Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

Should the EU consider a continental Basic Income?

Posted by Jason O on May 4, 2012 in European Union, Irish Politics

As Europe awaits results from both the French and Greek elections this weekend, it is probably fair to say that Europe is swinging if not left then towards a counter-austerity sentiment. In short, even people on the conventional centre-right, who accept the need for public spending to be brought under control (with a liontamer’s whip and chair in some cases) are now beginning to also accept that whilst applying a firm grip on spending is a great idea if the country in question is surrounded by economic “normal” countries, but if a whole region attempts to do it together it creates a giant suckhole that could pull everyone down together.

As if that is not problem enough, there are two further issues complicating things: the first is that Germany, which is benefitting greatly from its own reforms on the 1990s but also the European single market and the eurozone, is being asked to basically stump up the cash to resolve the issue of deflation in the Mediterranean.

Secondly, there is the danger that deflation in the PIGS will cause major public unrest and political extremism. What’s to be done?

Is it time to consider some form of European Basic Income or welfare payment, funded by Brussels, to ensure that no one slips totally beneath the waves whilst also injecting money in those economies? Such a scheme would allow for some stability in the PIGS whilst also demonstrating that the EU is not just for the rich. How would we fund such a thing? Well, a mixture of quantative easing by the ECB, direct funding by the Germans and perhaps an EU wide wealth tax of some description, or maybe an EU wide Tobin Tax?

What’s that, you say? O’Mahony proposing a wealth tax? I’m just thinking out loud here, but the key argument against the left raising taxes against the rich in a European country is that the people upon whom the tax is levied can move. But if the tax is levied on the whole EU, that’s a different kettle of fish, because leaving the EU means leaving a single market of 500 million consumers, not just a single state. It would also be hilarious to watch the Irish hard left in particular do political gymnastics as they tried to figure out what approach to take on a federal wealth tax.

Additional comments written later: It also occurs to me that a European Basic Income would address one issue that causes problems in nearly every member state, that of perceived welfare shopping. If every citizen could only receive the income amount that pertained in their home state, unless they had been living in another state for a number of years, would that not encourage non-working EU citizens to stay at home in their own member states, as there would be no benefit to travelling to another member state other than to work? Just a thought.


Is reality hiding under voters’s beds?

Posted by Jason O on May 4, 2012 in Irish Politics

Wil E Coyote being bullied by gravity.

Wil E Coyote being bullied by gravity.

It is no secret that I occasionally recycle blog posts. I do this not out of laziness, but because of the fact that so much of Irish politics is the same repetitive old crap that has been in play since I participated in my first election campaign 21 years ago. Referendums on EU matters are a particularly acute source of political deja vu, with the usual declarations, nearly always by the No side of scaremongering and bullying by the Yes side.

Take this week’s declaration by Michael Noonan that, as finance minister, if he does not have access to more funds from the EU as a result of a No vote, he will not be able to spend as much on public services. He was told that he was bullying the Irish people by stating that.

Just think about it for a minute: Telling people that if we have less money we can buy less things. That is now classed as bullying. It’s like being accused of bullying someone by telling them that if they leap off a cliff, they will plunge to their doom.

But it does reveal an interesting thing about modern politics, how many voters are now averse to not just opposing political positions, but actually being informed of things they don’t like hearing. One of the more worrying aspects to this is that politicians have given up trying to inform or educate voters as to the reality of the relationship between taxes and spending, instead focusing on whatever key message will hold voter trust just long enough to get past polling day.

We now have a generation of leaders who disappoint almost from day one in office as a result, as Sinn Fein are now gearing up to do, because they do not confront voters with realistic expectations before they vote. The argument given is that you can’t win elections by being honest, and certainly recent Irish political history (look at the Green Party) would confirm that view. But what is remarkable is how Irish governments, actually in power, make almost no effort to bring voters around to their way of thinking, especially on public spending issues. No Irish government has ever engaged in a pro-active effort to convince Irish voters that spending cuts are the price of preventing even higher taxes, or that the combined demands of every special interest must be clearly identified in the public mind as higher taxes. What is more puzzling is that they are taking the kicking anyway, so why don’t they start to fight back? What exactly are they afraid of?

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