Monday, May 28, 2012

Vote YES on Thursday

Predictions about the effect the referendum on the Fiscal Compact this coming Thursday will have on austerity in Ireland are meaningless.

Those who are trying to convince voters that it will have any bearing at all on household charges, septic tank inspection fees, water rates or anything else of that nature are either dangerously delusional or shockingly dishonest.

What is objectively true is that Germany (Bunds [German government bonds] approaching negative yields), Finland, The Netherlands, Austria (unemployment: 4%) have taken control of their finances and are all in favour of the fiscal compact. They simply want other countries to agree to it so that when stimulus measures are put in place for the EU as a whole there will be no free riders. It's hard to blame them for that.

And they're the countries I want to be aligned with in the EU - not the ones that allow UK and US commentators to put us into awful acronyms like PIIGS.

Friday, May 25, 2012

What's the Irish left got against the EU?

It would seem that a large part of the left wing in Ireland is really, when all is said and done, against the idea of Ireland belonging to the European Union. 

Last week I took the left leaning members of the opposition to task for not making a lot more of the proposals that have been put forward by the Germans and the French for a Tobin tax. My point, which I do not seem to have done enough to get across, was that it was preferable to work with the EU on measures to raise revenue for economic stimulation instead of simply opposing fiscal discipline, as they have been doing. After all, a transaction tax on stocks and bond dealing should be close to the heart of any Socialist, and money borrowed, even for spending in the hope (and it would be a hope – borrowing and spending are not of themselves a guarantee of success) of generating growth, has to be paid back. In any event borrowing, as we know to our costs since the onset of the Great Financial Crisis, is dodgy under any circumstances.

Now I read in the Irish Times that Sinn Fein, in particular, has campaigned against every EU treaty that has been agreed to by Ireland over the last 25 years. Joe Higgins has always given the strong impression of a man that only agreed to become a member of the European Parliament so that he could work to undermine it from within. A new survey has also found that even a large percentage of traditional Labour party voters, 41%, intends to vote against the treaty, despite the strong endorsement of it from all Labour ministers in the current coalition government.

So what’s with the Irish left and the EU? In the UK, it’s the Conservatives who have the most Euro sceptic members, and the Labour Party is the one that is committed to taking a full part in Europe. In France, the newly elected President, Francois Hollande, a Socialist, might have used rhetoric in his election that will cause him to look for growth measures to go with the Fiscal Pact, but a Euro sceptic he most certainly is not. And Angela Merkel and her party, while supporting balanced budgets, are not afraid to put forward measures that will arouse the ire of capitalism (and should therefore expect to be embraced by Socialism), a good example being the aforementioned Tobin tax.

Perhaps opposition to Europe is a means our Socialists have decided on in order to differentiate themselves from other parties. This might have its attractions in providing a quick fix to gain electoral support in a deep recession, when voters are casting around for anything and everything that represents the status quo so that it can be punished, but it is not in the best interest of the country, nor, I would propose, even in the long term electoral best interests of the politicians concerned.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Is it right to be absolute?

Pope Benedict XVI and President Barack Obama

President Obama has come out in favour of same-sex marriage. Good for him.

In an article in the Irish Times last January (2011) that was inspired by the film “The King’s Speech”, Fintan O’Toole wrote of the fact that he had once suffered from a speech impediment. He was interested to hear that some people who had such a problem also reported that, as children in school, they had been forced as naturally left-handed people to do everything with their right hands. That also happened to him.

Over many centuries, left-handedness has been seen by Christianity as being associated with the devil, and was therefore regarded as something that had to be “cured”, even if this meant using force and causing severe distress to the child concerned. Apparently there are many references in the Bible that could be interpreted as a condemnation of left-handedness, although no prominent church leader is known to have come out and made anything like the pronouncements against it that have been made against Gays and Lesbians by, among others, various popes.

The current pope is very fond of one particular word. He has condemned what he calls “relativism” on many occasions. He sees it as something that is taking over the world and as being closely allied to secularism. As used by the pope, it seems to imply that, for him and the church, there are a number of basic truths that can never, ever be challenged - they must remain absolute. This, of course, immediately causes problems for those in the scientific community because the scientific method is predicated on the idea of revising or even totally rejecting anything that does not continue to accord with new evidence as it becomes available. The pope’s defenders will say he is not concerned with science (the church was proved so embarrassingly wrong with regard to scientific pronouncements in the past that it has decided it is better to get out of the field altogether). However, his condemnation of Gays and Lesbians and his total rejection of same-sex marriage indicate that he is ignoring the modern understanding that being gay is just another part of the diversity of human nature, and is neither good nor bad – it just is.

As for the idea that the church cannot change its beliefs – this fails to stand up to scrutiny too. Can you imagine the uproar there would be if a teacher in any school was found now tying a child’s hand behind his or her back and forcing them, against their natural inclination, to write with their right hand? Here, at least, is one absolute belief that’s not so absolute any more.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Another reason to vote Yes

Francois Hollande

Socialist Francois Hollande has become the latest president of the Fifth French Republic. Much has been made of his apparent attitude to the EU Fiscal Treaty, about which we in Ireland will have a referendum vote at the end of this month. 

At this stage it is impossible to know how much of M. Hollande’s words represented electioneering rhetoric and how much will result in solid changes to the treaty, but there is reason to believe that, while the austerity aspects of the treaty will not change, they might now be accompanied by measures aimed at stimulating the economy of Europe.

This represents just one more reason for Ireland to vote Yes in the referendum. It was always a good idea to confirm our position as members in good standing of both the EU and the Euro zone, and voting Yes is the means to achieve that under current circumstances. Now we have an added incentive – as members that are fully committed to fiscal responsibility, which is what the treaty is about, we can take full advantage of whatever economic stimulus is brought into being by the influence of France under its new leadership.