Making sure we never have a Knowledge Economy

As many readers of this blog will know I work for a research group in Waterford. I also have a gallery, have trained as a mediator and do a spot of IT consultancy in my spare time. I pay all my taxes and work a ridiculous amount of time during the week. I guess that, whatever philosophising I’ve done to the contrary, I’ve officially joined the rat race with the reasonable goal of wealth generation.
As part of my day job I help to create wealth for Ireland Inc by creating joint ventures between Irish industry and academia. Generally this involves getting software developed to a high standard such that the companies can help find new business opportunities, create wealth and employment. We do a good job and employ many people who have previously worked in a range of industry roles. We’ve organically created over 200 high-tech jobs in the South East. That is without a doubt a major success story and something I’m incredibly proud to have participated in.
My co-workers are demonstrably not passengers. Not so-called “public sector parasites” and all work well in excess of their expected weekly hours because they like their job, they NEED their job and they’re commited to what we do. We have NO baseline funding so anything we get is gained through competitive funding process against academics and professional research groups from every country in Europe. I have heard several ministers refer to our work as a pillar of the knowledge economy.
Our pay is not wild and we don’t get things like bonuses, share options or other private sector perks. Private sector workers have conveniently forgotten about these former benefits over the past few months. We regularly travel on the weekend. We don’t get overtime. We don’t have a “grade” and we’re not entitled to guaranteed grade increments on top of inflation. If this doesn’t seem like the public sector many of you love to hate then I’m sorry. Perhaps you should look for bogeymen elsewhere. We had one ace which was the entitlement to a defined benefit pension. However, even that was a bit odd as the ultimate aim of many of us is to setup a campus company.
Today the Taoiseach succinctly made the point to us that rather than punishing malfeasance by bankers. Rather than ending section 23 tax relief schemes. Rather than any other measure that might actually improve the economic situation he’d decided that all public sector workers, us included, were to be forced to pay an additional and substantial new income tax under another name. The second time in a few months a member of the government has invented a new term for taxation. It makes the late nights all worthwhile! Some of us have tried in the past to opt-out of the pensions scheme as we thought we’d reasonably manage our own over a long career. Ultimately, there’s little point if you plan to leave the public sector anyway. Yet, it’s nigh on impossible to opt out of the state pension scheme as my friend jonathan brazil will attest.
The Irish economy is a complete mess. All this measure will do is appease private sector employees who have taken pay cuts or are about to be let go. I sympathise with them but the obsession with blaming the public sector is unhealthy. The major public sector pay increases came at a time of seeming prosperity in the country where inflation had run rampant and pushed the price of an average Dublin semi to the same cost as a nice chateau in France. Thanks to the Irish Times we got a new comparison every week to make us feel bad. Private sector workers were happy with their bonuses then and they contributed to the lunatic property bubble that’s now tearing Irish society apart.
During recessions people always look for someone to blame. Foreigners, a cartel, a profession, a religion.. the list is endless & the targets are easy. Ireland has the public sector. It’s an easy target as there are endemic problems which need addressing such as the need for performance related pay and the disparity in terms between some fixed term and permanent public sector employees. These have been well covered elsewhere but the first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem.
In typical Irish fashion the angry private sector mob can now look on and be comforted that someone else is getting screwed too. Is that not the history of this sorry sod? The ultimate result will be less spending, less consumption, less indirect tax revenue, higher personal taxes and lengthening dole queues as most of the retailers in the country go broke. This is not alarmist. It’s happening as I type. The only message that the present government have clearly sent to world leaders is “We don’t know what we’re doing, god/IMF help us”.
The message to the people is one of arrogant indifference. As I said in a previous post it’s about time that change came to Ireland. Economists like McWilliams, Hobbs & Aherne have pointed out that the government risks turning a recession into a depression by acting incorrectly and destroying public confidence. Mission accomplished!
Did it ever occur to BIFFOT that many younger public sector employees would actually be happy to opt out of a defined benefit pension scheme. How long can such a scheme continue? The main reason the defined benefit pension looked so friggin great is that the government SINGULARLY FAILED to implement an EU directive requiring them to safeguard employers pensions. This has recently been discussed in the wake of the Waterford Crystal collapse.
A good if pessimistic solution to surviving the current economic crisis has come from Eddie Hobbs. When asked what the youth of today should do he advised them to get the hell out of Ireland.
In a time of hardship the people of any country look to their leaders for statements of principle and solutions. Something to keep them going. Cowen is describing income tax increases as a “fightback by the economy”. He has no rational economic basis for describing it so. It won’t fix most operational problems of the public sector while hastening economic contraction. We need some real ideas for creating growth and stimulating the economy. Our banks may fail ANYWAY if consumer confidence is destroyed. Some of them are little more than financial rubbish bins at this stage.
Our most skilled knowledge economy workers will be the first to leave the sinking ship. Who should blame them? Look at what we’ve seen over the past few years. The never ending tribunals costing hundreds of millions to the tax payers to investigate corruption in public office. How we wish we had that 400+ million back now? A financial regulator with the lightest of touches. A cartel controlled Dublin property market. The price of houses soared and degraded the quality of life. All the while, we were told we’ve never had it so good. The celtic tiger was veneer through and through.
Sure there were real achievements. We shouldn’t overlook the excellent work we’ve done in getting FDI from foreign multinationals and building some decent indigenous industry. We got these on merit. Revisionism may suggest it was all tax but that’s not the case. The Irish are thought of as an inventive and dedicated bunch. At least we were until the recent financial scandals. Yet much of Irish business is now being exposed as the trading of phoney wealth amongst ourselves. This is not sustainable. Eddie Hobbs was just raising a valid point for Irish youth. Perhaps the real opportunities are elsewhere?
Not for the first time in Irish history a generation may leave because of the incompetence and corruption of their leaders…
It goes without saying that the views expressed here are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer any commercial entity I’m associated with. They do reflect a personal despair for the values of modern Irish life and those we have elected to legislate & manage our country.