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The Eighth Amendment Must be Repealed

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This week Fine Gael will host the European People’s Party (EPP) Congress in Dublin. Among the expected attendees is Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is currently leading an attack on reproductive rights with legislation that, if passed, would drastically restrict access to abortion in Spain. This would be an extremely regressive move at a time when most European countries are moving in entirely the opposite direction. In France, for example, MPs voted at the end of January to reword the law to state that it is a woman’s right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy. Late last year the French Government also introduced changes so that the cost of abortions will now be 100% reimbursed by the State.

At the same time that the EPP will be meeting, the GUE/NGL grouping in the European Parliament will hold hearings on defending sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Abortion Rights Campaign has been invited to present on reproductive rights in Ireland, and we will use the opportunity to highlight at a European level the grave consequences the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution has had for reproductive rights and maternity services in Ireland.

Introduced by referendum in 1983, the Eighth Amendment equates a pregnant woman’s life with that of an embryo or foetus. Until it is removed, there can be no progressive legislation on abortion beyond the narrow terms of the X case and, arguably, in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. Even after the passing of last year’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, Ireland still has, along with Malta, the most restrictive and punitive abortion laws in Europe. But the reality of abortion in Ireland is that the Eighth Amendment is simply not fit for purpose. It does not stop women from terminating pregnancies; it only serves to make the journey much more difficult. Every single day women travel abroad to access abortion. Others self-administer abortions at home with pills ordered from reputable websites such as Women on Web. If caught, these women could face up to 14 years in prison under last year’s abortion legislation.

Opinion polls have consistently indicated that public attitudes to abortion do not support the imposition of such onerous penalties on women who end pregnancies. Since 1980 over 150,000 women have left the country in order to access abortion, while unknown numbers have found the means to end their pregnancies in Ireland. Do citizens really believe these women should be imprisoned? As much as anti-abortion organisations try to perpetuate shame and stigma around abortion, most reasonable people do not want to see their friends, sisters or partners behind bars because they terminated a pregnancy.

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Marx was right all along, says investment bank

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This article appeared as a post on Socialist Economic Bulletin on Tuesday the 4th of March.

Well, not quite. But a recent study by leading investment bank Credit Suisse shows that long-term growth rates of GDP in selected industrialised economies are negatively correlated with financial returns to shareholders. That is, the best returns for shareholders are from countries where GDP growth has been slowest, and vice versa. Where growth has been strongest, shareholder returns are weakest.

This is shown in the chart from Credit Suisse below.

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Business Insider magazine carries a report of the research. It makes a series of bizarre arguments in an attempt to explain the correlation. The first is that stock markets anticipate future economic growth. But given that these data are based on the last 113 years, the stock markets must be very far-sighted indeed. The subsequent arguments do not get any stronger.

The negative correlation does not prove negative causality. But it does support the theory which suggests that the interests of shareholders are contrary to the interests of economic growth and the well-being of the population.

The clearest theory which this data supports, that the interests of shareholders are counterposed to that of economic growth, was formulated by Marx. In Capital he argues that the ‘development of the productive forces’ (the investment in the means of production and in education that are required to increase the productivity of labour and hence economic growth) runs up against the barrier of the private ownership of the means of production*.

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Jesus, Mary & Joe Duffy

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        ssss

I was sitting in my kitchen

listening to the bithchin on the radio

my head was wrecked ya know;

people moaning down the phone

about the taxes on their homes,

(which in fact the banks own)

and the greedy seed was sown

by the Dail’s C.E.O.’s

who couldn’t give a shit

about the people being hit

by the cuts……..

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Children going hungry in our schools

whilst there clearly are no rules

for the bankers run around

with their heads in the clouds

an untouchable realm

don’t you know they’re at the helm?

Under the influence

high on affluence

they’re gonna sink this ship

then hop, skip and jump

with a tidy lump sum

upon a safety boat

and off they will float

to a far away land

letting go of the hands

of the Irish population

drowned by inflation

don’t forget the creation

of a blockbuster film

yes, FILUM!

     ssss

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Architecture is Politics

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Book Review: Berthold Lubetkin: Architecture and the tradition of progress, John Allan (Artifice) and 21st Century London: The New Architecture, Kenneth Powell (Merrell)

Today, the idea that architecture plays its part in changing society only gains purchase with a pejorative sense of what change entails. Look to the Dubai skyline, where architects are still binging on cocktails of concrete, glass, indentured labour and fat fees – 25% of the world’s cranes were operating there when 100 skyscrapers went up in ten years,  — producing a mad jamboree of eye-catching buildings.

But it can’t be said the architecture fails to respond to the needs of the community because Dubai, peopled with expatriates lured  by the loot, waiting for their contracts to end, doesn’t have anything so organic as to be properly called a community. London, on the other hand, is a city of many communities and while it’s not Dubai the architecture that is currently redefining the city’s skyline is similarly characterized by excessive ostentation fuelled by the inexorable logic of capitalism and purchasable architects eager to join a bandwagon.

The mantra for the architectural companies winning contracts in London is build it big, construct a photogenic monument that will stand alone in glorious and pastless isolation from its neighbourhood, untroubled by its surroundings, self-sufficient testimony to its own ambition. Kate Goodwin, the curator of the Sensing Spaces exhibition now on at the Royal Academy of Arts, spells out what is missing : ‘Unlike almost any other art form, architecture is part of our everyday life, but its ability to dramatically affect the way we think, feel and interact with one another is often overlooked’. The greatest architect who has worked in London, Berthold Lubetkin, would have shaken her hand in warm agreement.

John Allan’s book on Lubetkin is an astonishing achievement and one wonders how many years he spent putting it all together. When it first appeared in 1992 — a second edition has now been published – it was praised as ‘the most intelligent English-language account of any twentieth-century architectural career in its context’ and the accolade still holds. The whole story of Lubetkin’s work is here, from his birth in Georgia in 1901 to his appointment in 1947 as architect-planner of a new town for 30,000 residents in the Durham coalfields. This, his greatest project, was never realized and John Allan analyses with care the reasons behind his resignation from the post.

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The Casualisation of Labour in Third Level Institutions

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The following article by Micheal Flynn is taken from the first issue of the relaunched The Bottom Dog, published by the Limerick Council of Trade Unions, and which is now available in Connolly Books. You can also follow the The Bottom Dog on Facebook

Provisional results from a survey carried out by the newly formed Third Level Workplace Watch indicate that third-level institutions are to the very forefront of the shift towards precarious employment in Ireland today. A considerable volume of teaching work (sometimes including the delivery of core modules) is now carried out on the basis of 6 month and 9 month contracts. As more responsibility is heaped on the shoulders of junior lecturers, more teaching work is carried out by lecturers with no job security at all – by temporary lecturers and so-called teaching assistants. These precariously employed lecturers are systematically thrown out of employment prior to permanency; and with further cuts to funding, the pool of unemployed and underemployed educators expands, creating feelings of isolation, vulnerability, demoralisation, a disinclination to join trade unions, and in turn, further opportunities to undermine conditions. The normalisation of short-term contracts is only part of the story. Third Level Workplace Watch has found that a considerable amount of teaching-work is also carried out by lecturers on the basis of hourly-paid contracts, by so-called adjunct lecturers. The prevalence of this in the University of Limerick and the Limerick Institute of Technology has yet to be fully revealed – though initial discussions with part-time staff indicate some conformity with the Third Level Workplace Watch survey findings.

The rates of pay for hourly-paid lecturers are relatively easy to find out, but these actually tell us very little. For example, we know that the hourly-rate for day-time lectures in UL (in the humanities at least) is €50. And this does sound attractive. However, when we look at what €50 per hour really means, a very different picture emerges. Anyone familiar with teaching at third level (including most of those enrolled as students) can understand that lecture hours are really only a small part of what comprises the teaching role – it is necessary to prepare and write lectures, deliver lectures, set assessments, carry out assessments, answer students’ emails, carry out all kinds of technical and administrative tasks, as well as provide guidance on a daily basis. Given that precariously employed ‘adjunct’ lecturers take on all of these duties – exactly the same duties as permanent members of staff – the compensation is actually far closer to the minimum wage (if not below) than it is to €50 per hour. Apart from this, the hourly rate for tutorials averages between €20 and €30, but can be as low as €13 (the case with at least one humanities department); assessment per student is approximately €6.50 per student per semester. We know that on this basis, a part-time lecturer taking on a module with 30 students, lasting one semester – 12 weeks, with for example, two lecture hours per week and two tutorial hours (tutorials lasting for approximately 7 weeks of term) – will carry out all duties for less than €2000.

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Who’s Fooling Who at the BBC?

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This post originally appeared on the Socialist Economic Bulletin blog today.

Robert Peston is the BBC’s new economics editor. He has opened his new role with a programme called ‘How China Fooled the World’. For a time it is available on BBC iPlayer and Peston’s own summary is here.

In the blog and the programme Peston argues that China dodged the global economic crisis by increasing investment, specifically state-led investment. But the prevailing level of investment was already excessively high, the argument runs, and merely postponing the crisis by increasing it further will only exaggerate the inevitable crash.

The strangest thing about this argument is not the misapprehensions about the Chinese economy or even the evident lack of understanding about the forces that created what is described as the Chinese ‘economic miracle’. The main fault is that Peston does not seem to grasp the mutual relations between economies, or what is the motor force of economic growth. The BBC’s economics editor is making economic howlers.

This is the most important feature of the programme. Neither what Peston nor what SEB says is likely to affect the outcome for Chinese growth. But understanding its dynamics is crucial to a wider understanding of the economy and how to address crises where they actually exist. One of the countries where there is currently an economic crisis is Britain, not China.

Growth Forecasts

The argument rests on Peston’s own forecast of an imminent economic and financial crash in China. This puts him at odds with all the main leading global economic institutions, the IMF, World Bank, OECD and so on.

To take one example the IMF estimates that China’s real GDP growth will be 7.3% in 2014 after increasing by 7.6% in 2013. It also forecasts an increase of 7% in each of the three years from 2015 to 2018. By contrast, the IMF forecasts that British growth is stuck around the 2% rate every year until 2018, when it accelerates to 2.3%. The IMF data and projections for GDP real growth for Britain and China are shown in the chart below (Fig.1).

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Fig.1 IMF data & forecasts for China and Britain real GDP Growth

It is entirely possible that the official bodies are all wrong on Chinese growth. But without making the argument on why growth is destined to collapse, Peston is simply joining the very long list of those who have wrongly forecast China’s imminent demise, some of whom have continued to do so over a very prolonged period.

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A New Government Study on the Effective Corporate Tax Rate? Hint: It’s 5%

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According to Finfacts:

‘Michael Noonan, finance minister, signalled in a statement last Thursday that his Department is preparing a report on the corporation tax rate that is expected to be ready by the end of March as part of a publicity offensive to counter claims that Ireland’s effective rate (actual tax paid or provided for in an accounting period as a ratio of reported net income) is in low single digits.’

Apparently, the Government has ditched its previous claim that the effective corporate tax rate is 11.9 percent – when the study this was based on was shown by Dr. Jim Stewart to be defective as a comparator.  Now it needs a new study to substantiate an old claim (it helps that the Government has already predetermined the conclusion, now they just have to fill in the numbers).

This blog has always endeavoured to assist the Government.   So I’d like to point the Government to some reasonably robust numbers.  It can use either Eurostat or its own Central Statistics Office.  Either way, they show Ireland has a low-low effective corporate tax rate.

One part of the equation – how much corporate tax rate is paid – is easy to determine.  What is more difficult to estimate is the level of profits.  Both Eurostat and the CSO use the category ‘entrepreneurial income’.  Eurostat defines it this way:

‘. . . net entrepreneurial income . . .  approximates the concept of pre-tax corporate profits in business accounting. ‘

The CSO defines entrepreneurial income as

‘ . .  a more comprehensive measure of corporate profitability.’

So, armed with this ‘more comprehensive measure of corporate profitability’, what are the effective corporate tax rates for EU-15 countries – combining both financial and non-financial companies?

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Tales From Tax Haven Ireland: Running the Numbers Game

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“The extremely low effective rate figures that have been quoted over the past week and attributed to Ireland are based on a flawed premise. The figures are estimated by dividing the amount of Irish tax paid by a total profit figure that includes substantial profits made by companies that are not tax resident in Ireland. They are running together the profits earned by group companies in Ireland and in other jurisdictions and incorrectly suggesting that Irish tax does or should apply to both.”

So, Michael Noonan rejects the recent findings of Jim Stewart of Trinity College, Dublin that US companies in Ireland have an effective corporate tax rate of 2.2%. In this he is following the insistence of Feargal O’Rourke of PriceWaterHouse Coopers who claims that Stewart erroneously includes companies that are incorporated in Ireland but do not operate here.

These are companies, like, for example, Google Ireland Holdings, Bermuda, which is ‘tax resident’ in zero tax jurisdiction Bermuda but is in effect a letter box company with a registered address in Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, that is, the office of solicitors Matheson Ormsby Prentice.

The basis of O’Rourke and Noonan’s (and the government’s) objection to Stewart’s finding is that the TCD economist uses US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data.

As Seamus Coffee puts it in a response to the 2.2% rate claim, BEA methodology highlights

“…that for companies, US residency rules are based on paperwork rather than activity.  Under US law, the tax-residence of a company is the country where it is incorporated.  All companies registered in Ireland are thus considered “Irish-based” under US law.”

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A Bridge for Rosie: International Women’s Day Celebration of the Rosie Hackett bridge

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A Bridge for Rosie: International Women’s Day Celebration of the Rosie Hackett bridge, brought to you by the Irish Women Workers Union Commemorative Committee and SIPTU

Cois Life Bar, Liberty Hall
Saturday March 8th
Doors 7pm, bar 7-10pm

Host: Actor/writer Tara Flynn

8-9pm Spoken Word with journalists Kitty Holland & Justine McCarthy and writers Catherine Ann Cullen, Rachael Hegarty, Nessa O’Mahony, Mary Russell & Enda Wyley

9-10pm Music: Zrazy with their luscious latin & funky swing, Rita Fagan with the Laundry Workers Song and Niamh Kelly with a Song for Savita

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Danger, Danger: The Government’s Health Insurance Model

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There are many issues to be sorted with the introduction of the Universal Health Insurance:  will it be a competitive private insurance market (a la Netherlands with its rapidly rising health costs) or will it adopt a single-payer model; what services will it include; will it contain truly free GP care and will it include considerable subsidies for  prescription medicine?  And then there is the issue of whether an NHS-style system (most EU-15 countries finance their health systems out of general taxation) would be more cost-effective – that is hardly featuring in the debate.

Here I want to look at how it will be financed based on the Government’s current proposals.  It seems clear that people will be required to purchase a basic health insurance package (contents unknown) from one of a number of competing health insurance companies.

But there is a real danger that the Government is intending to introduce a finance model that will be regressive (i.e. impact on low-average incomes more than higher incomes) and contain no obligations from employers to make any contributions.  Both these elements fly in the face of social health insurance models that exist in Europe.

Regressive

First, the method of financing will be regressive.  We don’t yet know the cost though the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is reportedly claiming that it could be €1,700.  In the Netherlands, which is supposed to be the Government’s template, the cost is €1,478 for each insured adult with reliefs for low-income earners.

Let’s assume, for this argument, that the package is €1,500.  The Government is committed to exempting low-income groups (unemployed, etc.) and subsidies for the low-paid, though we don’t yet know the threshold.  This helps, of course.  The problem lies with income groups above the threshold – in other words, those that don’t receive a subsidy.

We can see immediately that a flat-rate payment will be more expensive – as a proportion of gross income – for those at the lower end.   For instance, if you are on an average income of €36,000, the health insurance will be approximately 4 percent.  If you are on €100,000, the health insurance will be 1.5 percent.  That doesn’t seem very equitable – because it isn’t.

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Lies and Obfuscation Have Been the Name of the Game in the GSOC Bugging Scandal

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Lying is ingrained into Irish politics. There is nothing new in politicians lying but in the case of Ireland, it has become so commonplace that instead of anger there is only apathy or indifference to it. In Ireland, both politicians and the average person consider it so par for the course that Pat Rabbitte is able to go on national television and declare that lying in the lead up to a general election is something that you “tend to do”. The case of the bugging of the headquarters of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) is no different in this regard. We have seen government ministers, high-ranking members of the Gardaí, and journalists, lie and obfuscate. The facts are clear and are uncontroversial. The reaction to the revelations have been anything but uncontroversial, however.

First off, Alan Shatter and Enda Kenny were more concerned with the fact that they weren’t informed about GSOC carrying out an investigation into suspicions that their HQ was bugged than the fact that bugging had potentially, and likely, taken place. The government claimed that under Section 80 subsection 5 of the Garda Síochána Act, GSOC were obligated to inform the office of the Minister of Justice of their investigation. Shatter was still claiming this last night in the Dáil. The problem is that no such obligation exists, with the supposed obligation of GSOC to have informed the minister’s office of their investigation being purely discretionary. This position was backed by former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness on the February 18th edition of Tonight With Vincent Browne. This particular claim continues to do the rounds, no doubt to the government’s advantage, in order to beat the GSOC around the head and inevitably sully their public image.

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From Alpha To Omega: #046 Engines, Entropy, and Value

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This weeks our guest is Dr. William Paul Cockshott, a reader in the Computer Science Department of Glasgow University. Paul was trained as an economist, then as a computer scientist, and he has made contributions to the fields of image compression, 3D television, and parallel compilers. He is also known for his work in applying econophysics to classical economics, the field of economic computability, and as the co-author of the book ‘Towards a new Socialism’, advocating for the more efficient and democratic planning of a complex economy.

In this show we discuss the origins of classical political economy, and how it was influenced by the rapid advances in the world of physics. We talk of the importance of Watt and his steam engine, the development of the theories of thermodynamics and entropy, and their importance in economy. The work of Babbage and Alan Turing also get a mention, as well as the human as universal robot. We also discuss the overwhelming empirical evidence for Marx’s Labor Theory of Value, why it is that it works, and the importance of the work of previous guest Prof. Gregory Chaitin in the modern factory. Oh yes, and some roman pottery, Chinese crossbows from the Qin Dynasty, and how difficult it is to fold your clothes.

Enjoy!

You can find his books, talks, and research on his website here:

http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/~wpc/reports/index.html

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Friday Stat Attack: A Simple Graph That Can be Used in the Tax Debate

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OK, this follows on from yesterday’s post but whenever I hear someone on the media claiming that Ireland is a high-tax economy, I’m going to @ the programme with this graph.

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The question is simple:  if Ireland is a high-taxed economy how come we have the lowest tax on labour in the EU except for Bulgaria and Malta?

Don’t underestimate the import of this battle.  Keeping taxes low (while at the same time fighting off wage increases) is just a continuation of the austerity battle.  People paid for the crisis; now  there will be an attempt to make people pay for the recovery. What little is given in tax cuts will be taken away from free health, free education, affordable childcare, public services and income supports; in other words, all the programmes and infrastructure that can raise living standards.  People will be required to subsidise their own tax cuts – and this after we’ve been forced to subsidise financial institutions and the economic collapse caused by speculative activity.

So please feel free to use this graph to get the word around.  We’re not a high-taxed economy – but we are a low waged economy with even lower levels of public services and income supports.  The only high this economy experiences is rising profits.

Oh, and deprivation and emigration, too.

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Low Tax Economy for Slow Learners

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No matter what the evidence, regardless of what the data tells us, there are some who are determined to assert the opposite.  Take taxation – the evidence is absolutely clear:  we are a low-tax economy.   Don’t forget what this debate is about:  we are a low-waged and low-taxed economy and there are vested interests, politicians and commentators who are determined to keep it that way.

So let’s go through this again (it’s been discussed here and here) but this time from a different angle, avoiding the difficult comparisons using GDP, GNP, hybrid GDP, etc.  Let’s look at taxation on labour (i.e. wages and salaries, excluding the self-employed).

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This represents the total amount of taxation on wages and salaries – income tax, employees’ social insurance and employers’ social insurance.  This is the total taxation on labour.

Look at where Ireland lies – 25th out of 27.  We’re above Bulgaria and Malta and that’s about it.  In Ireland, total taxation on labour is equal to 30.1 percent of total wages and salaries.  We are well below the average for the entire EU, 34.7 percent below average.

How can anyone claim that we are a high-taxed economy?

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