Tag Archives: Economics

Broccoli or Savoy Cabbage?


Which option would you prefer for tackling the budget deficit: tax increases or spending cuts?

See what I did there? No? Let me pose the question in another way:

Which green vegetable would you like for your dinner: broccoli or savoy cabbage?

See now? In the second instance, by affording you the autonomy to choose between two perhaps unpalatable options, I’m smuggling in the tacit proposition that you will have green vegetables for your dinner.

This is a simple trick, and one which parents with headstrong infants may find themselves resorting to with uncanny instinct.

Similarly, in the first question, there are quite a few tacit propositions smuggled in.

  1. The budget deficit must be tackled;
  2. Either spending cuts or tax increases are effective ways of tackling the budget deficit;
  3. Your preferred option is a product of a free, not a forced choice;
  4. There are no other ways of tackling the budget deficit apart from tax increases or spending cuts;
  5. The scope and material impact of either option, regardless of the areas of their application (regressive vs progressive taxation, spending cuts on bank bailouts vs spending cuts on hospital beds), are of no consequence. Rather, what is important is that one option be given preference over the other.

The answer to this form of question, as it turns out, is precisely what is adduced as justification for cuts to the health service, in this Irish Times op-ed:

Research by the ‘We the Citizens’ group suggests a majority of people are against significantly raising taxes in order to minimise the depth of health cuts. Most of those surveyed favour spending cuts as the best way of dealing with the massive deficit.

We The Citizens is proving a very handy instrument for executing what Pierre Bourdieu calls symbolic coups de force.

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Political choices

There is a super article on Irish Left Review by Alison Spillane and Adam Larragy examining the politics of paying off bondholders, and the opportunity costs involved:


(I haven’t figured out how to embed links yet via a mobile e-mail client, sorry)

As the authors rightly note, cutting assistance for children with special needs while paying off wealthy investors is a political choice on the part of elected representatives (who were not elected to do any such thing). It is not some inexorable machination of proper order. Fine Gael and the Labour party are deliberately making these political choices. Why are they doing this? One fairly compelling answer is: because they want to, and if they didn’t want to, they wouldn’t do it. These politicians do not have to take part in the dispossession of the poor, sick, and vulnerable (for starters). Their leaders did not have to meet with Dominique Strauss-Kahn in advance of the last election and insist they would be the faithful executors of the IMF’s will. They do not have to perpetuate the con trick that these people must be dispossessed now in order to avoid being dispossessed even more in future. If you wanted to protect people, why would you strip away whatever threadbare protections for a decent and healthy life? If Fine Gael and Labour are doing this, it is because they have proven themselves willing servants of the same ideology that propels the ECB and the IMF, not because they are unwilling hostages to troika demands.

There are obvious reasons why the owning class might want a population in fear of ill health and destitution, but these are no reason for anyone else to be complicit in making their dreams come true. Faced with this, everyone, not just Fine Gael and Labour, has political choices to make.

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The McGill Summer School is perennially presented as the rare moment of intellectual ferment and frankness among the political class. And yet everything that emanates from it seems to be a recapitulation of precisely the same ideas that rule the country the other 50 weeks of the year, including the idea, emanating from the trade unions participating in these neo-liberal symposia, that the country should be more like Scandinavian countries, despite the fact that Scandinavian countries have comparably far more progressive states and societies on account of struggle led by organised labour, not because its right-wing elites had a brainwave.

What follows is a brief translation into brute reality of some of the terms used in this article from the McGill Summer School in today’s Irish Times.

  • ‘the vitality of the banking system ultimately rests on the fiscal health of the Government’ – get rid of hospital beds to keep banks alive
  • ‘The new European bailout framework provides important benefits to Ireland’ – shrink the welfare state to the benefit of the Irish owning class
  • ‘An interest rate of about 3.5 per cent on funds from the European Financial Stability Facility is much more conducive to fiscal sustainability than the previous deal’ – European authorities now know that crucifying the population completely will be bad for the banks
  • ‘policy conditionality is bound to be even stricter on programme countries’ – Econo-sadism for the periphery, more power to the banks
  • ‘the assurance of ongoing official support means the negative feedback loop between the market perception of the sovereign position and the funding position of the banking system is somewhat attenuated’ – financial markets relieved nation states have got their act together to make sure speculator meal tickets won’t be destroyed
  • ‘the optimal response for Ireland is to move more quickly on fiscal adjustment’ – the optimal response for Irish owning class is to launch an assault on the living standards of the population, driving down wages and driving up unemployment
  • ‘a large enough difference to demonstrate to Ireland’s European partners and the markets that Ireland recognises the change in its financial environment’ – Ireland’s owning class will show its European counterparts just how vicious it can be with the Irish workforce
  • ‘in-train spending review to be published in September can provide a basis for a “smart” approach to cuts’ – in-train spending review to be published in September can provide a basis for presenting cuts as “smart”
  • ‘Swift’ – vicious
  • ’employment-friendly’ – employer-friendly
  • ‘The desirability of collecting revenues from a property tax, water charges and other user fees and the elimination of many types of tax expenditures has been well ventilated in the Irish debate’. – The desirability of collecting revenues from a property tax, water charges and other user fees and the elimination of many types of tax expenditures has been well ventilated on Irisheconomy.ie
  • ‘the capacity to collect more income tax through reducing bands and allowances is also well understood’ – allowances have been made due to the reluctance of the owning class to pay more tax


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