tag: Budget 2011

Jan 2012

One point two five billion euro

And so 2011 slips behind us and into the pages of history. While ahead looms 2012. And it looms ominously I’m sorry to say. Not because of Mayan prophecies or the mutating neutrinos of Roland Emmerich, but because the problems of 2011 – despite seemingly endless summits and photo-ops attended by our political class – have not been solved. In fact, the problems of 2011 were often little more than the ones we failed to address in 2010. As for the problems of 2010? By and large they were unfinished business from 2009. And the problems of 2009? Well, I’m sure you can see the emerging pattern.

In South Africa the governments of the world met for a few days and cobbled together a strategy for dealing with Climate Change. In Belgium (and elsewhere) the governments of Europe met for longer periods of time and cobbled together a strategy for dealing with the debt crisis. What unites both strategies is the bizarrely transparent manner in which they fail to achieve their stated aims. I’d always heard that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing well, but apparently that’s not a philosophy shared by those in power. Had the Durban conference concluded with a joint statement from participants to the effect that they would insist upon compulsory piano lessons for all giraffes, it would have had roughly the same chance of halting Climate Change.

As Kurt Vonnegut pointed out, “We could have saved it but we were too damned cheap.”

Three Stooges (Merkel, Kenny, Sarkozy)Never forget that the reason the big issues facing the world are not being addressed is because the people in charge don’t believe we’re willing to put in the necessary money and effort. And never forget that we put them in charge precisely because that’s what they believe. They promise us easy solutions to problems we know are difficult, and in return we elect them.

Even our more manageable problems, such as the European debt crisis, are left to fester until they threaten to visit catastrophic social collapse upon entire nations. And why is this? Well part of it, and this is really quite depressing, is because our political leaders are completely incapable of admitting that they might be wrong about anything. I really do think it’s a psychological disorder. I’m not sure if it’s something they succumb to as a result of a proximity to power, or whether something about politics attracts those who already suffer from the condition. Either way, it is one of the greatest obstacles to progress.

The austerity policies in place around Europe are just plain wrong. We have created a society that imposes poverty and suffering on the general population unless it is experiencing economic growth. And at the same time we are implementing policies that are guaranteed to prevent growth. Personally I think we need to restructure society so that it no longer relies on growth, but until we do that, economic policies that prevent growth are nothing less than deliberate, calculated attacks on the citizenry by those in power.

The trouble is; even as this becomes clear, even as the failure of austerity slowly sinks in, those in power are pathologically incapable of admitting it. The very fact they supported a policy must mean the policy is the right one. The alternative is unthinkable… that they publicly accept they are fallible. These people should not be running countries, banks or large institutions. They should be heavily medicated, under supervision and kept away from sharp objects let alone the levers of power. They are mid-level bureaucrats of modest ability who have been accidentally elevated to positions of power by a runaway ambition-gland. And it’s broken them; made them delusional. We should not permit them to inflict their delusion on the rest of us.

Ireland, January 25th 2012

CapitalismIn two weeks time, assuming Europe lasts that long, that delusion will once again be inflicted upon the people of Ireland. In what is the ultimate ongoing demonstration that our government represents the interests of casino-capitalism above that of the citizenry, the next of the Anglo-Irish Bank payments will be made. On that day, the Fine Gael / Labour coalition will hand over €1.25 billion of public money to unsecured, unguaranteed bond-holders. It’s mind-blowing really. There is no legal requirement for the government to do this. It is not a condition of the IMF/EU “bail-out”. The payment is not part of the disastrous 2008 Bank Guarantee. Let me repeat; there is no legal requirement to pay this money. Indeed I would argue there is a moral imperative to not pay it.

So why are we paying this money, despite there being no requirement? Because our leaders don’t want to upset the markets. Oh, they’re happy to upset the people they were elected to represent. Happy to cut child benefit and disability benefit. Happy to slash the incomes of the already poverty-stricken. But they don’t want to upset the markets. Markets, remember, that Ireland has been effectively excluded from by crippling interest rates (hence our need for the IMF/EU “bail-out”). The markets will screw us alright, but heaven forbid we Irish upset them.

To a nation the size of Ireland, a payment of €1.25 billion is massive. It represents more than half the spending cuts made in our recent budget. As a letter to the Irish Times recently put it, “the proposed payment is equivalent to the salaries of 5,000 extra nurses for five years”. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg. By the end of this year, the Irish people will have paid roughly €2 billion of unsecured, unguaranteed bonds. On top of that, we’ll also be paying more than €3.7 billion of bonds covered by our insane Bank Guarantee. And that’s for Anglo-Irish Bank alone. Yes, that’s right, more than €5.7 billion of public money is being handed over to investors in a single (now defunct) bank in a single year. It’s beyond nonsense and into the realm of criminally insane.

We’re constantly being told that we must live within our means, while those doing the preaching are throwing our money away. It’s time we put an end to this idiocy.

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Dec 2011

Brian Hayes and Budget 2011

Here in Ireland we have just been subjected to the latest in a line of “austerity budgets”. I thought I was beyond being astonished at how craven our government – in their willing complicity with the diktats of The Market – could be. How wrong I was. The brutal cynicism of the Fine Gael / Labour coalition has dropped even my jaw (personally I think the Labour Party should be forced to change their name under trades description legislation). It was a budget bordering on the wilfully evil.

There were savage cuts to disability benefits, child benefit, the winter fuel allowance, community employment schemes, the back-to-school allowance and much more… some of which will save a few million at most while making life unbearable for those already at breaking point. Despite the steadfast refusal to even discuss raising taxes on the wealthiest and the highest earners, we saw an enthusiastic embrace of VAT increases, a flat-tax household charge and other indirect taxes that will hit the most vulnerable hardest. And to add insult to injury, we were forced to endure the obscene spectacle of ministers earning a small fortune appearing on TV to tell us just how difficult it was for them to inflict such pain on the nation. How they’d done all they could do in order to ensure that the burden of austerity was being shared equally. Orwell’s observation that “some are more equal than others” may as well be the slogan for this government. Poor dears, in their ministerial cars, with their gilt-edged pensions, generous expense accounts and salaries of over 5 times the national average.

Brian Hayes (Fine Gael TD)Vincent Browne, one of the few remaining voices of sanity in Irish public life, perfectly illustrated this rank hypocrisy when he cornered Brian Hayes – a Fine Gael minister – on his show. The politician bristled with indignation when Browne suggested he was on a salary of €150,000… it was only €130,000 he protested. That’s still a “mega-salary” insisted Browne (quite rightly) and went on to wonder… “compared with the people you have afflicted in this budget, isn’t there something grotesque about you people sitting around and commiserating with yourselves about the hard decisions you have to take when all the pain of those hard decisions is on somebody else?” The blustering arrogance as Hayes tried to wriggle out of the question was cringe-inducing. “The pain is throughout our society”, he stated (almost as though he believed it). Browne rounded on him… “No it’s not! How is it on you? You get away scot-free!” Hayes eventually resorted to plaintively pointing out that the VAT increase would affect him too. He then tried to make the issue about just how sincere Vincent Browne’s outrage was… this contempt for the public is gut-churning, and I desperately hope that the people of Dublin South West consign him to the dustbin of history at the next election.

You can see the exchange here:

Alternatively you can watch the entire programme, for a limited time here, though that may not be available outside Ireland.

The assertion that a 2% VAT increase will affect someone on 130 grand in anything like the same way it will affect someone on welfare, or even someone on the average national wage… that “the pain” is truly being felt “throughout society”… indicates one of the following; (a) that Brian Hayes is an idiot, (b) that he’s utterly out of touch with reality, or (c) that he’s a bare-faced liar of the worst kind. I won’t say which one I think it is, but I will say that all of those are terrible traits for someone in a position of power. That he then tried to change the subject and discuss the attitude of the interviewer, the day on which such a devastating budget had been announced, just made him seem even more pathetic. I know I lambaste politicians on a regular basis, but Brian Hayes managed to plumb new depths last week. Though I suspect it won’t be long before someone from Labour or Fine Gael discovers yet deeper waters of iniquity in which to swim.

Photo courtesy of Politico.ie

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion