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Opportunities, Polls and the Left

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A response to Ronan Burtenshaw and Eoin O’Broin, by Paul Murphy,  Anti-Austerity Alliance TD and member of Socialist Party

Last Sunday’s Red C poll, which saw a rise in support for the government parties and a decline of Independents/Others has provoked a discussion about the prospects for the left. Independent socialist, Ronan Burtenshaw, wrote an article on The Village website, entitled “Left may have squandered opportunity”. Eoin O’Broin, a leading member of Sinn Fein and a Councillor, then responded on his blog.

The discussion provoked by the opinion poll findings and these responses is useful. Debate between different analyses and programmes is a necessary and unavoidable part of working towards building a significant new left movement. This response is written to contribute to that debate in the hope that it will help to clarify the position of different trends within the left and the movement against the water charges.

Ronan’s piece is provocative and engaging, but I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that it is a classic example of confirmation bias. His essential conclusion from an analysis of the movements of the polls over the past couple of years is this:

“Clearly people in Ireland experimented with mass mobilisations against austerity, rejected the government’s line on water charges and the economy more generally, and even went so far as to express majority support for forces other than Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour for the first time in history.

“But my conclusion, given this data, is that they have found the alternatives unconvincing. As a proportion of the population, few new supporters have been won over to a project for political change.”

His conclusion, that the fall in opinion polls is because people looked at the alternatives and found them to be unconvincing, simply does not flow from the data, or his preceding analysis. Instead, I would contend that the opinion polls worsened primarily because of the decline of major mobilisations as well as because the low point for the government wasn’t fully capitalised on by a sufficiently authoritative force to consolidate the indicated trends.

I think his analysis contains two essential flaws.

Marriage Equality Referendum

The first is that he under-estimates the temporary impact of the marriage equality referendum result on support for Fine Gael and Labour. In fact, he makes no mention of it whatsoever, which is strange given that was a major political event that occurred just in advance of the poll being carried out.

It was always likely that a referendum victory, which enabled Labour in particular to wrap itself in a rainbow flag and present itself as socially progressive, was likely to result in an increase in the polls. I think much of that can be reversed as people are reminded by the real role of the Labour Party. Within days, for example, of the referendum result, but not accounted for in the Red C poll, they moved to sell-off the remaining state share in Aer Lingus, and politics was embroiled in another Denis O’Brien-related controversy as he tried to silence the Dail itself.

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Irish Capital and the Banking Inquiry

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The Banking inquiry is now into its main investigation. It has been hearing evidence from senior bankers and department officials, and over the next couple of months we’ll finally get to hear from the politicians themselves. To date, the focus of the inquiry has been on the night of the guarantee and this is because it is still unclear as to what actually happened that night. Witness by witness, though, we are getting closer to finding out and coming to a conclusion regarding what was by far the biggest, and most disastrous, decision taken by any Southern Irish government since partition.

The guarantee of course is not the full story. National government policy from 1990 to 2007 regardless of the political makeup prioritized commercial and residential property speculation over genuine and cohesive social development. This was coupled with a loosening of financial regulation and the promotion of the south of Ireland as a de facto tax haven.

From 2002 to 2007, Irish banks started to compete with each other for the same small pool of developers. In order to grow quickly and leapfrog each other, Irish banks got involved in widely speculative land and commercial property ventures, using international wholesale funding to do so.

The shaky foundations of the growth was exposed by the 2007-2008 credit crunch. Irish banks couldn’t get access to international loans to pay off their earlier loans and this came to a head in September 2008.

Since then, the real struggle in the crisis has been not so much over its resolution – all crises come to an end sometime – but who pays for the resolution. And in the south of Ireland, those who paid were the ordinary citizens, while those who partied walked away from their obligations. And each day of the bank inquiry this becomes clearer – those who took out mortgages did not ‘party’, but the 29 developers with debts of €32 billion between them certainly did, before using the Government to dump those debts onto our shoulders.

The relationship between these developers and Irish finance is the essential dynamic of Irish capitalism, and the banking inquiry, almost in spite of itself, is looking at this institutional framework and the manner in which it operated.

The focus on individual developers and bankers, and, more recently, Denis O’Brien and Siteserv, has obscured somewhat this structural dynamic. Systems are of course operated by and developed through people, but in order for a system to reproduce itself it needs an institutional framework.

The inquiry allows us to peer under the bonnet of Irish capitalism and get a sense of how the machine works, its internal contradictions and outputs. We are beginning to see that the indigenous troika, the one that really matters, is the Central Bank, the Department of Finance and the Department of the Taoiseach.

The main clients of this apparatus are not the citizens of the State but the indigenous banks and the IFSC. The regulatory rules, tax laws and supposed strictures and censures – all are developed and written with the needs of finance in mind.

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Declining US Profits and Private Investment

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This article was originally published on Socialist Economic Bulletin on Tuesday, 2nd of June. 

US corporate profits fell in the first quarter of 2015. This is the second consecutive fall, technically causing a ‘profits recession’. The nominal level of profits of $2014.8bn in Q1 was lower than in Q2 2012. Profits have fallen to 11.4% of GDP, compared to 12.2% at their pre-crisis peak in Q3 2006. The trend in corporate profits is shown in Fig. 1 below. 

  Fig.1 US Corporate Profits Source: BEA
 
 
The motor force of capitalist economies is the accumulation of capital via profits, as the name suggests. ‘Demand-led’ or ‘wage-led’ economies are a logical impossibility for the simple reason the wages, or demand, or any other comparable variable follow the production process. There can be no wages or demand without prior production.

Falling profits in a recovery is extremely unusual. But this is the third time this has happened during this weak recovery. In effect, because the economy lacks any great momentum, it is easy for external effects to push profits lower. This could be poor weather, a stronger US Dollar, shipping strikes, weak overseas demand, and so on.

But the effect of a sustained fall in profits is simple. Companies exist to realise profits and will stop investing if profits fall. In Fig. 2 below US corporate profits and US private sector fixed investment are shown in nominal terms for the purposes of comparison.

The Great Recession was preceded by a decline in profits and the fall in fixed investment followed with a time lag. This was a classic profits-led recession, which was partly obscured by the speculative frenzy that continued until 2007 (but which is a recurring end-of-cycle phenomenon).  

 Fig.2 Profits & Private Fixed Investment. Source: BEA
 
 
However, until now private sector fixed investment has not suffered a fall in the current expansion despite the preceding short-lived declines in nominal profits. Since the low-point in private investment at the beginning of 2010 there has been an uninterrupted rise in private investment until the final quarter of 2014.

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Principles for a Left Alternative

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Principles for a left alternative. May-June 2015

The following statement, as a contribution to the debate at the conference organised by the R2W unions on June 13, has been agreed between the Anti-Austerity Alliance, the People Before Profit Alliance and some independent left-wing activists including Cllr Brendan Young.

The Mayday Conference initiated by the Right2Water Trade Unions was designed to bring union members, community groups and political representatives into dialogue about an alternative to the political and economic establishment. We welcome the fact that these unions initiated such a meeting to build a political movement based on the anti-water charges struggle of the last eight months. Unfortunately, the meeting was a limited and invite-only event, without sufficient space for discussion.

Open up and democratise the June 13 conference

To best achieve the potential for this movement, we believe that the process needs to be opened up and democratised. Without grassroots participation, any political initiative will lack the energy and vibrancy needed to challenge the political establishment. So we think the follow up conference on June 13 should have delegates invited from all of the community groups campaigning against water charges, selected over the coming weeks at local meetings.

On June 13, the conference must also be designed to allow genuine debate and maximum inclusion. In place of structured inputs from selected speakers, the event should be bottom-up and participatory. It should be designed to allow as many contributions as possible and allow for decisions to be made by those present.

For an anti-austerity, anti-coalition approach – based on struggle

To initiate the debate, the R2W unions have developed a document entitled, Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government. The basis of the Principles document is a series of seven economic and social rights. The R2W unions have asked for “further discussion and input”. In responding to this call, we believe that a number of additions and amendments need to be made.

Firstly, any proposed political initiative must not become a replacement for the grassroots struggles that have brought us to this point. In relation to water charges, the document proposes that “Irish Water PLC’ and domestic water charges will be abolished within the first 100 days of a government endorsing this policy”.

We must not wait for a progressive government to abolish water charges. What if such a government is not elected? Abolition can only be won by an organised boycott and continuing the protest movement on the streets. People power and protest is the only way to beat austerity measures and the best way to build support for the actions of any future left government.

We think the 13 June conference should make a public statement calling for mass non-payment of the water charges. This is the crucial stage of the campaign and the crucial question. It would be negligent if a major conference of large sections of the anti-water charges movement takes place and does not issue a call for people not to pay. Instead of giving confidence to the movement and impetus to continue organising and mobilising, it can give the impression that the only focus now is the election.

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Tom Redmond

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The Communist Party of Ireland announces the death of our esteemed comrade Tom Redmond.

Tom’s contribution to the cause of the Irish working class spanned nearly six decades. He has left our ranks, but his contribution to the struggles of our party and to the Irish and international working-class movement are immeasurable.

We salute the memory of Tom Redmond: worker, militant communist, trade unionist, working-class intellectual, teacher, artist, writer.  Several generations of young communists and working-class activists benefited from his knowledge and experience. He gave unselfishly, in particular to young activists, passing on his wide experience and his profound knowledge of Irish history and particularly the history of our working class.

We express our deepest sympathy to his four sons Simon, Eoin, Niall, Karl and all his extended family.

The Communist Party of Ireland dips its banners in honour of his passing.

A person’s dearest posses­sion is life. It is given to them but once, and they must live it so as to feel no tortur­ing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live that, dying, they might say: All my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world: the fight for the liberation of humanity.          —Nikolai Ostrovski

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Did New Labour Spend Too Much?

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This article originally appeared on the Socialist Economic Bulletin on Tuesday, 19th of May.

It is not sufficient for big business to have secured an election victory and an overall Parliamentary majority for the Tory Party. It is also necessary to intervene in the Labour Party to ensure that its leadership also conforms to big business interests too. This has currently taken the form of candidates in the leadership contest being asked to declare that Labour ‘spent too much’ in the run-up into the Great Recession. Answering Yes to this question is effectively a loyalty oath to big business interests, a renunciation even of the social democratic vestige of economic policy under New Labour.

The question is economically illiterate. It is taken as axiomatic that if there was a deficit that spending must have been too high. But all deficits are composed of two items; spending and income. In the case of government that income arises mainly in the form of taxes. It does not follow from the existence of a deficit that the culprit must be spending.

The reality is that measured as a proportion of GDP New Labour spent less on average than Margaret Thatcher. This is shown in Fig. 1 below. On average New Labour’s spending amounted to 41.5% of GDP. By comparison, under Thatcher government spending was 44.2%. In relation to the deficit, the taxation levels were also very different. Under New Labour taxation revenues were on average 37.5% of GDP. Under Thatcher taxation revenues amounted to 42.0% of GDP.

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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.

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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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May issue of Socialist Voice is Out Now!

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The May issue of Socialist Voice is now available at: http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/index.html

Articles in this issue include:

Spring statement” = winter of austerity

Eugene McCartan

The much-hyped “spring statement” jointly presented by the minister for finance, Michael Noonan, and minister for public expenditure, Brendan Howlin, promised much and delivered little. Though it generated reams of newsprint and hours of mind-numbing radio and television coverage, people will be none the wiser, and no better off.  

Support the bus workers!

It’s in all our interests to support the bus workers’ strike.

 The establishment media have gone into overdrive about the action taken by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann drivers, members of both SIPTU and the NBRU. The first two-day strikes took place on 1 and 2 May, with two further strikes planned for 15 and 16 May.

Change of strategy at the ICTU

The new general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Patricia King, announced a change of strategy in a speech on 17 April to the annual delegate conference of the Public Service Executive Union.

The malevolent influence of Hibernianism

Tommy McKearney

On 24 April last, small groups of people gathered at a number of places around Ireland on the ninety-ninth anniversary of the beginning of the Easter Rising to celebrate what they have designated Republic Day.

The end of the Viet Nam war

The 30th of April marks the fortieth anniversary of the ending of the Viet Nam war. On that day in 1975 the forces of the People’s Army of Viet Nam and the National Liberation Front of South Viet Nam, under the command of General V?n Ti?n D?ng,

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Alan Hanlon

On 21 April, Right2Water organised another peaceful demonstration of the working class opposed to the privatisation of water and the whole campaign of austerity and forced emigration launched in 2008.

The rise of shadow banking

Nicola Lawlor

Both the EU Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund published reports recently on the growth and risk of the shadow-banking sector.

While estimating the size of the sector and identifying some immediate risks, both reports fail to identify the rise of finance…

Three countries: same failed strategies

Paul Doran

At the end of April two communist parties issued significant statements in relation to the situation in Portugal and Greece. They are of interest to us here in Ireland because of the similarity of conditions: the imposition of massive debt on the people,

Real, existing capitalism and the challenge for an alternative

Eoghan O’Neill

There are times and certain processes in the production of human needs that have become the catalyst for change in society, a change in which the old order of doing things—whether it is ruling, governing, trading, building, creating, destroying, or a myriad of different complexities that steer human development—are incapable of satisfying, or can no longer satisfy, the new social and productive forces in society.

Celebrating five years of Barrygruff with Gruffwuff

Barry Healy

Barrygruff, from Ireland and now based in Vancouver, a finalist in the Canadian “Made in Blog” music blog awards, 2014, has released a compilation

History, looking forward

Seán Edwards

When Eduardo Galeano died, the Uruguayan parliament held a special session to honour him; a previous regime put him in jail. This reflects the changes in Latin America, which Galeano’s writings helped bring about.

Both are wrong!

Richard Bryant

With more beheadings in Libya come more pundits on American television. As a culture we seem keen to explore political, military and the occasional diplomatic solution when it comes to the rise of Sunni extremism in Syria and Iraq. I wonder if there are less obvious religious approaches?

No-one is going to invade Indiana or Arkansas for considering the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Yet the approach by man

The Venezuelan working class reinforces its support for Maduro

Paul Dobson

With an investment of more than $1.2 billion and 2.2 million bolívars, President Maduro approved forty-six projects from the working class of the nationalised Venezuelan Guyana Corporation this month, as the Presidential Council of the Working Class was held in Venezuela’s industrial heartland.

Communist and gay rights activist celebrated

Jenny Farrell

Solidarity lies at the heart of the film Pride. It is a film about the seemingly unlikely alliance between a mining community in Wales and the London Lesbian and Gay group “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.” This is a true story, and the hero of this film is Mark Ashton

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The Rationalist’s Defence of Injustice

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Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilisation, supposedly replied that he thought it might be a good idea. Taken at face value, we can presume that he was both contemptuous and cynical of the idea of civilisation of any kind existing in the West. Being on the receiving end of Western civilisational endeavours such as the one he experienced in India during his life, he would have been well aware of hollowness of the idea that actions and ideas emanating from the West were inherently virtuous. Indeed, very few people, especially in Ireland, need to be reminded of the great altruism with which the British Empire undertook the task of civilising the world. Although Great Britain is no longer the empire it once was, it continues to play the civilising game along with its master, the United States. Meanwhile, the notion that great powers undertake certain actions for the benefit of the “uncivilised” of the world continues to hold sway, along with the concomitant idea that such actions are inherently virtuous. They are inherently virtuous simply because said actions are being carried out by the U.S. and its allies. Nothing more needs to be said in their defence according to the reigning orthodoxy. Said orthodoxy resides not only in and around the centres of power, and not only emerges from the mouths of the most devoted nationalists and neoconservatives but can also be found in those who are considered to be sceptics and rationalists.

Two of the most vocal types of this are Sam Harris and his former colleague, Christopher Hitchens. Both men had become two of the four faces most associated with rationalism, specifically atheism, and the so-called New Atheism, that emerged more or less immediately in the aftermath of 9/11. In the case of Hitchens, advocating for a non-religious world due to the fact that he deemed religion a threat to humanity became one part of his public persona. The other part was as a cheerleader for the neoconservative movement. Counting amongst his friends Paul Wolfowitz, the former U.S. Deputy Director of Defence in the Bush II administration, Hitchens could be relied upon to decry the evils of religion in the same breath as declaring British and U.S. intentions in the Middle East as righteous. His views did not in any way evolve before his death in 2012 from oesophageal cancer. One year before his death, when asked if he thought the invasion of Iraq along with the subsequent chaos it unleashed was worth the trial and execution of Saddam Hussein, he responded in the positive; the fracturing and destruction of a country, from which it may never recover, was deemed a price worth paying for the regional interests of his acquaintances in the White House.

Although claiming to take a more nuanced view of things, Harris is arguably worse than Hitchens in his support for the British and U.S. interests around the word. Although Hitchens was outlandishly crude in some of his pronunciations, Harris on the other hand relies on the veneer of calm and respectable discourse in order to promote views that are far from respectable. Harris’ position is essentially that Islam in particular represents an existential and ongoing threat to superior Western civilisation and ideals. Therefore, it must be dealt with accordingly by those who have the power to do so. Being unmentionable is that it just happens that the balance of power resides by far in the hands of the U.S. and its closest allies, yet the threat apparently remains. This is half of the premise of Harris’ main point of contention with Noam Chomsky, the other half being that that our intentions are good regardless of the outcomes. In this view, because collateral damage is not intentional on the part of leaders, what we do that causes civilian deaths in the first place is therefore not judged by the supposedly unexpected outcome of collateral damage. The act is judged simply by its intentions. If the intention was to destroy a terrorist training camp via a Hellfire missile, and civilians were accidentally killed in the process, the civilians do not enter into any moral calculation. The initial act was carried out for the correct reasons, at least according to those in power and their supporters, therefore the unintentional deaths of civilians do not enter into any moral calculation of the hypothetical missile strike.

This is Harris’ stance on the nature of U.S. foreign policy, at least as he laid it out in recent correspondence with Chomsky, arguing that the U.S. is “in many respects, just… a ‘well-intentioned giant.’” The Clinton Administration’s bombing in 1998 of the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, which resulted in the destruction of roughly half of the country’s medicines, including its entire supply of anti-malaria drugs, was a legitimate act according to Harris. The apparent intention, which Harris takes for granted, was to destroy a chemical weapons factory, with the resulting suffering unleashed on the country being of no concern. What matters are intentions, nothing else. Harris simply takes it for granted that what we do is right and proper simply by virtue of the fact that it is being done by us. Harris presumes, with no evidence, that “Clinton (as I imagine him to be) did not want or intend to kill anyone at all, necessarily.” The more likely reason, which Harris fails to mention or perhaps even realise, is that the plant’s destruction was in retaliation for the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania two weeks earlier. Although a terrorist attack on civilians in the Middle East or somewhere in the West may have the same outcome as the al-Shifa bombing and other similar acts by Western states, the two cases cannot be compared according to Harris conception of intentions. By logically extending his notion of intentionality, our crimes are not really crimes, and deaths caused by us are not really caused by us, a logic that would impress the most committed totalitarian ideologue.

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The Minister’s Problems with the Unemployed and Statistics

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We all know there will be people who will never work. They’re allergic to work.  So we’re not including those in the statistics. But everybody who wants a job will have a job in the next couple of years.’

There were a lot of criticisms of the Finance Minister’s comments, rightly describing them as a slur on people who cannot find a job.  What I also find illuminating is the innovative approach to statistical representation.

Imagine saying ‘We all know people who are allergic to obeying the law.  So we’re not including those in the statistics.’ Or ‘We all know people who are allergic to paying taxes.  So we’re not including those in the statistics.’  See – we just eliminated crime and tax evasion.  There’s no end of progress we can make on the outstanding issues of the day if we just employ the ‘Noonan Manoeuvre.’

But there are some statistics that the Minister is not including as well – statistics that his own government gathers and sends on to the EU.  Like this one:

  • There are 20 unemployed for every job vacancy.

This comes from the Eurostat Vacancy Rate as reported by the Nevin Economic Research Institute.  We’re not as bad as Greece where there are 74.3 unemployed for every job vacancy but we have a long ways to before we reach Belgium (5) never mind Germany (2.1).

To put that 20:1 ratio in perspective, imagine someone dropping five €10 notes from the roof of a building on to 100 people in the street.  There’s a mad scramble and eventually five people walk away with the notes.  But 95 people don’t.  What do we say about those empty-handed 95?  They’re allergic to €10 notes?  The mind reels.

But the Minister’s capacity to not include statistics does not end there.  Take this one.

There are, according to the last Quarterly National Household Survey, 2.153 million people in the labour force.  There are 1.939 million in work.  When you subtract those at work from the labour force you come up with 213,000.  That’s the number of unemployed.  The number of unemployed doesn’t determine the number of jobs in the market.  There are still only so many jobs to go around for a larger number of people looking for them (there are niche exceptions where an employer has a vacancy but can’t find someone with the matching skills necessary – a phenomenon in the ICT sector and foreign language skills; maybe we should teach all the unemployed Dutch?).

Of course, there are ways to manipulate this equation which, also, rarely gets included.

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From Alpha to Omega Podcast #062: Closet Marxists

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This week I am delighted to welcome back to the show Michael Roberts, author of the ‘Next Recession’ blog. We talk about the new reports out on the world economy from the IMF and the Bank of International Settlements, and how Ben Bernanke has come out as a closet Marxist after all these years.

We also discuss the recent debate between David Harvey on one side, and Michael and Andrew Kliman on the other, about the relevance / reality of the law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit, and the politics behind it all.

You can find Michael’s most prolific Blog here:

https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/

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Issue 124 of People’s News Out Now

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Issue 124 of People’s News out now

The articles in this issue include:  

  • Page 1: TTIP’s way is Europe’s way. Brussels may vet legislation
  • Page 2: Even more of an attack on democracy than ISDS
  • Page 4: MEPs scrap scrutiny on allowances
  • Page 5: A la carte system for GMO imports
  • Page 5: Secret “trialogue” talks to be investigated
  • Page 6: The hidden cost of EU trade deals
  • Page 7: A window on Microsoft’s lobbying
  • Page 7: TTIP negotiations to drag on
  • Page 8: The real alternatives in the Northern elections
  • Page 9: Apple expects “material” financial damage from EU investigations into corporation tax
  • Page 10: The billion euro man
  • Page 11: Fraud and the EU
  • Page 12: The cost to Greece of membership of the euro zone
  • Page 12: Trade union leader warns Juncker that his policies made the crisis worse
  • Page 13: Gotcha

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It’s Not the Economy, Stupid

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It is undemanding to look at the photographs taken by Ciarán Og Arnold after the financial meltdown of 2008 and regard them as sad signifiers of life in a distressed small town in the Irish midlands suffering the throes of economic collapse. There is no work for young people but not everyone can emigrate; ergo: hopelessness, ennui, barely suppressed anger and frustration for those left behind on the scrapheap. The Celtic tigers were stuffed with greed, corruption and a venal populace and alongside the dead skin lies the human wreckage. Oh, what a pity.

This is the pound-shop moralism of the ‘beautiful soul’ that Hegel descried in The Phenomenology of Spirit.  It’s too easy and comforting to feel you are standing on the outside, not needing like Pontius Pilate to wash your hands, as if somehow you have nothing to do with the wretched cultural wasteland
 that produces the deprived micro-community so sorrowfully captured by Ciarán Og Arnold. The male angst and sense of despair depicted in his photographs epitomise the rage that resides inside Irish society, a visceral response to life that goes beyond mere economics. If Joyce’s Dubliners presented a dark side of early twentieth-century life then I Went to the Worst of Bars… does something similar for the early twenty-first century.

The temper of these photographs is  immanent for there is no outside, and in place of a simplistic dualism of  subject – a photographer – and object – desolate dance clubs, dismal alleyways, inebriated older men, aggressive younger ones, two goats in a field, girls dressed up for a weekend night out – we see a totality that fuses facts with values, poor lighting with a poverty of opportunity, crappy wallpaper on a wall with horribly stunted horizons, budget-priced film stock with a culturally bankrupt environment.  Ciarán is the sound geezer who has clicked the shutter on his camera but the photographs are communal: the zeitgeist of an Ireland that goes largely unrepresented or, when it is acknowledged, is mediated by the perspective of an Irish media that would have us believe we are all paid up members of that middle-class constituency so piquantly evoked by George Harrison:

Everywhere there’s lots of piggies
Living piggy lives
You can see them out for dinner
With their piggy wives
Clutching forks
and knives to eat their bacon

Ciarán Og Arnold does not show us these people but they are the audience silently confronted by the faces, the furniture and vegetation, the cheap clothes and the empty bed that he presents us with.

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To Those Who Have Made the Biggest Sacrifice – Nothing

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Government Ministers are fond of saying that they want to repay those who made the biggest sacrifices; hence: tax cuts.  They have also stated that they want to target the ‘squeezed middle’ which they define as the income group between €35,000 and €75,000.  This is an interesting figure.  A household with two people working at the upper end of this ‘middle’ could earn nearly €150,000.  This government wants to reward them because it is obvious that their current income level is a terrible sacrifice.

For me, those who have fallen into deprivation – now that’s a sacrifice.  And there are a lot of people who have been sacrificing.

Social Protection Payments 1

In 2013, there were over 800,000 reliant on social protection payments in these three categories, both recipients and beneficiaries.  Deprivation has increased from 45 percent to 76 percent.

However, in the Government’s discourse of sacrifice, these people never feature.  They have been effectively air-brushed from the social debate.  The standard response of Ministers is that they have ‘protected’ basic social protection payments but they have done nothing of the sort.  They have frozen these payments, which means that the value of the payment has fallen due to inflation.  Since the Government took office:

  • A single person has suffered a real cut of 3 percent, or €5.69 per week
  • For a couple, the real cut has been €9.45 per week

So how much have the unemployed, lone parents and the disabled and sick lost out on since the cuts commenced in 2010?  Let’s look at the nominal (i.e. the actual amount in Euros and cents) and the real cuts (factoring in inflation.  We will take this out to 2016, using the Government’s projected growth in inflation, to get a sense of what would have to be spent to compensate people’s sacrifice.

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