Irish Economy


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.


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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The Desert of the Irish Debate

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There is an old American saying:  if you have nothing to say, wrap yourself up in the American flag and recite the constitution.  In Ireland, today, if a politician, a political party, has nothing to say, no new ideas to advance, then call for tax cuts.  The current deluge of leaks in the media about impending tax cuts are not evidence of sources having something to say; it is evidence of how the debate over future economic and social strategy has been turned into a desert.

And what tax is being hammered?  The most efficient, transparent, potentially progressive tax we have – a tax that even an army of accountants acting on behalf of the rich can’t get around:  the Universal Social Charge.  It is called a hated tax, an unfair tax, an anti-entrepreneurial tax.  Everything that is wrong with our income tax system is blamed on the USC whereas the reality is that the USC has the potential to repair much that is wrong with our income tax system, distorted and misshapen by the myriad of reliefs, allowances and exemptions – most of which benefit high-income groups.

People have been put under pressure from the tax increases during the period of recession.  It was irrational to reduce people’s take-home pay when economic growth was falling, wages were being cut in real terms, working hours and income supports (e.g. Child Benefit) were being cut.  Between 2008 and 2012, the effective tax rate rose by 30 percent.  This was a major contributor to lengthening and deepening the recession.

Today, however, the issue is not ‘high taxation’; it is that people’s living standards are low by EU-15 standards.  The debate over cutting taxes, however, shows how incapable political parties are of addressing this issue.  Rather than admit intellectual impotence, they propose tax cuts – which will only exacerbate the very problems they are incapable of addressing. 

Tax Cuts:  Giving More to Those Who Have More

Ireland has one of the highest levels of market inequality in the OECD.  As the recovery becomes embedded we are in danger of accelerating this trend.

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Could We Have a Little Bit of that Corbynomics Over Here?

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Jeremy Corbyn is now leader of the British Labour Party.  A Sunday Times article likens Jeremy to Caligula – an insane, murderous tyrant who appointed his horse Consul.  According to the Tories, he is a threat to Britain’s national security, economic security and, well, galactic security (watch out for those Corbynite Klingons).  Well, at the risk of Roman despotism and an alien invasion force landing on the Blaskets could we please have a little bit of Corbynomics here in Ireland?

For at the heart of Corbynomics is something quite modest:  a modernising investment drive to re-tool the UK economy.  It is a testament to the perversity of a debate that investing in high-speed broadband, public transport, social housing, school and hospital construction, green technology can be labelled as extremist.  Does anyone really suppose that British businesses would be outraged if they had a world class broadband system?  Or that the economy would dive into the abyss if more energy came from renewable resources rather than fossil fuels? 

Maybe the extremism comes from other aspects of Jeremy’s proposals.  Renationalise the railways and energy companies?  Yeah, so extreme that even a majority of Tory voters support renationalisation.  Combat multinationals’ aggressive tax planning and avoidance?  Yeah, forcing companies to pay taxes like the rest of us.  Build low-cost housing in London?  I’m sure tenants would be up in arms.  Everywhere you look in Corbynomics, you see common sense. 

Even orthodox commentators would seem to agree:

‘It is hard to exaggerate the decrepitude of infrastructure in much of the rich world.’

So begins a provocative article in the Economist, not noted for alarmist language.  It points out:

  • One in three railway bridges in Germany is over 100 years old,
  • So are half of London’s water mains.
  • In America the average bridge is 42 years old while the American Society of Civil Engineers rates around 14,000 of the country’s dams as ‘high hazard’ and 151,238 of its bridges as ‘deficient.

Such a state of affairs is not only highly inefficient, but potentially very dangerous.

Public investment is well down throughout Europe, the US and Ireland.


Almost all EU countries have significantly cut their public investment budgets – especially those countries that needed it most:  the poorer Mediterranean countries, Ireland, Romania. 

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The €2 Billion Start

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Today, Unite has published its 2016 pre-budget submission.  You can read the full submission here and the summary here.  In short, it calls for a €4.8 billion budget package comprising a €1.9 billion increase in expenditure on public services and social protection, a €550 million increase in public investment and focused tax reductions on the low paid (e.g. reform of the PRSI step-effect, refundable tax credits and indexation) worth €220 million.  This is to be paid for by tax increases on wealth and capital, along with increases in the social wage (employers’ PRSI) and the fiscal space allowed under the EU fiscal rules.

However, I want to focus on one particular proposal in the submission:  the temporary, once-off investment programme of €2 billion for social housing; in particular, focusing on the homeless and households with special needs.

This has been discussed previously on this blog.  Back in April 2014 I suggested that instead of the Government spending €7.1 billion on paying down debt, it should invest half of this into a special once-off investment programme in social housing.  The actual turnout for 2014 was €5 billion used to pay down debt.  At that time I wrote:

‘Let’s start with the conclusion: if by this time next year if there are people still homeless, it’s because the Government made a policy choice.  And the policy choice was to tolerate homelessness.’

Back in May 2014 Fr. Peter McVerry warned of a ‘tsunami of homelessness’:

‘In all the years I have been working with homeless people; it has never been so bad. We are, even I would say, beyond crisis at this stage.’

16 months later the situation has become worse. 

A comprehensive housing programme, one that addresses the myriad of issues such as homelessness, local authority waiting lists, rising rents and limited supply, house prices, planning, land prices – this is a big, big subject and is not amenable to sound-bite policies.  It will require joined-up strategies, long-term thinking and the intellectual courage to go beyond the ‘housing as just another market good’ thinking that dominates policy-making.

However, with winter coming on and more people becoming homeless, sleeping rough and / or living in wholly inadequate accommodation, we need short-term stop-gap remedies.  That’s the thinking behind Unite’s proposal for a €2 billion once-off investment programme – to address this immediate crisis. 

There are any number of options open to the Government in using this €2 billion:  fast-tracking refurbishment, acquisitions of short-term tenancies, conversion of idle buildings, extensions of current emergency accommodation, etc.  The key is that accommodation can be brought on stream quickly and efficiently.  One hopes that it is not too late.

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Reflections on Irish Water

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Despite its small size, the Emerald Isle, situated between England and America, boasts more than 12, 000 lakes, or loughs. The largest lake in the British Isles, Lough Neagh, is in Northern Ireland, reputed to be formed when the sod of earth that Fionn MacCool dredged up to throw in combat at a fellow giant, displaced water inland from the Irish Sea.

Lough Corrib and Lough Mask contend for first place in the Republic. Strangford Lough, a bird sanctuary, and Lough Hyne, a Marine Nature Reserve, are both sea-water lakes. The rest are regularly refilled by famously high levels of precipitation that seep into the ground. An abundance of streams and rivers are also found. No other country in Europe contains more bog-land. Twenty per cent of Ireland’s territory once consisted of bogs.

Ireland is completely surrounded by water. It is divided from Britain and Scotland by the Irish, or Manx, Sea, containing the Isle of Man, Anglesey and other islands. The Irish Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, lapping remaining shores, through the North Channel, or Straits of Moyle, facing Scotland. It meets the Celtic Sea at the southerly St. George’s Channel, stretching out to France.

The copious rainfall irrigates the land to grow vegetation decked in forty shades of green. The temperate oceanic climate keeps the weather mild and moist, preventing temperature extremes. The North Atlantic Current flowing nearby bestows the year-round advantages of an ice-free coastline, and warmer temperatures than are enjoyed in other places on the same latitude. There are between 151 and 225 recorded wet days, receiving more than 1mm of rain, out of every 365 days of the year, with most falling in the west. Ireland is not short of water.

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Who Was Right? The Magic Trick of Austerity

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The Irish economy has finally recovered 8 years after the slump began. This is the longest depression in the history of the State.  Since its inception the economy has grown at around 3% a year. So the lost output over 8 years means that the economy is now about 25% below its trend growth rate.

Supporters of austerity will claim that growth is a result of austerity. But this is a conjurer’s trick, asking us to suspend disbelief. The reality is very different. The Irish economy experienced a change of policy and a change of circumstances. It was these that produced recovery. Everything else is sleight of hand.

When Fine Gael/Labour came to office they implemented their own version of austerity. The response of the economy predictably was to re-enter recession from mid-2012 onwards for 4 quarters, creating the rare phenomenon of a double-dip recession. This is shown in Fig. 1 below. Recovery only happened later.


Fig.1 Real GDP

The policy response was marked, if little publicised. From the end of 2012 onwards there were no new net austerity measures. Instead government spending was actually increased. This was a turn towards stimulus spending, not austerity and is shown in Fig.2 below.

It is not possible to claim that austerity led to recovery. Government spending was increased after the end of 2012 and recovery began 6 months later.


Fig.2 Real Government Spending

The change of circumstances was even more dramatic and had a bigger overall effect on growth.  Since early 2014 the Euro has fallen by 25% against the US Dollar, providing a boost to exporters across the Eurozone and especially to very open economies like Ireland. Many other currencies are linked to the US Dollar in one form or another, notably the Chinese Renminbi. Together, these two economies alone account for 30% of all EU trade.

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Eurostat Has Done Us a Favour

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We should not under-estimate the impact of the Eurostat ruling. It completely removes the rationale for Irish Water and the water charges.  After Eurostat, there is no policy, no direction, no strategy.  Ministers will downplay the ruling with a ‘move-on-nothing-to-see-here’ rhetoric, punctuated by a ‘there-is-no-alternative’ but all this does is expose the inability to grasp how fundamentally the landscape has changed.

Eurostat was never going to rule in any other way than it did.  The Government admitted this last April in the Spring Statement when it put all water expenditure back on the books in its projections up to 2020.  The fundamental issue is not whether enough people paid the charges.  It was the ‘market corporation’ rule:  did Irish Water look like and act like a commercial company in a market economy?  Eurostat said no – and this is all down to the Government’s headless-chicken response after the mass Right2Water protests last October and November.

The Government capped charges, froze them until 2018, and introduced an indirect subsidy through social transfers (the water conservation grant).  The lack of ‘economically significant prices’ (i.e. charges that reflect the cost of producing water) and government control led Eurostat to rightly label the whole exercise as a mere reorganisation of non-market activities.  Given all this, what company in the world could be considered a market entity?

The main rationale for the Government’s water policy was not charges; this could have been introduced as a stand-alone revenue-raising measure.  Nor was it the creation of a single water authority; that could have been done as a public agency rather than a corporation. The over-riding issue was to take the estimated €5.5 billion of desperately needed investment over the next seven years ‘off-the-books’.  Everything flows from this:  to take investment off the books you need to create a corporation, you need to charge a ‘market-like’ rate for the service.

Remember those lectures from Government Ministers and commentators with that ‘common-people-just-don’t-understand’ attitude?  Without the investment there would be water shortages while we would all be walking through sewage.  And the only way to get this investment was through Irish Water and charges.

Eurostat has killed that narrative.  Investment will be on –the-books.  With that foundation removed, the edifice – and the rationale for that edifice (the corporation, the charges) – crumbles.

What now?  Whatever they say in public Ministers must know its game over.  The only way to pass the Eurostat test is introduce ‘economically significant prices’.  This would mean reverting to prices based on usage with no cap determined by an independent regulator.  Is that likely?  No, not with the potential to bring another 100,000 to 200,000 on the streets.  The people didn’t win many victories during the austerity days; they won the battle over uncertain charges, PPs numbers and cut-offs.  No political party is going to challenge that.

How do progressives react to this?  The safe ground would be to call for the scrapping of the charges and the reform of Irish Water.  Fianna Fail is already calling for that.  Progressives can and must go further.  We can’t effectively challenge the current ‘steady-as-it-goes’ Government approach with a ‘steady-as-it-went’ that dominated past policy.  We need creative and innovative thinking that can not only address the issues but present an exciting, inclusive alternative to water supply and all public provision.


We need to increase investment to €600 million annually to modernise our infrastructure.

Water investment has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride.  We are now slightly ahead of 1995 levels after peaking in 2008.  We need to do better.

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No Country for Young People

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So you’re young, ready to take up work, make a bit of money and, most of all, make the social contribution that is expected of all members of the homo economicus species.  There’s only one problem.  You live in Ireland.

Following on from my previous blog on the weakness of our market economy to produce jobs – except in the construction sector – let’s look at employment growth by age.  Overall employment is rising, even if it is patchy.  But not for young people.   For young people, the jobs recession continues apace.


Employment grew by 2.2 percent overall.  But for young people – between 20 and 34 years – it fell by 1.5 percent.  Among older groups – over 50s – employment grew by 5 percent.

When we drill down further, we find that those aged between 30 and 34 years saw employment fell by 3.1 percent.

This is part of a longer trend.employment_growth2jpg

Since the crisis began, employment has fallen by 10 percent.  However, for those aged 20-34, employment fell by a third.  For other age groups, employment has recovered and increased – with employment among 50s and over increasing by 14 percent.

There has been some discussion about bringing Irish people back from abroad.  It has been suggested that a main obstacle is our ‘high’ tax regime (sigh).  As we see above, the problem remains what it has been some time ago – lack of jobs (though there will be some sectors that are undergoing growth).

Young people face more problems than just falling employment.  Since 2008, nearly 475,000 people have emigrated.  Unsurprisingly, the majority who left were young people.  Over 300,000 men and women aged between 20 and 34 years have left the country – or 65 percent of all those emigrating.


For those who stayed behind it’s still tough out there in the labour market.  The unemployment rate for those aged between 20 and 24 years the unemployment rate is 19.6 percent – twice the national average.  No wonder Eurostat estimates that 40 percent of young people are at risk of poverty or social exclusion (for the age group 18 – 24 years).

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Growing the Economy the Robin Hood Way

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Who said the following?

‘ . . . if the income share of the top 20 percent (the rich) increases, then GDP growth actually declines over the medium term, suggesting that the benefits do not trickle down. In contrast, an increase in the income share of the bottom 20 percent (the poor) is associated with higher GDP growth.’


‘The poor and the middle class (middle income) matter the most for growth.’


‘ . . enhanced power by the elite could result in a more limited provision of public goods that boost productivity and growth, and which disproportionately benefit the poor.

The Socialist Party of the World?  The European Zapatista League?  The People’s Front of Judea (or the Judean People’s Front or the Judean Popular People’s Front)? 

No, it was the International Monetary Fund, that crazy gang that gave us poverty, deprivation and economic deterioration to just about wherever they went (now playing in Greece).

The IMF has recently published Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective – a strongly argued study that concludes that increasing equality is one of the best things a country can do to promote sustainable growth (that, and investment).  They propose a number of channels – fiscal redistributive policies, investment in education and health, and financial inclusion policies (e.g. basic bank accounts, etc.).

A particularly noteworthy finding is an estimate of the impact of redistribution on growth. 


If the income share of the poorest 20 percent increases by one percentage point, GDP grows by 0.4 percentage points.  However, if the income share of the highest income group, the top 20 percent, increases, GDP growth actually falls.

In other words, redistribution that leads to greater equality is good for the economy; redistribution that favours the highest income groups is bad (Britain after the Tory budget, take note).  You want to grow the economy?  Do a Robin Hood on it – take from the rich and give to the poor.

So what can we make of the Minister for Finance’s latest comments

noonan1‘I use the Budget for economic management purposes and I’m going to cut personal taxes in this Budget . . . I’m going to cut the Universal Social Charge (USC) by at least 1 per cent and maybe a bit more.’

The ESRI estimated the impact of cutting the USC’s standard rate of 7 percent on income groups.  This is what they found.


A cut equivalent to €500 million (cutting the USC standard rate from 7 to 5.35 percent) has almost no impact on the poorest 20 percent.  There’s not much of an increase in the second quintile group (the 3rd and 4th deciles).  However, the greatest gains go to the highest income groups – the 9th and 10th deciles.

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Ireland’s Lean Mean Job Creating Machine is Looking a Bit Flabby

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You’d think, listening to Ministers reeling off employment numbers and media reports of new job announcements, that Ireland was some lean, mean job creation machine. Well, in comparison with other EU-15 countries we are neither mean nor lean. Indeed, we fall well behind in key sectors.

Let’s leave aside the arguments over the 2013 employment numbers.  I suggested that they were inflated due to a statistical re-alignment between the Quarter National Household Survey and the Census (you can read those arguments here andhere).  If people want to believe that job growth in 2013 (when domestic demand fell) was higher than in 2014 (when domestic demand rose by nearly 4 percent) – well, sure, go ahead.  I prefer to take on board the CSO’s warning about interpreting job creation trends in 2013.

Robust comparisons can only start with the last quarter of 2013.  That’s when the CSO finished its statistical re-alignment.  Therefore, we have two year-on-year periods to compare.  We should be cautious interpreting this data; it would be preferable to have a longer time-series.  Therefore, any conclusions are tentative and subject to revision.

The following looks at the market, or business, economy.  This is essentially the private sector, excluding the public sector dominated sectors (public administration, education and health) and the farming sector.  Here are the year-on-year figures for 2014 to 2015 Quarter 1.


This doesn’t look so bad.  Ireland’s employment growth is above the EU-15 average and ranks 4th in the table.  However, something interesting happens when we exclude the construction sector which is non-traded and which in the past the Irish economy overly-relied on for job creation.


Ireland falls well down the job creation table when construction is excluded  – below the EU-15 average.

In the last year, the Irish market economy generated 29,700 jobs.  Of this, 19,500 jobs were in the construction sector – or 66 percent.

When we look at the previous quarter – the 4th quarter of 2014 – we find a similar pattern.

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€1 – Because We’re Worth It

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The Low Pay Commission will soon be recommending an increase in the minimum wage.  How much should it recommend?  Let’s start with the conclusion:  the minimum wage should rise by €1 per hour.  Now, let’s go through the arguments.

First, some background:  the minimum wage (NMW) is €8.65 per hour.  This rate was set back in 2007.  In 2011 it was cut to €7.65 but only a few weeks later the current government restored the cut; this would have affected very workers as employers would have been prevented by law from cutting the pay of workers already employed. 

Ireland is the only EU-15 country that has frozen the NMW since 2007 (with the exception of poor Greece where the Institutions demanded a cut).


The average increase (bar Greece) has been 16 percent in other EU-15 countries with a NMW.  A number of other, poorer EU countries have actually doubled their NMW (Romania, Bulgaria and Latvia) – but these countries were starting off a low-base.

Over that period thee has been an alarming rise in deprivation among those at work. 

  • In 2008, when the recession began, 6.6 percent of people in work suffered deprivation
  • In 2013, this proportion rose to 19.2 percent

Approximately 350,000 in work suffer from multiple deprivation experiences.  This is not necessarily confined to low-paid employees; there will be self-employed in this category while many workers higher up the wage ladder may be suffering from deprivation due to debt issues or rising child costs.  Nonetheless, it is reasonable to assume that a significant proportion are low-paid employees.

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We Are Not a Cost

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If anyone is uncertain about the power relationship between employees and employers, I suggest they look to the Dunnes Stores dispute and the closure of Clerys.  These encapsulate the massive imbalance of power in the workplace. 

I won’t get into the details of these ongoing disputes.  Any rational person hopes the workers succeed – in the case of Dunnes Stores, to win the right to negotiate collectively and reduce the level of precariousness; in the case of the Clerys workers, to be given their fair share of compensation – and dignity – after years of services to the company.

So here, let’s take a step back and look at the presentation of the relationship between employees and employers.  This may seem, at first, abstract but it leads us to something fundamental.

It starts with costs.

Labels are powerful things.  For instance, costs; this is usually not a good thing:  ‘that was a costly venture’, ‘a costly holiday’, a ‘costly day out’.  These are things we usually try to avoid, unless the ‘cost was worth it’

‘Profit’, however, is usually something positive:  that was a ‘profitable experience’, I ‘profited’ from that lecture, we are ‘back in profit’.  Profit equals growth and prosperity.  Further, it is considered a good thing because it’s opposite – loss – is not.  Loss is bad for a household, a company, and a voluntary organisation.  Continued loss may result in bankruptcy or closure or poverty.

So when we discuss labour and capital in the economy or in a business, we are already using labels that colour the debate:  costs and profits.  If costs are something to be avoided or reduced in order to maximise benefit, then we must depress the price of labour (i.e. wages and working conditions), and diminish the agencies that champions this ‘cost’ (e.g. trade unions, the collective bargaining power of workers, legislation that benefits workers). 

Likewise, if profits are an unqualified good – we should support the agencies that maximise profits and gear our legal, labour and tax framework to that end. 

Even before we begin discussing the relationship between wages and profits, the former is considered a cost, a burden while the latter is a sign of prosperity, growth.

The interesting thing about this highly ideological reading, is that it is not vindicated by basic economic accounting (here comes the abstract part).  

An enterprise creates income by creating gross value-added.  We can measure this by the following:

Gross value-added equals sales revenue minus the purchase of goods and services needed to produce the product the enterprise is selling (rent, accountancy services, machinery maintenance, etc.). 

The important point here is that employees’ wages and working conditions is not a cost in the measurement for creating value.

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The EU Fiscal Rules: Not Fit for Purpose

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What would you say about a system for your car that was sold on the basis that it would alert you to an upcoming crash?  A good idea, no?  Except that the system only warns you after the crash.  There you are, in a massive, multi-car pile-up, bleeding all over the M50 – and only then does the system kick in:

‘Warning, warning, you are an imminent danger of having been in a crash – warning, warning.’

You’d be right to sue.

That’s how the EU fiscal rules operate:  it purports to provide an early warning system against economic crash but, in fact, it does no such thing.  We should return it to the manufacturer, unopened, postage due.

Remember the Fiscal Treaty campaign?  It was claimed by the proponents that we needed these rules because it would prevent things like the Great Recession and, in particular, the Irish crash of 2008.  We needed these rules because we Irish are irresponsible – along with the other PIGS states.  If only we had these rules we could have escaped the crash, the debt crisis and the recession – which was, of course, brought on by our fiscal irresponsibility.  That was the narrative. 

But the cold reality is that were these EU fiscal rules in active operation they would not have seen, predicted, never mind warned of the impending crisis.  It would have been as useful as a diviners’ rod.  How can we know this?  Because the EU Commission, the fairground purveyor of these miracle rules, tells us so.

The rules focus on the structural deficit.  This measures the deficit when all the cyclical components are stripped out – that is, all the boom and the bust parts of the economy.  It purports to tell us what the deficit would look like if the economy were on an even keel. 

If so, then the EU rules should have been blaring warning sounds with red lights and sirens in Ireland in the years before the crash.  Everyone knew (if only in private) that during the period of 2000 – 2006 Irish public finances were dangerously over-reliant on revenue from the speculative boom.  Everyone – except the EU Commission and their rules.

 Let’s look at the estimate from the EU Commission itself.  Remember:  if the figure is in plus, that means we were fiscally responsible, our public finances were robust, and we were almost German-like when it came to prudent budgeting. 


Oh, my:  according the EU rules and methodology we had extremely sound public finances.

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Drawing Lessons from the Public Sector Pay Talks

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With the public sector pay negotiations getting underway, it is timely to step back from the details and look at the broader landscape.  For it is clear:  if the wage structure in the overall economy mirrored the wage structure in the public sector, we would have a more prosperous economy and society; the recession wouldn’t have been so hard, the recovery wouldn’t have been so delayed, and the social deficits arising out of inequality would not be so endemic. 

While there is much focus on the private-public wage differential, there is less attention paid to the distribution of wages from the bottom to the top – which is the key to long-term sustainable growth and better social outcomes.  Let’s have a quick look at the former first.

The CSO has done exceptional and detailed work on comparing private and public sector pay.  The lazy comparison is to compare the headline average private and public sector pay.  However, this comes up against the like-for-like dilemma.  For instance, there are no hospitality workers in the public sector; there are no Gardai in the private sector.  Without a like-for-like comparison you get all sorts of numbers that don’t tell you much.

The CSO has compensated for that – comparing professions, age, duration of employment, size of enterprise, educational qualifications.  When they do that, they come to some interesting conclusions.


Among this grouping – which makes up the overwhelming majority of public sector workers – the ‘premium’ (i.e. the additional amount public sector workers above private sector workers) is a little more than one percent higher.  On a like-for-like basis, public sector workers earn fractionally more than private sector workers. 

What is more interesting is the gender difference.  Men in the public sector actually earn less than males in the private sector – two percent less.  However, women in the public sector earn five percent more than their private sector counterparts on a like-for-like basis.  And this is a good thing when one considers that women still face pay (and other types of) discrimination in the workplace.   If there was less gender discrimination in the private sector, the overall public sector premium would probably turn negative.

Just one more word:  This data comes from the CSO.  Since 2010 there have been small wage movements.  Between 2010 and 2014 (4th quarter):

  • Increase in private sector weekly earnings:  2.3%
  • Increase in public sector weekly earnings: (-0.7%)

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