ by entering into the top tax rate so early, why are taxes so low? These are the headline tax rates (personal allowances only) from the OECD’s Benefit and Wages database.
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You’d think that the monthly release of property prices was the ultimate barometer of not only the health of the housing market but the economy as a whole. Are they finally increasing? Are they still falling? What are houses worth in Euros and cents?
But what about those in need of housing? Any signs of recovery there?
There are nearly 90,000 households in need of social housing. These households make up approximately 170,000 people. 60 percent have been waiting for two years or longer and since the start of the crisis, the numbers in need have increased by 60 percent.
Yes, we all know that there is a fiscal crisis and that money is tight. Yet the Government has found it possible to spend money on trying to reflate property and housing market activity: house renovation incentive, Living City initiative, property purchase incentive, REITs (real estate investment trusts), mortgage interest relief for first-time buyers, abolition of multiple Stamp Duty rates for non-residential properties, etc.
So what about those in housing need? The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justiceputs the government’s response in perspective:
‘ . . while the numbers in need of social housing have been growing, the output of new social housing units has been dwindling. The output of new social housing units has dropped by 82% between 2008 and 2012, with only 1,391 new units added to the national stock of social housing in 2012.’
So the numbers in housing need have increased by 60 percent and social housing output has fallen by 82 percent.
I guess those waiting for accommodation will have to wait for property prices to improve. Then, maybe, they might get a look-in on the national agenda.
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It is often argued that the recession has been rough on all of us but that high income groups have had it the roughest. European Commission Director István Székely came to Dublin late last year to assure us that the ‘the better-off sections of Irish society have borne the largest share of the brunt of the bailout programme’. I don’t know whether this was intended to soften the blow as it were, making the austerity programme more palatable. I do know, however, that it is not true. Dr. Székely is not alone; many have argued, using ESRI findings, that higher income groups have borne the greatest burden during the recession. I will critique the ESRI findings below but first let’s go through some other evidence.
Wage Increases Higher income households have managed to increase their incomes, as noted in a recent Friday Stat Attack.
This is not true for all sectors. For instance, public sector managers and professionals have taken substantial hits in income. And there are compositional effects to take into account. However, at a national level we see that this group has received a substantial increase in income compared to other workers whose weekly earnings have flat-lined. Even if higher-income groups have taken a hit through tax increases they have managed to recoup a large part of this through increases in earnings. This didn’t happen for most other workers, never mind those on social protection.
Losing one’s job is probably the biggest hit a household can suffer. How have theselosses been distributed?
Managerial and professional employment has actually increased during the period of recession while all other occupations have experienced a decline – in some cases, substantial declines. And the occupational groups suffering a loss have lower income than the managerial and professional groups. So lower income groups, on average, have been hit by the jobs recession much harder than higher-income groups.
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This is a guest post by Michael Burke. Michael works as an economic consultant. He was previously senior international economist with Citibank in London. He blogs regularly at Socialist Economic Bulletin. You can follow Michael at @menburke . It was originally posted on Notes on the Front.
Most people don’t care much about GDP (Gross Domestic Product) or most other acronyms that get bandied about on the economy. For good reason.
The purpose of economic policy is, or ought to be, about achieving the optimal sustainable improvement in living standards for the population. If businesses produce goods that no-one buys and they accumulate as unsold inventories, or if the buying power of businesses or households declines so that imports fall, both of these count as increases in GDP.
What really matters is if the economy and society as a whole is moving forwards, if people see an increase in their living standards and reasonably expect that the next generation or two will see the same.
In that light, the latest forecasts from the Central Bank of Ireland are not very encouraging. Sure, there is a forecast of 2.1% real GDP growth for the economy in 2014. But in terms of real wages, on average they will be zero as a projected 0.5% increase in wages is effectively wiped out by the anticipated level of inflation. Government current spending is also expected to fall in 2014 more than it did in 2013, so living standards for most people will actually decline again.
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When we think of profits, we think of successful companies that employ people to produce goods and services that other people want to buy; for instance, the proverbial ‘widget’ factory. Ideally, a profitable company employs people on good wages and conditions, invests in expansion (to keep up those profits and increase market share), and pays a competitive return on capital.
With the onset of financialisation, financial companies have come to over-ride traditional markets such as industry. They don’t actually produce much, but they make a lot of money and with that comes political power to dominate decision-making in the economy. If you have any doubts about that just remember our own bubble, crash and bondholder rescue. The productive economy takes second place.
One measure of the extent to which financial institutions can dominate the productive economy is to compare profit levels between the two. In a productive economy, profits from non-financial companies should be strong. In a financialised economy, profits from financial institutions will be stronger.
Where does the Irish economy stand? With the financial boys and girls.
Yes, if you’re a financial company and you happen to be in Ireland, you’re in heaven. Even the UK, with the power of The City, doesn’t match Ireland in this measurement.
Yes, some people might say, but financial companies bring their own benefit to the economy. Oh? Not according to the latest Central Bank Quarterly Report – thanks to Ben (aka Conor McCabe) from Dublin Opinion for spotting this:
‘Financial sector developments, which are for the most part unrelated to the domestic economy, account for a significant portion of the rise in GNP. To the extent that these persist in contributing to growth in net factor income in the coming year, they would further support GNP growth unrelated to domestic consumption, investment or export activity.’
Ah, yes, they are in this economy but not of this economy.
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