Sli Eile: Over recent weeks I assessed the various economic proposals of some political parties – see previous posts on this site for Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin. The choice of parties is to do with their current status as parties enjoying the liberty of opposition. As for the
three two Government parties – we know where they stand on strategy from day to day. Just read the newspapers.
So, where do the three opposition parties stand on the economy? What they currently say and what they might do in a future Government are not the same – clearly. But, for now lets assume that what they say is what they will attempt to apply in policy if they find themselves in Government. The ‘report card’ suggested in my post of 1 April was based on four core principles:
Fairness and equity (do the proposals effectively address inequality and advance a redistribution of income and opportunities towards the less well-off)?
Public, social and community infrastructure (do the proposals provide an adequate basis for delivering vital social services)?
Sustainable economic growth and competitiveness (do the proposals represent a sensible strategy to position Ireland for the inevitable upswing - eventually)?
Public finances (do the proposals address the need to re-structure taxation and improve the effectiveness of public spending in meeting key economic and social goals)?
1 Fairness and Equity
Of the three parties, Fine Gael seem to be by far the slowest to raise taxes on the very wealthy (remember controversies about capital taxes in the 1970s and 1980s). Labour is coy about how much tax it would raise and from whom. The bulk of fiscal adjustments would come from tax increases – capital, tax relief reductions, carbon taxes, excise taxes, higher top tax rate and targetting of tax exiles. Sinn Féin takes a similar approach. However, none of these parties have called for a reduction in social welfare payments.
2 Public, social and community infrastructure
All three parties emerge as strong supporters of investment in public infrastructure. Fine Gael seems to have put in the most work in costing it and has made some interesting proposals in regard to green technology and the use of a new State Holding Company for infrastructural investment. All three parties are sitting on the question of bank nationalisation. However, events may overtake them before they have a clear policy line. Interestingly, FG, LP and SF each in their own way favour the establishment of some type of public credit institution to compete in the market place.
3 Sustainable economic growth and competitiveness
All parties focus on supply-side adjustments including investment in education including school buildings. Fine Gael want reductions in public sector numbers and wage restraint. All parties agree on the need for a generous economic stimulus. So, on paper at least, the opposition is Keynesian.
4 Public finances
A key issue, here, is a long-term commitment to tax reform, and along with it reform of local democracy and reform of public service. Labour and Fine Gael say that they are clearly committed to public sector reform.
Leaving aside issues to do with Europe and the national question (which of course can’t be done in the real world) – where is Labour on the ideological plane vis-à-vis FG and SF? Much closer to SF, it would seem, than FG. However, for now, LP is ruling out a left alliance before an election and is not contemplating getting into bed with FF after any general election (which theoretically is not to say they wouldn’t if it were the only bed available). Where does that leave Labour? Back to the 1980s?