Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit Scenarios

Nat O'Connor: The UK exit from the European Union is a sad event, not least because it is highly unlikely to deliver better living conditions to people in deprived communities who voted Leave. And by demographic change alone, in ten years today's Remain camp will be the majority (but Out nonetheless).

Next comes the long process of disentanglement. It is worth considering what the longer-term scenarios might arise from Brexit, in order to avoid some plausible nasty outcomes and to steer towards some kind of positive outcome that would benefit the UK and EU, and Ireland. Just two examples follow, but much more thinking is needed of all the many complex implications of this vote.

Better off without them?

James Wickham:  The founding fathers of the European Union believed that economics determined politics.  They have been proved wrong. What will happen now, after Brexit, involves politics – political choices, political values.  The European Union can only survive if its supporters recognise this.

Nearly three quarters of a century ago, early advocates of a united Europe like Jean Monnet believed that the road to a united Europe lay through a united market.  They believed that creating a single market would mean more trade between participating countries and that this in turn would create closer social links.  Eventually the links would be so close that Europeans would start to feel Europeans and Europe would have been created behind their backs. 

All sorts of consequences flowed from this assumption.  For decades academic researchers accepted some form of spill-over theory.  They assumed that integration  of the market created inevitable pressures for integration in other areas.  This ‘neofunctionalist’ theory was the intellectual cornerstone of ‘European integration studies’ which tacitly assumed a one way movement from more market to more union.

In terms of policies the market-first belief ensured that creating and consolidating the market was the political priority for those who wanted a more united Europe.  The priority was removing national barriers and ending national protections.  

The market-first approach also guaranteed that the European project was an elite project: there was no need to build Europe by mobilising Europeans.  Historically European nations have always been built by elites, but this usually involves creating myths about the heroic …. people (fill in the dots) whose essence is expressed in their nation state.  However, if you believe that Europe will just emerge automatically because of market integration, there is no need to bother about what empirical Europeans actually think or want, and there’s certainly no need mobilise them to become European! And for a time this worked, after a fashion.  So long as the ‘common market’ could be seen as delivering economic benefits, European populations tolerated European integration.

In any case, market-first did not always mean market-only.  The origin of the European Social Fund can be traced to the measures in the Treaty of Rome to facilitate the retraining of workers affected by the industrial changes that economic integration was expected to accelerate.  In 1973 the first enlargement (the UK, Denmark, Ireland) was accompanied by the first attempts at a European social policy -  the Social Action Programme of 1974.  Later the Delors presidencies (1985-1995) developed the ‘European Social Model’ which aimed to wrap around the deepening European market European institutions of social protection.  There was a recognition that a market which extended beyond the nation state had to be accompanied or even buttressed by social policies with the same reach. 

But that was all a long time ago.

Since the 1990s market-first has become market-only.  The deepening and expanding of the market has become an end in itself, it is certainly not a tool to create a new political and social entity.   This is of course justified by the belief that more market = more completion = more growth, totally disregarding any distributional issues and wilfully ignoring any implications of such ‘growth’ for social cohesion.

Instead of the market becoming a means to create a united Europe, European institutions have been
instrumentalised to create a wider market.  This now pits ‘Europe’ against the social and institutional protection that the national states long provided for their inhabitants.  It is ‘Europe’ that promotes the noxious TTIP treaty, it is ‘Europe’ that demands the privatisation of state enterprises.  It is therefore hardly surprising that the less skilled and those who need their national welfare state most have been drifting to the right wing populist parties which promise to protect the national state.  The Brexit vote is merely the most dramatic example of this trend. 

The advocates of the free market appropriated Europe for their own ends.  In so doing they have stimulated forces that will probably destroy the European Union itself. The only possible silver lining for today’s vote is that successive British governments have always been amongst the strongest advocates of more markets and by far the strongest opponents of any Euopean level social policy. 

Maybe we’re better off without them? 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The World economic outlook is not great

Paul Sweeney: The outlook for the world economy is not great, with low economic growth, rising inequality and slow demand, according to the OECD, the rich countries’ think tank. It published its Outlook earlier this month.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Neoliberalism exposed

Rory Hearne: Neoliberal policies have resulted in increased inequality and have failed to achieve economic growth. Furthermore, increased inequality in turn hurts the level and sustainability of growth. This statement is nothing new to progressives but it is very significant that the IMF has come out in recent weeks and identified these failings in neoliberalism.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Giving Ireland - and Europe - some backbone

James Wickham:  A progressive Europe requires putting the state back in.  And ‘the state’ means both the national member states and the European Union itself.  What follows is a written-out version of my invited intervention at a recent conference in Athens organised by Syriza and other progressive organisations.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Taoiseach appears to seek Increased Public Investment, as does OECD.

Paul Sweeney: The leak in the Irish Times (13th June 2016) that the Taoiseach has written to Mr Juncker, President of the EU Commisson, on the need for greater investment in Ireland is welcome, but appears somewhat disingenuous. 

His letter appears to quote the report published by TASC last December which pointed out that Ireland’s level of investment was at its lowest level ever and was the lowest in the Union. Mr Kenny said investment in infrastructure in Ireland was at its “lowest level for many years, and also represents the lowest level of any member state at present” – the two points emphasised by TASC.

Friday, 10 June 2016

A Basic Income for All? Has its Time Come? Or is it a fad?

Robin Wilson: The recent Swiss referendum on a universal basic income for all has cast back into the spotlight a proposal which has periodically had its advocates, ranging from green progressives to right-wing libertarians. What it hasn’t had is popular support: 77 per cent of Swiss voters rejected it.

So why has universal basic income enjoyed a certain return to political fashion? It is a disarmingly simple idea based on a disarmingly simple premiss. The digital revolution threatens massive technological unemployment; ergo, every citizen should be paid a basic income regardless.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

In this Programme – “There’s One for Everyone in the Audience.”

Paul Sweeney: This Programme for government is quite different from previous programmes. It is 160 pages where is the last programme was a mere 60. 

The many promises are a recognition of the vulnerability of this new minority government. It has to be more open to the views of others. In turn, this means that it will be much more difficult to be decisive in policy implementation. Yet, this handicap may lead to better policies. One of the downsides of social partnership was that issues took a long time to resolve, but the benefit was that better decisions were made in the long run, because many had contributed, foreseeing the downsides and strengthening policy. 

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A New Era for Housing Policy?

Nat O'Connor: Now that there is to be a Minister of Housing, Planning and Local Government, as well as a Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal, one might hope for decisive shifts in housing policy.

The Fine Gael manifesto and the Programme for Government outline a range of commitments, including delivery of more social housing and affordable housing. Regardless of ideology, one might hope that the new ministers might wish to see a more coherent and honest housing strategy. At present, housing policy is neither.

Monday, 23 May 2016

How fares tourism? A review of the Programme for Partnership Government

Dr  Ziene Mottiar: It is surprising that a sector which employs 205,000 people, brings €6.6 billion of revenue into the country and contributes €1.6 billion in taxation is given so little attention in the Partnership for Government document, especially in light of the fact that there is considerable focus on rural development within the programme.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Where ambition meets reality: new Government spending plans do not add up

Marie Sherlock: As we have learned the hard way over the past decade, there is one hell of a gap between the lofty ambition of rescuing and building the economy and the hard task of making it happen and finding the resources to do so.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Benefits of the Benefacts database

Nuala Haughey: A new database of information about some 18,000 non-profit organisations in Ireland will no doubt contribute to the drive for more accountability and transparency in the sector.
Billing itself “civil society online,” Benefacts is a free and searchable public directory that provides regulatory, financial and governance data about the non-profit sector which employs more than 100,000 people and has a combined annual turnover of more than €6bn. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

How the Government should tackle the housing crisis ­

Rory Hearne: The draft Programme for Partnership signals that the new Government will give urgently needed prioritisation to the housing and homelessness crisis. Positive measures include a commitment to “significantly” increase the delivery of social housing units, raising the level of rent supplement, developing “cost rental” housing, addressing mortgage arrears and progressing
the right to housing in the Constitution.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Reducing inheritance tax: populism and financialisation

James Wickham: Last week one of the first proposals of the new government was to raise the threshold for inheritance tax.  This is one of those measures that can have popular appeal and which are actually extremely regressive.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Polls indicate outcome of UK referendum on the EU too close to call - Brexit is a real possibility.

Blair Horan: Currently the polls for the UK referendum on EU membership, which takes place on 23 June, indicate that the result is on a knife edge and that Brexit is a very real possibility. While most polls conducted since the campaign began in late February show a small lead for the Remain side there is a clear  age divide with the prospect that an expected  higher turnout among older voters over 50, a majority of whom back Leave, could yet decide the outcome.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Today's UK conference on corruption is a step in the right direction, if a small one.

Paul Sweeney:   Mr David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, calling Afghanistan and Nigeria corrupt, as he hosts an anti-corruption conference, today Thursday 12th May 2016, is a good case of “the pot calling the kettle black.” 

Yet that Britain is holding the conference is welcome.

However, it is worth focusing on some of the big powers and how they are a key part of the system which facilitates corrupt leaders in developing countries who steal billions of their citizens' taxes; major criminals; tax evaders and multinationals tax avoiders in hiding vast sums of cash. 

The extent of the corruption was highlighted by the Panama papers recently. And that was the papers of only one company, although it is a very important tax cheaters’ company.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

The dependence of EU farm income on public support

Alan Matthews: In spite of the substantial reforms in the structure of the CAP over the past two decades, EU agriculture remains hugely dependent on public support. The importance of public transfers, including direct payments, to EU farmers can be shown in various ways.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Tax havens, secrecy and policy options

Jim Stewart: Panama is primarily a secrecy jurisdiction. The main function of the firm at the centre of the leaked documents, Mosack Fonseca, is to incorporate entities. This often involved a chain of ownership across several ‘tax haven’ type jurisdictions. A chain of ownership is used to make identification of true owners very difficult. This is one reason why this leak is of far greater significance than other leaks, for example the Luxleaks, because the web of interconnections and chain of ownership has been revealed.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Tax havens and the Panama Papers

Jim Stewart: This blog is about tax havens: their growth; functions, characteristics, and how they might be defined. A related blog tomorrow considers in greater detail the role of Mossack Fonseca (the Panama firm at the centre of the leak), whether Ireland is a tax haven, and some of the effects and policy issues arising from publication of the Panama Papers.

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Danger of Deflation

Paul Sweeney: The danger of deflation, i.e. falling prices, is that people wait to consume and so demand falls and that ultimately puts people out of work. Deflation has been hovering around for some years but so far, it has not bitten. However, it is not far off as European countries have been enduring low inflation for some time. There is also very weak demand and little growth.