April 2009 Archives

Get the Government We Deserve

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This Government is quite clever in the way that it periodically creates smoke screens to distract from underlying issues. The latest example is reshuffling junior ministers to hide gross excesses in the remuneration and expenses of politicians. Clearly, the Government has used a feather duster instead of a chain saw notwithstanding that it promised in the last budget to "lead by example".

Of course, this is not surprising given that, apart from a few sacrificial lambs, none of the hundred or so individuals in the public and private sectors who led the economy over a cliff have suffered meaningful sanctions or even offered unqualified apologies.

All the signs are that the economy will decline by about 14% between mid-2008 and 2010 and that only about one-third of this decline may have already occurred. This is confirmed by the expectation that the tax increases announced in April will have to be repeated, in one form or another, in budgets for 2010 and 2011.

On this basis the worst has yet to come. The Government's most recent initiative has been to scuffle a few meaningless jobs instead of showing real leadership to drive through root-and-branch changes to reduce public expenditure, sort out the banking system and restore medium-term confidence and competitiveness. When those fortunates with jobs see the impact of higher levies on their pay slips at end May, they will be in no mood to tolerate a Government that pussy foots around the excesses of the Celtic tiger and fails to "lead by example".

A rout of the governing parties in the local and European elections could easily provoke a crisis of confidence within the Dail and lead, for better or worse, to an early general election. This time around, the electorate should ensure that it votes for a government that leads from the front and is both firm and fair.

Why Nationalise?

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Mr X (April 16th) is shocked that so many innumerates are advocating nationalisation of the banks. The real innumerates are the bankers and policy makers who ignored long-term trends. The Government's approach to the banking system is the financial equivalent of half-pregnancy as it involve nationalisation of bad loans and continuing privatisation of good loans. Even at this late stage, it should go the whole hog and nationalise the main banks. Reasons for not doing so, such as the need for transparency, coming from a totally opaque Government are pure hogwash.

Nationalisation would remove uncertainty, simplify matters, restore confidence and ensure that state funding is used to boost the economy rather than bale out bank shareholders. It would be much less risky as it would eliminate the need to price impossible-to-value impaired loans. These could cost taxpayers tens of billions if transferred at the wrong price to Nama in addition to billions of interest payable on bonds used to purchase the dodgy loans at the outset. The idea of applying a levy on the banks to offset any shortfalls is more hogwash as it will be simply passed on to customers.

Published in the Irish Times on 18th April 2009.

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