There is only money for money, fool!
The partial transcript, published on Broadsheet.ie, of a Newstalk appearance by European Parliament candidate for Fine Gael, Simon Harris TD, encapsulates the sheer ugliness of mainstream politics in Ireland at present.
Harris was talking about why he thought there should be no exemption from water charges for people in receipt of social welfare payments. His remarks were consistent with the story being reported in the press about how the left wing of Ireland’s hard right government, the Labour Party, seeking a waiver for social welfare recipients and the right wing of Ireland’s hard right government, Fine Gael, refusing. Harris referred to:
this mentality that seems to exist in some parts of Irish politics and society that the vulnerable only consists of people without a job. There’s an awful lot of people that I’m meeting who are low or middle-income.
… if we’re going to start introducing exemptions and allowances, we need to realise that introducing a blanket exemption for people on social welfare whilst passing on that charge to people getting up in the morning and going out to work and earning little money but doing their best to keep a roof above their head is not on. We keep on hitting the same group of people
Part of Fine Gael’s pitch to voters in the upcoming elections is relief for an imaginary category called the ‘squeezed middle’: people who think of themselves as middle class, or whose economic fate is bound up with the price of their house, or who think they have some standing in society, and, if their standing is not as great as Denis O’Brien, it is at least, in their view, greater than the people living in social housing down the road.
Such people are feeling poorer on account of higher taxes, higher living expenses, and perhaps lower wages and heightened exploitation at work. They often voice resentment at others getting something for nothing. Those getting something for nothing are not, in their eyes billionaire tax avoiders or multinationals, but the people living in the next estate. For them, paying tax in order to support the people they think are getting something for nothing is a greater outrage than the wholesale suffocation of public finances by a political establishment anxious to sate the urges of the financial sector. The real cross to bear is not the weight of paying off private banking debts, but the sense of being cheated by indolent welfare fraudsters. Harris is out to appeal to these people.
Much of the groundwork to make Harris’s appeal effective has been carried out by the Labour Party. Joan Burton, for example, has done sterling work in creating the impression that there is widespread welfare fraud to the extent that An Garda Síochána must police airports and housing estates in order to crack down on the crooks. The impression is entirely fraudulent, but it’s all to the good for Fine Gael’s power lust.
Joan Burton has proven her worth as a team player for the likes of Simon Harris by the introduction of schemes designed to force you to work for free if you’re unemployed. You see, the fact you are unemployed turns you into a different species altogether. You are no longer a human of the kind you find among the ranks of the Squeezed Middle. You respond to completely different stimuli.
Let me explain. Simon Harris and Fine Gael say that alleviating the burden of water charges on people who receive social welfare payments would mean that these people would be less likely to take up paid employment. This belief may have no basis in empirical fact, but it stems from the body of economic thought that treats unemployment as primarily a supply side problem. In short, build the right people -make them sufficiently desperate and miserable and obedient and obsequious- and the jobs will come. It is called ‘labour market activation’. As you might expect, Joan Burton is big into it.
Well, it turns out that this different species abides by one set of economic laws, and the virtuous in employment abide by another.
The former species -let’s call them ‘ Untermenschen’- is more likely to enter paid employment the poorer and more miserable it gets. If you alleviate its misery by decreasing its financial burden, it will merely get involved in some indolent activity, or spend the freed up money on alcohol and flat screen TVs.
The latter species -let’s call them ‘Übermenschen’- abide by an entirely different set of economic laws. Whereas the subhuman are given to industriousness on account of misery intensified, the Übermenschen are given to indolence. If you take money off them in the form of taxes, they will not do any work. That is why Fine Gael minister Brian Hayes says Ireland’s tax rates cause workers paying the higher band of tax to emigrate.