Threads discussing emigration tend to focus on those who feel forced to leave Ireland in the bad times to make a living. But emigration is a constant theme even in the good times, reflected in govt policy towards the wealthy i.e. our supposed wealth-creators. In the US or UK tax cuts/breaks for the wealthy focus on ideology – the rich shouldn’t be punished for being rich. Here however, low taxes on the rich are borne of fear – the very real fear that our membership of the EU and Anglophone world make it easy and attractive for the talented wealthy to leave, thus depriving the nation of both their talent and wealth. The result is a squeeze on the middle class, a reliance on indirect taxes and ultimately inadequate public services.
Extrapolating from this it seems that modern capitalism is not suitable for Ireland. There are two elements of capitalism I intend to focus on:
1.The belief that the wealthy deserve their wealth
2.The belief that unlimited wealth acquisition is a good thing
Both of these things can be for the public good, if the profit motive leads to a vibrant, strong, diversified economy. But this is not the case for Ireland. Here there are two ways to become very wealthy:
If you successfully go the first route, and have the ambition to increase your wealth further and further, Ireland becomes too small and expansion from Ireland too difficult compared with taking opportunities on a grander scale elsewhere in the world. (Michael O’Leary and Ryanair may be the exception that proves the rule.) The result is emigration of the rich and talented – and any mention of tax rises will only tip those considering leaving over the edge.
- Build a viable sustainable business through value creation and astute cost management
- Get yourself to the top in an economic sector with inextricable ties to politics – property, construction, banking etc. – and rely on your friends to keep business going (e.g. property tax breaks)
The rest take the second route and lead us to the cozy corrupt cartel carnage we are witnessing now. And yet the bankers and developers were venerated as the best among us only three years ago. The tax breaks and shelters (and evasion) were there to give these guys what they and the govt thought they were due for leading the Celtic Tiger onwards and upwards.
This leads me on to questioning our parliamentary democracy system. We effectively have a unicameral system lacking any serious checks and balances (the senate and presidency are incredibly weak and ineffective in this regard). Power is centralised to a small group around the Taioseach, which controls not only the executive and legislative, but also a huge range of appointments to state and semi-state bodies (e.g. regulatory bodies), and the leading media player in the country, RTE. This ensures that those who want to gain from power (i.e. the second group of ‘capitalists’ mentioned above) have a small, unitary group of people to develop relationships and influence with. We know this happens and we now see the damage it causes yet the only serious idea for political reform, by Fine Gael, is to abolish the Senate and remove the illusion of a bicameral system. Yes, it happens elsewhere in the world but the extent to which it has occurred here and the near certainty it will be business as usual in future leads one to despair.
I therefore come to the conclusions that our parliamentary political system will never make the country successful; and that we will not be saved or sustained economically by those of us inclined to acquire wealth endlessly for its own sake. Obviously there is no magic bullet to the problems outlined here but the need for one thing is clear – diversification, both politically and economically. We cannot continue to vote only for local representatives and expect constructive, objective national policy to emerge free of the influence of vested interests. I don’t believe in direct democracy but want some kind of ‘direct representation’, where we elect people to do a specific job in a specific area e.g. regulation, health, education etc. no matter what their party affiliation is. Likewise economically we need to stop venerating those who would leave us or screw us to get wealthy, and consider the distributist vision of productive power spread more evenly across the economy.