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The Collapse of Ireland’s Finances (again): A Reinterpretation

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As the election season reaches full swing, the inevitable claims of who did what and when, and what this means in the future intensifies. One oft-repeated tale beginning to reemerge is that an expansion in public spending during the 2000s is a, or perhaps the leading cause of the subsequent financial and debt crisis. After all, as seen below, the crisis manifested itself in an explosion of the public deficit and overall debt, which eventually culminated in an inability of the government to borrow from financial markets in 2010. While the topic has been much-discussed, it’s worth going over this again as there are several misunderstandings, and some questions which I think elements of the left have had difficulty answering too.

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Notes: The Fiscal Balance and Adjusted Balance are shown on the left-hand side, Expenditure and Debt are shown on the right-hand side. Adjusted Balance taken from IMF’s World Economic Outlook. All others are taken from Eurostat.

The most obvious counter to the argument that bloated public spending was at the centre of the crisis is to point out the actual trajectory of fiscal policy in the 2000s. As shown above, Ireland actually ran a surplus (blue line) in all but one year of the 2000s pre-crisis, and also had one of the lowest debt-to-GDP ratios in the developed world. As a proportion of national income, spending increased, but quite modestly considering the low base. Thus, if anything, it was a model of fiscal prudency.

The counter to this is that, yes, the headline deficit was actually a surplus, but this masks underlying structural weaknesses. As we all know by now, the surpluses arose because of transient taxes such as stamp duty and other bubble-related windfalls. There was an expansion in public spending and the headline surplus was in reality a deficit (or as economists would say there was a structural public deficit). This was hidden by a basket-case economy, which delayed the inevitable collapse. In reality, the state was spending money it didn’t have – government profligacy in the form of excess spending has been a root cause of our woes. This can be seen clearly by the evolution of the cyclically-adjusted government balance, which clearly shows a large deficit from 2001 on.

A not inconsiderable portion of the left have difficulty answering this, and as a result it weakens the case for greater public investment in services, infrastructure, and so on. One response is to point to the costs of the bank bailout. Another is to repeat the point that the public finances were in surpluses. Another criticism is that it is in practice impossible to measure a structural deficit: that is, one cannot disentangle structural versus cyclical components of the deficit. I think all of these answers are somewhat weak, and leave open the charge of denial.

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Time for an Honest Conversation

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Before this election gets out of control it’s time to have an honest conversation.

You know all that stuff about the ‘fiscal space’? Is it €8 billion or €10 billion or €3 billion? Here’s the bottom line. There is effectively no fiscal space. We’re having a surreal debate over what is the equivalent to pennies (or 20 cent pieces) behind the sofa – though it was amusing seeing Fine Gael caught out on double-counting part of their estimate.

We’re going to be spending €350 billion over the next five years. There will be nearly €400 billion revenue. The fiscal space of €8.6 billion (that’s the base-line number) represents less than 2.5 percent of total expenditure and even less of total revenue. We’re having a 2 percent debate.

But it’s even less than that. There’s this little thing called inflation.   You may have heard of it though apparently some political parties haven’t. The Government estimates general economic inflation (GDP deflator) to be over six percent over the next five years. For current spending just to keep pace with inflation would mean an increase of nearly €4 billion. So that’s about half of the fiscal space gone.

But it’s even less than that again. The Government has assumed demographic pressures costing the state €2 billion (this means it’s not part of the fiscal space). These are demand pressures that occur without any policy change – rising number of pensioners, more demand on hospital services, rising number pupils numbers, etc. However, that €2 billion represents only ‘certain’ demographic pressures, not all. How much more? The Government’s not saying. But subtract more.

Taking all this into account, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council estimated the fiscal space to be €3 billion and change. Even if it turns out be a little more, it’s not much.

But here’s something else to contemplate. The Government’s public investment programme is already factored into the base-line projections. So the increase in capital expenditure from the current €4.2 billion to €5.8 billion in 2021 is not part of the fiscal space (but this level of investment will still keep us at the bottom of the EU tables and well below our historical average).

However, the Government pulled a fast one in the capital programme. They claimed that over the next five years, there would be €3.2 billion in water investment – investment that would not be on the Government books since it will be carried out by a public enterprise company: our old friend Irish Water. However, the Government is in denial. Irish Water is on the books, thanks to the Eurostat ruling. Unless the government introduces charges based on use (fat chance), Irish Water will remain on the books. If there is to be any investment water and waste it will have to be on the books – about €3.2 billion between 2017 and 2021. That will come out of the fiscal space.

Let’s summarise: we have €8.6 billion in fiscal space

  • Subtract about half due to inflation
  • Subtract more (don’t know how much) for the full cost of demographic pressures
  • Subtract water/waste investment if we’re to have any

How much is left? Have a look behind the sofa cushions. (Note:  there is a little matter of an additional €1.5 billion from future recalculations of the fiscal space; good, we’ll need it).

Now let’s throw into this mix all manner of proposed tax cuts: USC, property, income, corporate, capital, whatever you’re having yourself (interesting that no one mentions cutting the most regressive tax – VAT).   And then there’s the other side of the fiscal coin expanding capacity in the health service, increasing resources for education, building tens of thousands of social housing, increasing investment, bringing people out of poverty.

Let’s be clear: the politics doesn’t work, the math doesn’t work.

And none of this counts the external environment.   The irony is that as Europe moves back to normalcy – higher interest rates, higher oil prices, higher exchange rate – Ireland will suffer. We’re benefiting from a situation that is risking another round of asset bubbles and busts.

Take one example: the Department of Finance projects the budgetary impact of higher interest rates. A one percent increase in interest rates will, over a five year period, lead to a fall of GDP of over two percent, a fall in tax revenue of nearly 2 percent, higher public spending due to increased unemployment benefits and an increase in the debt/GDP ratio of over seven percentage points. Now add on oil prices and a strengthening Euro; never mind the profound implications of Brexit.

Anyone talking about this? No.

Rory Hearne suggests that progressive parties and independents come together to present an alternative:

‘Imagine a press conference with Mary Lou McDonald, Gerry Adams, Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett, Finian McGrath and Clare Daly – where they state that they have put aside their differences and have come together to offer the people of Ireland a real alternative government.’

It certainly is worth imagining. And the first thing they should do (and it would make an excellent photo-op) is to gather together all the party manifestos and policy documents and stick them in a bin. This would be the first step in having an honest conversation.  We could then talk about the real world and the difficult reality we are facing into.

Would that gather much support? I suspect it would. Poll after poll shows the majority of people don’t want tax cuts but, rather, investment and public services. There is a strong under-current of suspicion and even cynicism towards those who promise tax cuts and quality public services and fiscal stability, all to be delivered through numbers that don’t add up.

Is there an alternative? Yes. Is there a progressive fiscal space, combined with a spending policy, that forensically targets need and social repair? Yes. Are there policies that go beyond the fiscal space that can impact on people’s lives that do not require redistribution through Exchequer resources? Yes. My next blog will outline this.

But it all starts with an honest conversation.

I would imagine that people would welcome this – straight-talking from honest political forces. It certainly would mark a qualitative change from the usual election rhetoric. So let’s start that chat.

We have two weeks left.

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The Investment Deficit

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Continuing the recovery? Starting the recovery (for those who haven’t started feeling it yet)?   Protecting the recovery from outside events? What should we be doing? Voices from the fiscal orthodoxy insist we should use the additional resources to pay down debt – as if a few percentage points are going to protect us from external events. There are others that call for tax cuts but that’s a poor economic response whatever about its political appeal (which, if the Millward Brown poll is anything to go by, looks to have little popular appeal).

So how do we start, continue and protect recovery? One word: investment. Investment is the driving force behind enterprise success, economic growth and social prosperity. Investment drives growth, increases productivity, enhances skills, reduces costs and puts business and the economy in a stronger competitive position. You want to be competitive? Invest.

The problem is that Ireland has a poor investment record. And no one is talking about this in the election campaign; therefore, no one is talking about how to address it (if you’re not aware there is a problem, it is more difficult to solve it). The fundamental driving force behind economic growth and its nowhere on the agenda.

Historically, Irish investment has been below the EU average – even during the boom times. The following looks at Irish investment excluding dwellings and intellectual property/R&D. The latter – a new category under Eurostat’s recently introduced ESA 2010 – is excluded simply because it inflates investment numbers without necessarily contributing to growth. For instance, multi-nationals are re-locating IP activity into Ireland from tax haven locations. But to what extent this is making any real contribution to growth-generating activity is open to question. In 2013 70 percent of industrial R&D investment came from just three companies.

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As seen, Ireland has been a consistent under-performer.

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In Praise of Ungovernability

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With the general election now upon us, Fine Gael and Labour can be expected to highlight the need for a “strong government”, while attacks on the left parties have suggested that they are uninterested in governing and only interested in being “wreckers”. This can be a difficult argument on the doorsteps, against a long history of assuming that only parties in power can “deliver” (usually particular benefits for local groups). I want to suggest that ungovernability would not be such a bad thing, and that a “weak government” is in the interests of most people in the country.

What “strength” has meant over the past five years has been strength at imposing decisions made elsewhere – by the Troika collectively, by the EU or ECB individually, by “the markets” or in some sweetheart deal with multinationals – on a population which has been increasingly recalcitrant. Not strength in representing our interests, but strength in riding roughshod over our interests and our resistance. A strong government is not our friend if it is on the right (and there is no real chance of anything else in the next Dáil). 

Conversely, on all recent opinion polls a weak right-wing government is almost certainly the least bad outcome we can hope for, whether that be a coalition of FG, Lab, SDs and independents or – on different numbers and backroom deals – FG in some sort of arrangement with FF (minority government? government of national unity?) The reason for this is that a weak government is one which is less cohesive, and less effective at imposing other people’s interests in the face of our resistance.

I don’t want to overstate the case for this – even a weak government will pull together and ignore all possible popular resistance to, for example, the US military use of Shannon or Shell’s presence in Erris, and will continue to stand over whatever violence is required. However, not every issue will be so easy to handle. Water charges stand at the head of the list of a series of impositions by recent “strong governments” which may prove far more politically problematic for a “weak government”.

At its simplest, a “weak government” is one which will have to pay far more attention to social movements and popular pressure; it will have fewer rewards to offer for loyalty and will have less scope to threaten internal “dissidents” within what is likely to be a fairly thin majority. Indeed, the strategy of “ram the changes through and people will have forgotten in five years’ time” becomes less likely if the government’s lifetime may be considerably shorter.

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Book Launch: Margaretta D’Arcy’s Memoir, Ireland’s Guantanamo Granny

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Margaretta cordially invites you to the Launch of her book Ireland’s Guantanamo Granny

Paula Meehan poet and playwright will launch the book. Her commitment in her work “To give voice to the disenfranchised everywhere”

Connolly Books

East Essex St,

Temple Bar,

Dublin 2

Feb 13th Saturday 3pm

It is a book of both questions and answers: what is a peace-loving Irish granny to do when she finds that her supposedly neutral state is allowing her local airport to be used for war and torture by the Americans? What is she to do when the Irish state refuses to listen to her concerns about breaches of neutrality and international law? Margaretta D’Arcy’s answer is to open a conversation with the state by any means necessary.

Ireland’s Guantanamo Granny is a first-hand account of D’Arcy’s struggle to open a debate on the misuse of Shannon Airport. It takes the reader on an inspiring and often bitingly funny journey from the author’s roots in the peace movement, to discovering Ireland’s dirty little secrets, through to direct action, courtroom drama and imprisonment.

‘Irelands Guantanamo Granny’ published January 2016 is a first hand account of my struggle to open a debate with the Irish State on the misuse of Shannon Airport in the Ireland by the U.S. militarily. Thus breaking Ireland’s neutrality laws. This led to my imprisonment in two Irish jails as well as causing alot of international media attention.  I am 82 years old, a veteran of Greenham Common and an original member of the Committee of 100.

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A Costly Health Service?

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There are assertions that Ireland has a very costly health service; that we spend a lot but get little to show for it. This post will look at claims that we are high spenders when it comes to health. The fact is that we are not extremely high spenders but that shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning that our problems are automatically due to lack of resources.

The CSO has adopted a new methodology for categorising health expenditure: the System of Health Accounts. Since it was published in December of last year, a number of commentators have used the data to claim that we are one of the highest spenders in the OECD. In yesterday’s Sunday Business Post it was claimed:

‘We are spending considerably more than the vast majority of OECD countries and the wealthy European countries.’

Depending on the number used this is either true or not so true. That’s the problem with such statistics – it can tell you a whole number of different things at the same time.

We spend considerably more if we take the total level of spend – both public and private expenditure. The latter includes out-of-pocket expenses (GP visits, prescription medicine) and health insurance payments.

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The above measures spending on a per capita basis using PPPs (to better compare for living standards and currency movements). It does appear, using total public and private expenditure, that we spend a lot – the fourth highest in the EU-15, well above the average; nearly 20 percent higher.

However, when we isolate public spending, the situation looks a bit different.

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Ireland falls to mid-table, still above the EU-15 average. However, we are now 8.7 percent above average. Of course, if you squeeze public spending – especially in the context of an increasing population and a rising elderly demographic – you will get a rise in private spending. This is all the more the case with the rising costs of health insurance.

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February Issue of Socialist Voice is Out Now

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The February Issue of Socialist Voice is now online.

New challenges and new opportunities for working people

The current election campaign and the election of a new Dáil present new challenges and opportunities for the working people of Ireland.
Working people have experienced prolonged attacks on their living standards, on social welfare benefits, pensions, and public services, as well as the imposition of water charges.

When competition is king

Eoghan O’Neill

Within the European Union and the United States and other advanced capitalist regions they say competition is king. Competition is what gives the modern market economy its legitimacy. It’s taught in second-level and third-level educational institutions, in departments of economics, business, and law

Islamic State and crocodile tears

Alan Hanlon

Hillary Benn, the British Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary, made a striking statement in the House of Commons in the debate on British intervention in the civil war now taking place in Syria. He compared the situation to that of the Spanish Civil War;

Bímis dílis d’idéil 1916!

Tomás Mac Síomóin

I mbliain seo chomóradh Éirí Amach 1916 cluinfear moltaí á dtabhairt go fuíoch ag boic na bunaíochta do laochra na Cásca. Ach tá ard-chuspóirí na laoch céanna tréigthe, is faoi their, ag na boic chéanna le fada an lá. Ní chluinfear teagasc sóisialach Shéamais Uí Chonaíle á mholadh óna mbéala siadsan, ar ndóigh. Bíodh spléachadh againn ar chuid de cháipéisí bunúsacha ghluaiseacht na saoirse le méid na feille seo a thomhas.

EU membership: a challenge for the serious left

Tommy McKearney

It is being reported that some Scots intend voting Yes in the British referendum dealing with Britain’s membership of the European Union. Apparently their decision is based on the rather shaky principle that if a significant number of English people wish to leave, they will vote to remain.

Rebel without a pause: Bob Doyle (1916–2009)

Jimmy Doran

The centenary of Bob Doyle’s birth occurs on 12 February. He was born into poverty in North King Street, Dublin, and the eventual break-up of his family led to a life of foster care and orphanages, where he suffered hunger and regular beatings.

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Blackrock, Noel Rock

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The journal.ie reports (2nd February) that there are “premature poster erections all over Ireland”, many of them from government party candidates.

Three days before the official date for postering (23rd April 2014) for the European elections I was putting up posters for Paul Murphy in the Blackrock area, along with another supporter. (The Fianna Fáil candidate had already put posters up elsewhere.) About an hour into the postering a Garda van pulled up beside us. The Gardaí were obviously responding to a call from their base about the postering. They asked some questions, were we working for Paul, etc. The two Gardaí were polite and good humoured throughout. I inquired whether they wanted us to stop postering. The Garda who engaged with us said yes, that it was against the Litter Act. They departed and we decided to call it a day.

In the following days there were newspaper reports about Paul Murphy putting up posters too early (in various areas). Paul was ordered to take posters down and he was fined for 70 posters at €150 per poster. (I don’t know how many of these fines were eventually paid.)

Since early January, long before an election was even called, Fine Gael candidate for Dublin North West, Noel Rock, has festooned the lampposts of Drumcondra with large posters carrying his name, image and the exhortation to ‘keep the recovery going’. (The election or candidacy isn’t mentioned, but the slogan is one of Fine Gael’s election battle cries.) In recent weeks Fine Gael and Labour have been organising Potemkin public meetings as a way of getting their candidates up on posters legally. Noel Rock’s posters have no connections to a public meeting or event. (Even in these cases permission from Dublin City Council is usually required.)

So, did the litter wardens get on to Noel Rock? Did, as sometimes happens, Dublin City Council workers take down the posters (eh, no)? Will he be fined €150 per poster? Did the Gardaí drop by to tell him to desist from postering? I wonder. Were there raised-eyebrow pieces in the papers about early postering? Not so far. The journal.ie’s stern report on the new batch of “premature erections all over Ireland” may herald some now.

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So How’s the ol’ 1 Percent Getting On?

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The 1-percenters are back in the news with the Oxfam study showing that the world’s richest 1 percent owns more wealth than all the rest of the planet put together. So what about our own 1 percent? How are they doing? Let’s have a look at how that 1 percent and other top earners have been getting along in the crisis.

What follows is based on the EU’s Survey of Income and Living Conditions measurement of income (there may be trouble with the link – go to Eurostat Database/Population and Social Conditions/Living Conditions and welfare/Income and living conditions/income distribution and monetary poverty/distribution of income/the first table). It is a different concept from what Oxfam used: wealth. Wealth ownership refers to assets – real estate (buildings, land) and financial property (shares, bonds, cash, equities, pension pots, etc.). Income refers to the annual flow, whether it is employee or self-employed earnings, investment income, pensions, etc.

Income is only one measure of economic power and influence in the economy. Profits levels, the relative strength of labour and capital, degree of financialisation, place in the production process, social status, ownership of assets – it could be argued that income is the result, not the cause, of unequal power relationships in the economy. But it’s an informative measurement and can reveal something of what is happening around us or, in this case, above us.

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Prior to the crash the top 1 percent held nearly six percent of the share of national income, above the EU-15 average. This fell to 2011 – primarily due to losses in capital and self-employment income arising from property and speculative losses in the crash. However, since 2011 (and the current government), things are on the mend with the 1 percent trending upwards. Still a ways to go to pre-crash levels but with a little time and a few tax cuts, normal business should be be resumed.

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Lower Your Expectations – the Recovery is Settling In

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Remember at the beginning of the recession when we had all those letters to represent the likely course of the economy. There was the V-shape to represent severe decline followed by an immediate bounce-back; a U-shape to represent severe decline, a bit of lingering at the bottom and then a bounce-back; and the L-shape with severe decline followed by flat-lining as the economy stagnated. Between 2008 and 2013 this best fit the economy.

Now the economy is back in recovery mode but under the Government projections we are not going to bounce back to pre-recession levels of living standards. Lower your expectations, sisters and brothers, the recovery is setting in.

Let’s take a historical look at two indicators of living standards. First, consumer spending:

  • Between 1970 and 1995, a period covering two slump periods punctuated with growth, real consumer spending averaged 2.7 percent annually per capita.
  • Between 1995 and 2000 (the good phase of the Celtic Tiger, based on investment, manufacturing and exports), real consumer spending averaged 8.5 percent annually per capita. That was a strong performance, with employment rising, increasing wages and the ongoing shift to a modern enterprise base.
  • Between 2000 and 2007 (the bad speculative phase) real consumer spending averaged 3.4 percent per capita.. A little better than the pre-Celtic Tiger period but as we know, unsustainable.

Then the recession hit and consumer spending fell by over 10 percent. However, as always happens, the economy recovered. In the textbook alphabet, there would be a burst coming out of the recession, representing pent-up demand, and then things would settle back down to past trends. If the Government projections come true, this will not be the case.

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“Wants” A US-style Taxation System?

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The Taoiseach says he wants a US-style tax system. What does he think we have already? Here’s what the EU Ameco database tells us. Ireland data from 2015 comes from the Government’s own budgetary projections.

US Taxation

Ireland already has a US-style taxation system – if we use general government revenue as the benchmark. Before the crash Ireland was awash with revenue from the speculative boom; revenue that quickly evaporated. Since then, Irish government revenue has been steadily falling. By 2017:

  • The Government projects revenue will be below 32 percent of GDP. When we factor in multi-national accountancy practices, this figure rises to 34.5 percent
  • Ameco projects that US revenue will be 34 percent
  • Ameco also projects that Eurozone revenue will be over 46 percent.

A few things stand out in this. First, we are already at low US low-levels of taxation. Second, we are certainly not at European norms. We’d have to raise taxation by a mind-boggling €26 billion to reach the Eurozone average. Even with the demographic benefit of having fewer elderly (which is substantially negated by a higher level of young people) we’d have to increase taxation massively.

Third, the Government projections foresee revenue falling even further out to 2021 when it will be below 34 percent.

And here’s the kicker: this doesn’t factor in tax cuts that a future government may introduce. For instance, Fine Gael wants to abolish USC. That will drive tax revenue down further, potentially falling behind US levels.

When measured as a percentage of GDP, Ireland is at the bottom of EU tables – fighting it out with Romania and Latvia for the rock bottom prize. Nods towards quality health and education services, childcare and eldercare, public transport, pensions and incomes supports are made, but these are little more than nods; perfunctory gestures in a debate that effectively excludes the social.

What the Taoiseach really wants is for Ireland to be a basement-without-a-bargain economy where public resources are squeezed, investment is starved, and the energy bulb frequently cuts out without any window to let in the light.

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How the influence of World Bank policies damaged China’s economy

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Present negative trends in China’s financial system and economy were accurately predicted by me three years ago as occurring if there was any influence of policies of the World Bank Report on China.

While China has made major steps forward in areas such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and New Silk Road (‘One Belt One Road’) unfortunately in some areas World Bank policies did acquire influence. As predicted they led to present negative trends.

There should also be clarity. China has the world’s strongest macroeconomic structure so these trends will not lead to a China ‘hard landing’. But they are a confirmation that no country, including China, can escape the laws of economics. As long as there is any influence of World Bank type policies, which are also advocated by Western writers such as George Magnus and Patrick Chovanec, there will be problems in China’s financial system and economy.

The article I wrote in September 2012 which was published under the original title ‘Fundamental errors of the World Bank report on China’ is republished without alteration. 

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The World Bank’s report China 2030 has, unsurprisingly, provoked major criticism and protest. I have read World Bank reports on China for more than 20 years and this is undoubtedly the worst. So glaring are its factual errors, and economic non-sequiturs, that it is difficult to believe it was intended as an objective analysis of China’s economy. It appears to be driven by the political objective of supporting current US policies, embodied in proposals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Listing merely the factual errors in the report, of both commission and omission, as well as the elementary economic howlers, would take up more column inches than are available to me. So what follows is just a small selection, leaving space to consider the possible purpose of such a strange report.

The report has no serious factual analysis of the present stage of China’s economic development. On the one hand it is behind the times and “pessimistic”, saying China may become “the world’s largest economy before 2030”. This is extremely peculiar as, by the most elementary economic calculations, (the Economist magazine now even provides a ready reckoner!) China will become the world’s largest economy before 2020.

On the other hand, the report greatly exaggerates the rate at which China will enter the highest form of value added production. As such, the report calls for various changes in China, and bases its calls on the rationale of “when a developing country reaches the technology frontier’. But China’s economy, unfortunately, is not yet approaching the international technology frontier, except in specialized defence-related areas. Even when China’s GDP equals that of the US, China’s per capita GDP, a good measure of technology’s spread across its economy, will be less than one quarter of the US’s. Even making optimistic assumptions, China’s per capita GDP will not equal the US’s until around 2040, by which time China’s economy would be more than four times the size of the US’s! Put another way, China will not reach the technology frontier, in a generalized way, for around three decades, so this rationale can’t be used to justify changes now.

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January Issue of Socialist Voice Out Now

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Terrorist attacks are an excuse for war

Terrorist attacks on Western soil will inevitably spark hyperbolic responses from the European establishment, and these very human tragedies are often manipulated, for a number of reasons.
They are frequently used as a pretext for targeting and undermining our rights to privacy and personal freedom, or for justifying confused or downright aggressive plans for intervention in foreign countries.

Venezuela: The struggle continues

Robert Navan and Seán Edwards:
When Obama declared Venezuela to be a threat to the United States he wasn’t being absurd. He meant, of course, a threat to US hegemony in the region.

The Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela was the greatest challenge to that domination since the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

Price-fixing and cartels

Paul Doran:
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a cartel is an association of manufacturers or suppliers formed with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition.
The sheer number of cartels around the world is astonishing.

When the British government banned the Orange Order

Dónall Ó Briain
Not many people today know that the British government made the Orange Order illegal—twice. How different Irish history might have been if it had remained so!
The Orange Order was founded in 1795 following a sectarian fight in Armagh.

Pivotal moments in recent Irish history

Nicola Lawlor
The left today seems to be missing some important lessons from pivotal moments in recent Irish history. This article is a brief, and simplified, overview of some of those moments. The lessons are worth keeping to the fore in considering any strategy for building socialism in Ireland, because without them such efforts will be wasted, misguided, and even damaging.

Frank Conroy Commemoration

On Saturday 12 December 2015 a very interesting Frank Conroy Commemoration

Alternative media

Tommy McKearney
The new leader of the Labour Party in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, recently told the Morning Star that he is exploring options for breaking up Britain’s media monopolies.

That Corbyn and his supporters would consider doing so is hardly surprising in the light of the hysterical and vitriolic campaign waged against them by Britain’s press and broadcasters.

Mind your language Part 2

Robert Navan
A newly arrived Martian would find themselves very confused by much of the language used by our mainly right-wing Western media. The confusion would arise from the constant use of words generally associated with the political left.

(Part 1 was published in Socialist Voice, January 2013)

Paulo Freire: Revolutionary educational thinker

Eoghan O’Neill
Paulo Freire was one of the most revolutionary of educational thinkers. His seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, is a major contribution to the concept of learning. It delves beneath the mechanics of the methodology of learning to encompass concepts such as conscientisation

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Walker Evans Depth of Field von John Hill

Photography & Fiction Books of 2015

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Depth of Field, Walker Evans (Prestel)

More than anyone else, Walker Evans made the vernacular a respected field for photography, taking the documentary style of newspapers and magazines to the level of art, holding a mirror up to ordinary life. This book is a retrospective: not just his classic, dispassionate work of the Depression era but material from before and after those years. He managed to do nearly all his work as paid assignments, a remarkable achievement, and his famous New York subway project was a rare exception.

This book is packed with photographs that cannot be forgotten, like the ‘Alabama Cotton tenant Farmer’s Wife’ that captures dignity and goodness in the scrubbed face of a woman standing against a wall of her clapboard house. Her willingness to pose so unaffectedly is more understandable in the light of knowing that Evans spent three weeks in Hale County, Alabama getting to know people and win their trust. He was there with James Agee on a writing assignment for Fortune magazine and looking at the photos Evans took it comes as no surprise to learn the magazine declined to publish them.

Evans’ early work is more formalist than the photography he became famous for in later years but it is also reflective. In New York in the late 1920s and early ‘30s, he took to capturing the presence of Brooklyn Bridge, the barges moving below them and workers taking lunch on the streets and people on the sidewalks. Faces interest him but in his search for what he called ‘contemporary truth and reality’ he photographs people not just for their unique individuality – he likes them to look straight into the camera — but also for the social semiotics they embody. This shows in his Cuba photographs of 1933 and it never leaves him although he finds meaning also in buildings, gas stations, billboards, the interior of a barber’s shop. Middle-class suburban life has little interest for Evans.

The New York subway work, lasting from 1938 to 1941, came after Alabama but there are many sections in Depth of Field that bring less well-known projects to our attention. In 1941 he was photographer for a book called The Mangrove Coast: The Story of the West Coast of Florida but five years later he is back on city streets doing what he likes best, taking unposed pictures of working people going about their lives, and it continues into the 1950s. Formalist concerns return in his late work of the ‘60s and ‘70s when he sets about celebrating ordinary hand tools—‘the fine naked impression of heft and bite’ in a wrench or ‘the beautiful plumb bob’—and in more of his own words he says something about them that extends to his achievement as a whole: ‘…small tools stand, aesthetically speaking, for elegance, candor, and purity’.

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