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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 19, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

    When Push Comes to Shove

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    The conventional wisdom now is  that the Lisbon Treaty will pass by a respectable margin. The opening of the Nama debate in the Dáil seems to have calmed nerves. Suspense is not good for politics and the fact that we now know the extent of the “haircut” on the loans and the level of long-term economic value has stabilised the situation.

     walesakennybrenda.jpg

     Hope for Cowen after all? (Photo: Brenda Fitzsimons)

    Now it’s all eyes on the Greens. It looks as if their special conference set for October 10th could be moved to another date. A moveable feast, as it were.

     Likewise, the legislative timetable for Nama is very flexible. But the talks between the coalition parties on the Programme for Government have not yet got under way apparently.

    It’s a fair guess that these talks won’t really start until after the Lisbon vote on October 2nd. If the Yes side wins the referendum, it will be the first piece of good news Brian Cowen has received in some time.

    There is a big debate going on in the Greens with some members anti-Nama at any price and others prepared to be more pragmatic.

    Another issue that is starting to surface is this: would you prefer to walk out of government over Nama or over the Budget? Mind you, there is a long history in Irish politics of budgets being trumpeted as the “worst ever” and, in the end, they turn out to be not quite as bad as the forecasts.

    The current referendum has to be the most halfhearted ever. People on both sides are pretty tired, except perhaps for Cóir who seem to have unending reserves of energy, particularly when it comes to posters. Their “heart” posters are not as effective as the other ones, though.

     There was a bit of craic yesterday when visiting Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and Enda Kenny took a stroll by Stephen’s Green to promote Lisbon. They came across pop artist Brendan Higgins’s portrait of Cowen as the anti-Obama, “No Hope” figure. Walesa hasn’t a word of English and did not realise what he was doing in the photograph above. For more on this, click here.

    Yours truly has been asked to chair a Lisbon debate in Buswell’s Hotel on Wednesday between Timmy Dooley TD (FF) and Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD (SF). It’s between 7pm and 8.15pm. Come along and you can buy me an orange juice afterwards.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Am I mistaken, but isn’t there a shortfall of about €20bn in the amount the government spends and what it takes in? We have known this for nearly a year and since then a few reports have been delivered. But of course nothing has actually been done and while the spin will start about the budget being the worst ever etc only then to not be, then add in the extra cost of NAMA, there has to come a point when all this money needs to be repiad.

      I assume Biffo is doing nothing as he hopes the worldwide recovery will lift the Irish economy and that will generate the extra tax with no need to cut back or reform anything. Perfect Irish solution to an Irish problem.

      However, if the Irish Embassy in Amsterdam was doing its job it would have reported back to the government the feedback in Dutch business circles about the cronyism they experienced in the Anglo/Zoe saga. This feedback has already filtered into German business circles and will of course have been noted elsewhere.

      Why would an American firm choose to do business in Ireland when it can just as easily do business in Poland or even the Netherlands – the special Irish link to America is over and the young generations of most EU countries speak English as well as usually one or two other languages. The young of Ireland can barely speak English and have no other lingustic skills and precious little work ethic.

      Then when you add in a corrupt political class … well the future ain’t looking so good.

      But it does go to show the task facing the opposition as the depth of denial Irish people wallow in seems to be bottomless.

      So back to my first point – exactly how long can Ireland afford to keep borrowing before that bill becomes due and where exactly is the money to pay the bill coming from?

    • robespierre says:

      I was out canvassing on Saturday and Sunday for a Yes to Lisbon vote. Things mostly seem to be going swimmingly on that front. I was in a lower-middle income area to working-class area and it was roughly 60/40 Yes of those who had made up their minds. In the more affluent areas it is 90% Yes or higher.

      One thing all the areas have in common and political scribes who have moved on following the John O’Donoghue imbroglio last week may not realise is a boiling rage towards politicians. The initials J, O and D came up repeatedly to extent that one had to wait to hear them purge their souls before shifting the conversation back to Lisbon.

      I have noticed two things in the three weeks of cavassing:
      a) People seem to have split domestic and foreign self-interest for the most part
      b) People are really, really angry at what they see as politicians of all hues with their snouts in the trough

      FG and Lab took an awful rollicking at the weekend for not going for the Ceann Comhairle’s head. I realise that these things never last forever but for now “They are all at it” and “They are all the same”.

      The politicians have to take meaningful steps to address their own pay prior to addressing social welfare and public sector pay and service cuts.

    • Deaglán says:

      Thanks for that, R. By the way I note that our regular contributor, Joanna Tuffy TD now has her own Blog at

      http://www.labour.ie/joannatuffy/blog.html

      Hopefully she will continue to contribute her thoughtful comments here as well.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      Deaglán,
      Thanks for for the mention and the kind words. I used to have a blog before and write about how I had my tea and then went to such and such a meeting. Have learned a bit about how to use a blog more interestingly, I hope, from here and other political blogs.

      Robespierre,

      I too have got a more positive outcome this time when canvassing. Very little discussion this time of the nitty gritty of Lisbon. It’s all to do with the economy and having the safety-net of the EU. Not that people are going into detail about how they think Lisbon will help in that regard either. It just seems to be a given for many voters this time. I also think the input of Bishop Treanor is also having a significant impact.

      On the pay and expenses, I think expenses should be capped, most if not all of the extra payments for various Oireachtas and Ministerial posts should be scrapped, as should extravagant expenditure on dining and accomodation by Ministers and or Departments, and there should be a cap on top salaries in the public service. All of this is dwarfed however by the scandal of 28 billion for the debts of Anglo Irish Bank.

    • robespierre says:

      Hi Joanna

      I think that would be a positive step. Personally, I think a fully-vouched system of expenses plus a cap on expenses would work best.

      For instance, if I am providing consulting services (my job) to a public sector agency or department, typically expenses are capped at 15% of the job value and have to be fully vouched for whether I am working into the state or a private sector client.

      If politicians move to fully vouched expenses and a modest, narrow set of allowances then you will be able to look at the following (extracted sample from McCarthy report) with authority:

      Defence forces, Prison staff and Garda Síochána allowances and pay – especially double payments (per diems) while overseas
      Consolidation of social welfare system and payments to a single taxable allowance based on points
      Elimination of public sector salary increments and superannuated payments
      HSE benefits and pay review incl. executive bonuses
      Renegotiation of central contracts (e.g. medical cards) on a central auctions basis
      Dismantling of barriers to entry to medical and legal professions
      Eliminate double assignment of counsel to defence cases and payment at junior counsel rate
      Further reducing the cost of the Oireachtas (some EUR 500m per annum)

      No business would allow any of these situations to prevail when there is security of tenure.

      I plan on having my own blog by Christmas where I hope to more fully develop ideas on public sector reform.

      Regards
      L’esprit de Max

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      Just on that robespierre as long as by reform you don’t mean crude job cuts. And don’t forget, as in your own case, the public sector by its existence, apart from providing jobs and public services, creates demands for the services of the private sector, including consultants.

    • Ray D says:

      The fact is that the yes side want no discussion on Lisbon. They want to discuss only what is not in Lisbon because there is nothing whatsoever of benefit to us in Lisbon. They avoid all discussion of the Treaty’s provisions.

      A yes vote has undoubtedly now been bought and there will be no democratic third vote, as fairness should require when the score is one-all. Plenty of time to watch our little island economy go down the tubes.

    • Liam says:

      Joanne: “Just on that, Robespierre, as long as by reform you don’t mean crude job cuts. And don’t forget, as in your own case, the public sector by its existence, apart from providing jobs and public services, creates demands for the services of the private sector, including consultants.”

      With respect , this doesn’t create/retain wealth. The taxpayer response will be to cut back on entertainment, kids activities , house repairs etc … Resources cant be spent twice , if you take money away from the private economy jobs will be lost there as well.

      From an ethical and practical position why would anyone trust the govt. to make these choices?

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Joanna, “And don’t forget, as in your own case, the public sector by its existence, apart from providing jobs and public services, creates demands for the services of the private sector, including consultants.”

      What? the public service by its existence creates demand? That’s the most ludicrous thing I’ve heard all week. The public service exists because there is a demand from the public for particular services to be provided, that some of those services can’t be sourced entirely from within the public services means that people in the private sector may be contracted in to assist in the provision of those services.

      The public service is a means to an end. It has no reason to exist for its own sake and that is the major fault line between the public service union orientated view of the world and the rest of us. In their view for example the transport system exists to provide them with jobs, for the rest of us the transport system exists to move us and goods from A to B, safely and reliably.

      If everyone was fit and healthy and never died, we would have no need of a public health service (nor a private one) so no one would need to be employed in one.

      It is the need and demand from the public that necessitates the use from the private sector on occasion that ‘creates demands for the services of the private sector’. The public sector is not the spokesperson for the public.

    • robespierre says:

      No Joanna I definitely don’t mean crude job cuts.

      Cost optimisation is my profession. There is nothing crude about it and I have ten years professional experience implementing transformational change projects across private and publicly quoted companies. I am an expert in Lean and in Six Sigma approaches to service and manufacturing improvement.

      The one public sector project that I ran had operating costs (by way of flawed process design) at least 60% higher than necessary. For a cost of approximately .5m designing a bolt on function to an existing IT system, more than 3m in cost could have been designed out of the scheme permanently through automation of the state run side of the program.

      The four things that I do when running projects are:
      Review and standardise processes
      Simplify processes and introduce performance measures
      Improve governance structures and accountability (see performance measures)
      Automate processes as they mature and bed down

      In some cases (where applicable) the state needs to set-up shared service centres or outsourcing centres. There are a number of areas like procurement, finance and IT that could benefit greatly from such an approach. Moreover, I believe distribution strategies, logistics operations and real estate consolidation are immediate priorities to immediate efficiency of the public sector.

      You will note that nowhere have I spoken about redundancies yet but I do believe that they are inevitable. Redesign identifies double administration, redundant processes and roles etc. The state has employed a lot of bodies and paid a premium to do so during full employment. It is now stuck with a fixed cost based of employees some of whom would not be successful if applying in today’s market. It needs a lower fixed cost base with the flexibility to bring in decent quality contractors to ramp up or down as it requires.

      The government and the tax payer have a legitimate right to ensure that they can bring in better skilled or tooled individuals without being stuck with the cost base of a previous market situation. As long as the employees transferred to a BPO go through TUPE then I see no ideological problem with this.

    • robespierre says:

      Joanna, you are right that the public sector creates demand for consulting services. Some of this could be done by the public sector if they were better skilled and worked harder. We are often brought in because we are willing to do 14 hour days for six months and work weekends to get a good job done. We also will drive change through an organisation in a way that is rare and difficult for even visionary public servants to do. I know several visionary public servants and admire their patience. I couldn’t put up with the mediocrity.

      I will give you an example.

      I believe all public sector workers should have a variable component to their salary. I have no problem with an outstanding nurse earning 100k a year because she is so good at her job. My problem is with the all the performers at each grade getting the same pay and allowances. This is not right. Unvouched sick leave, “stress leave” and so on are so high when compared to the private sector that I can sense only one extraneous factor – the malign pocket-lining influence of trade unions. We hear their megaphone politics every day at the moment.

      I know from my fiancé how frustrating her co-teachers find it when clearly disengaged and delinquent teachers are effectively bullet-proof from dismissal because of the trade unions and the department’s unwillingness to confront them. There should be a negative bonus in place for poor performers that over a couple of years if a correction does not take place results in a dismissal.

      Both the pay structure and the performance criteria that reward mediocrity rather than excellence is morally wrong .

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      Robespierre,

      Actually I had noticed you didn’t mention redundancies nor cuts in jobs and was just really getting in my own hobby horse there that it’s a bad idea, when private sector jobs are being lost by the day, to cut public sector jobs. I agree with what you have to say about the need for reform. My own main reform would be that it should be possible to move people from where they are not needed to where they are needed in the public sector.

      Dan,

      I think you misunderstand what I mean by demand in the private sector. What I mean is that the public sector buys services and goods from the private sector, which is obviously a good thing from the private sector’s point of view. Examples apart from consultancy services would be stationery, equipment, contract cleaning.

      Liam,

      I understand the point you are making that more public expenditure means more taxes and less consumption and therefore more private job losses. However according to a simulation by the ESRI in April fewer public sector jobs would mean less consumption and more private job losses.

      It can be a lonely furrow to plough batting on this blog for the public sector but according to the OECD our public sector is not particularly large. It educates our children, looks after our sick and cleans our streets, and State enterprise contributed to the development over the years of our economy.

      Robespierre talks about mediocracy, but the public sector has a mix just like the private sector – entepreneurs like Tony O’Reilly and Tony Ryan both started out as state agency workers!

    • robespierre says:

      Joanna, I admire your perspicacity. You have the courage to take up arms against a sea of oppressors as the line goes and I greatly admire that.

      I suppose what I would tend to look at is efficiency. I think to some extent your suggestion about flexible career paths in the public sector is a very good idea. However, if it is to move an underperformer from one role to another I am not so sure. We have almost 500,000 drawing welfare at the moment and I am certain that a goodly portion of them are chomping at the bit for a chance that others are spurning.

      By having performance criteria for a role set out, it is quite easy to identify where people are doing their job. I am sure at least 50% of the public service do their job satisfactorily or better. There would then be a group that are mostly satisfactory and then there are underperformers.

      In the private sector you work with underperformers to help them improve and if they don’t or can’t you then rehire and go through the necessary processes to dismiss the individual. It is not nice but it is necessary. You can’t have a good business if your don’t lay-off bad workers. That is what I am talking about.

      I believe in the Japanese notion of Kaizen which is a lean principle in operational effectiveness. It means incrementally getting better at things. Read a little about Toyota vs. General Motors and you will see what I am talking about. Freakonomics is another thought-provoking read about the importance of incentivisation in our lives.

      I don’t believe in sacred cows or in groupthink. I also don’t care what the other OECD countries are doing (in the sense that it is a meaningful benchmark). I believe in breaking the mould. Why not seek to be leaders and innovators in the provision of efficient, effective services?

      As Ruairi Quinn once put it, I am merely ambitious for Ireland.

    • Liam says:

      I’d worry about economists and their models, they can’t know what is going to happen with interest rates going forward, how well or bad Irish bonds will be viewed in the market place. My guess is that they may have underpriced the effect of running up large debts now and the effects in the future.
      For your argument to be valid the broader public sector would have to prove that it is very efficient and that it is not providing services based on 2005 national wealth projections. My issue is that their expenditure becomes too sticky because they have the ear of the government and do not have to react to the market in the way that people and normal companies have to. There are huge issues to deal with in the health sector which in a lot of cases come down to poor management and poor work practices, a failed drugs policy which costs billions every year and where we now have regular shootouts on our streets because we deem it normal to treat drug users as criminals and alcoholics as an illness, the list is endless. There is a great opportunity for this country to reinvent itself out of necessity but this will not happen if the system is geared towards inertia.
      I appreciate that you respond to comments on this IT blog but I have yet to be convinced that your views would be any different if you weren’t a paid lobbyist for the public sector.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      Liam,
      I have to take issue on that last point you make, contradictory though it is. I think you have made the point before that Labour is the political wing of the public sector. You are confusing the fact that we value and stand up for the public sector with a party that has traditionally got the votes of public sector workers. If they were one and the same thing Labour would have been the main party in Government for the past 80 years instead of Fianna Fail.

      On Robespierre’s point, nice to know you have been following the Labour leader’s speeches over the years! Eamon Gilmore made this point about public sector reform at the 2008 Labour Party conference, which I think you might find you have common ground with:

      “The majority of public servants work hard. They nurse our elderly parents. They teach our children. They put themselves at risk policing our streets, and fighting our fires. But they are sometimes let down by the practices of a minority. The top executive who doesn’t know the limit to a junket. The time-server, who is forever sick on Monday mornings.
      But the public service will only be reformed by a Government which believes in, and values, public service. Respects public servants. And therefore has the authority to do what is needed to get quality public services, and value for money”

    • Liam says:

      Joanna, excuse my grammar, read weren’t as were. Indeed you obviously have stiff competition for the hearts and minds of the public sector if FF can come up with scams like benchmarking.
      If you value public services then I would like to see evidence that your party would tackle the vested interests it contains, ie that you view it firstly from the consumer standpoint and not the people that work for it.
      In the 1990′s when Labour was in power last, free uni fees for instance was put ahead of expanding the numbers of medical graduates and other related professions (assuming it even came up for discussion). If you put redistributive policies ahead of actually providing more relevant services and if your definition of economic of activity is “jobs” without knowing if the underlying activity is useful then I can’t see much progress being made.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      Liam,

      “Were” makes more sense alright and I am glad you don’t view me as a paid lobbyist.

      Just on your point about who the public sector is for the benefit of, yes I do think the public service should be for the benefit of the public rather than public servants (who are also the public). You use the word consumer but I would use the word citizen because I don’t think public services are or should be for consumption (I also use citizen in its non-legal sense, meaning all users of public services, irrespective of nationality). Primary school education surely is not something to be consumed, nor a walk in the local park, or a book in the local library. Nor do I go along with the idea that the public sector should mimic the private sector in terms of it having to be competitive or subject to market forces. We should however aim for the public sector to provide the health care that we need, and an education that helps us reach our best potential both as individuals, and in how we contribute to our society and our economy, etc.

      On your next point I would point out Labour introduced free third level fees rather than free university fees. No reason why we couldn’t have simultaneously increased the number of medical graduates then too and, you are right, we should have.

      I think redistributive policies should be Labour’s priority in Government because Labour’s purpose is to bring about a more equal society. Extremes of wealth and poverty in society do not do any of us any favours whether we are rich, poor, or in the middle. I do think having people in jobs is better than paying them dole but, like you, I think every effort should be made to ensure jobs are created in worthwhile activities and if people are doing jobs that are not required they should be redeployed to do necessary work.

    • Liam says:

      Joanna - “You use the word consumer but I would use the word citizen because I don’t think public services are or should be for consumption

      School, hospital, airline, theatre , are pretty much the same in my book , they are all a mixture of land , labour and capital and I’d argue that in most cases competition would provide cheaper services to a higher standard , think flying Dublin to London in the 1970’s versus today, whether my son is a consumer of primary education is a moot point, I’m lucky that he is a smart kid so he will do ok with the state syllabus but if he turned out to have talents in other directions, what choices would I have to get him an artistic education or a vocational education, I’d be snookered and would have to take the bland civil service ethos which would not serve his interests . Here is a concrete example , there is a consultant in Dublin that hires out a theatre to do his own operations at weekends , he brings in his own staff etc and he can carry out more operations in a weekend then he can do during the week, he said he has lost count of the amount of operations that get cancelled because the porters are on a tea break or have called an impromptu union meeting hence the patients have to be re-prepped. There are bigger problem of course but you get the idea, I don’t care who owns the building or equipment, I just expect an efficient service not a system of public service bottlenecks.

      On your next point, “I would point out Labour introduced free third level fees rather than free university fees. No reason why we couldn’t have simultaneously increased the number of medical graduates then too and, you are right, we should have.”

      Indeed, this is where you get into the area of opportunity cost and here again the market would be better at doing the calculations , in the absence of medical cartels and poor policy I would bet that in a pure market system there would be multiples of trained staff available all competing against each other and GP visits/operations would be a fraction of the cost today, there are clearly more people that want to become doctors than the State allows to be trained so why stick with a broken system that doesn’t work?

      “I think every effort should be made to ensure jobs are created in worthwhile activities and if people are doing jobs that are not required they should be redeployed to do necessary work.”

      While you might think it , no party has tackled this here, given that Ireland Inc’s income dropped down to or below 2000’s level , I can’t see a mechanism where the public service adjusts to the new reality, if for instance one could prove that the HSE need 1000 more frontline staff and 2000 less admin staff, do you honestly believe that the reforms could be pushed through? Compare that to how Microsoft or Intel could have that done and dusted in 6 months. Peter Schiff , a commentator in the US who is going to run for the Senate has an analogy of a restaurant owner doubling he size of his business when the circus comes to down and then scratches his head when business dries up (read that as Greenspan’s easy money after 2001) what to do , spend more money keeping the staff in pointless jobs or close it down and redeploy the resources more usefully in the economy?

      I don’t think of myself as a citizen to be honest , I define myself in how I interact with my family , friends , neighbours/community , clubs and associations. Like I said before I make no distinction between an airline pilot and an ambulance driver postal worker etc….. I know on Bryans blog, Sweden comes up from time to time and even some of the other posters make the point that maybe the Irish are not capable of running a Swedish style system. So if your hat is hung on the ideal of a fair society (as nice as that sounds) it may just end up on the rocks of high taxation , poor services and high unemployment as capital flees the country.

    • Deaglán says:

      This is a very good discussion. Joanna’s stance appeals to my inner idealist but Liam has some good, pragmatic, realistic points as well. Many people want Ireland to operate along Scandinavian lines in social policy terms but the culture of the country militates against that. There seems to be a subconscious feeling that the State is somehow alien or, in other words, the British have not really left!

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      Deaglán,

      This is a good discussion and it’s only by thrashing out our attitudes to what areas of our lives should be part of the public realm and what areas should be private that we might change the political culture in this country and the voters might embrace, in the way the voters of other countries have, a social democratic/socialist model that it turns out works quite well for all involved.

      Liam,

      The restaurant analogy does not fit right when it’s 2,000 special needs assistants, or 1,000 language support teachers you are talking about cutting. The circus might have left town but the children are still with us.

      On your point re bland civil service ethos not catering for those not able for the state curriculum, I would make the point that plenty of schools in the state system, including the VEC community colleges in my area, excel at educating a broad spectrum of children from a variety of socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds and with all sorts of abilities and weak points, and from which students go on to an A to Z of careers including doctors, plumbers, accountants, sculpters and hairdressers. I can vouch that there is not a bland public servant to be found amongst the committed teachers and principals to be found in those schools. No such variety of student to challenge the teachers in the likes of the private grind schools, with all due respect to those teachers teaching in them.

      There is an irony about the consultant that talks to you about how smoothly his private weekend clinic runs compared to his public hospital work, don’t you think? That a public hospital can be run without medical procedures being interrupted by tea or meetings or the private clinics of consultants is surely evidenced by the timetable public maternity hospitals work to, and which most of us choose to go to.

      For argument’s sake maybe there is no difference between an airline pilot, ambulance driver and a postal worker. But how would you feel if our streets were policed by competing private security firms? Or if the Health Service upped and left the country when taxes were too high or wages were cheaper in some farflung part of the world?

    • Liam says:

      Deaglán – I hadn’t thought of our particular history in writing what I have but it could be an influence for sure. I think the big problem with debating these issues now is that the social model has had the wind in its sails for the last 70 years, in such a setting most people don’t even know there is a discussion to be had. My only concern is that as I believe the economic situation is much worse globally than our leaders would have us believe, a lot of promises are going to be broken in the future

      Joanna - The restaurant analogy does not fit right when it’s 2,000 special needs assistants, or 1,000 language support teachers you are talking about cutting. The circus might have left town but the children are still with us.

      That analogy might be more apt for the banks and the Anglo headquarters that is being propped up and built with my taxes. As for where the cuts should fall I would obviously have a preference for the quangos or rolling back benchmarking or adjusting salaries down if necessary and obviously not backstopping private bond holders.

      Joanna -On your point re bland civil service ethos not catering for those not able for the state curriculum, I would make the point that plenty of schools in the state system, including the VEC community colleges in my area…………….

      More specifically I would be speaking about primary and secondary, Germany for instance has a more developed vocational arm and a separate curriculum that is geared for university. How much choice do parents here have to send their kids to primary schools that teach foreign languages (properly) or take the arts seriously , even sports? This might sound elitist but these are the choices that people don’t get to make because they are funnelled through the one system. Again I have French and German friends that can’t afford the private fees to avail of the couple of decent language schools in Dublin. Why? because their taxes are too high and are forced to pay into the state system.
      Joanna-There is an irony about the consultant that talks to you about how smoothly his private weekend clinic runs compared to his public hospital work, don’t you think? That a public hospital can be run without medical procedures being interrupted by tea or meetings or the private clinics of consultants is surely evidenced by the timetable public maternity hospitals work to, and which most of us choose to go to.

      The point is that the throughput of a hospital run along commercial lines would be much greater then a state run system in the same way that even Obama refers to the “post office “ as the poster child for inefficiency. My mother recently had some back treatment in a Dublin 4 hospital , for reasons best known to themselves she was placed in a nursing home in Tallaght and had to make 3 separate trips to the hospital to see three different specialists in the same field about 3 unrelated issues. This kind of myopic behaviour would not be tolerated in any other service that people use. Obviously this isn’t a uniquely Irish problem but unless the artificial bottlenecks , medical cartels, drug patents are dealt with, more or less money is not the only predictor to patient outcomes

      Joanna>-For argument’s sake maybe there is no difference between an airline pilot, ambulance driver and a postal worker. But how would you feel if our streets were policed by competing private security firms? Or if the Health Service upped and left the country when taxes were too high or wages were cheaper in some farflung part of the world?
      In case you haven’t guessed ;-) my political orientation is firmly in the Libertarian/Right so all I know is that I wouldn’t pay to criminalise people for victimless “crimes” as we do today in particular with legal v illegal drugs. Although I could argue this from a strict Anarcho-capitalist position I think I’d be happy if a more focused legal and police service got on with it. As for the health service upping sticks you might as well wonder if architects or engineers would do the same thing. A normal market normally has suppliers chasing customers, not the other way round.

      Clearly I can’t have faith in any party here, and the last decade has shown that trying to micro-manage an economy can be a disaster if it is enacted by an apparatus that thinks it can calculate all the consequences of its actions. I’m thinking here for example of all the property/interest reliefs which were given to borrowers/investors to “help them”; whether they were well intentioned or not is not the issue, the point is that centralised “visible” hand policies can backfire in systematic ways that take everyone down.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      Liam,

      Just for your information we do have a separate vocational leaving certificate programme in our second level schools. There are 3 different leaving certificates – the Leaving Cert, the Leaving Certificate Applied and the Leaving Cert Vocational. You won’t get those three choices in most if any private second level schools but you do get it in our state schools, in particular our VEC Community Colleges as I mentioned earlier. Labour brought in the Leaving Certificate Applied for the same reason I presume the German system you refer is in place, so that there would not be a one size fits all leaving cert. There is a similar option in relation to the Junior Certificate. Not sure I would agree that you should or could have 2 separate vocational and academic primary school curricula.

      I think you are right regarding the dangers of intervening in the market when you talk of the visible hand. That was always the problem in relation to the FF/PD implementation of the various Bacon reports in relation to stamp duty for example, namely that there would be unforeseen consequences. But the market should not have been left to supply housing for those with no resources to buy a house themselves. Council housing should have been built in similar percentages to the overall total as had been built in the past thereby reducing the panic there was for people to buy a house even if they could not afford to buy their own house.

      You’re singing from the same hymn sheet as the Labour Party on the tax reliefs you mention, and in relation to the blanket bank guarantees, which goes to show political divides are never absolute.

      You seem to suggest that the visible hand is a left wing approach. However, capitalists have shown they are all for state intervention to save capitalism. My left wing tradition is not about a visible hand in markets but rather that there is a place for markets and there is a place for the public sector where markets have no place.

    • Liam says:

      Joanna, thank you for pointing out that alternatives do exist, I did my LC in the 80′s so am out of touch, but my memories were of a student in my class with dyslexia being “tortured” with Peig and Shakespeare. However most students must still be sitting the standard LC? I dont get the vibe that a third of students are sitting an alternate Syllabus?

      I pulled this comment from a blog entry on a random google search, while you probably will not disagree with it , I think it shows how parents might be able to make better resource allocation decisions for their kids than a top down approach

      “The standard curriculum needs major reform. From the proposed preschooling to senior second level, with renewed emphasis on the former to align resources with the irrefutable psychobiological evidence of the natural course of human learning and development that is well reflected and economically reinforced in the ‘Heckman curve’. Current educational resource allocation in Ireland does an excellent job of inverting this wisdom (empirically validated wisdom) with averaging spending in childhood less than half that in adulthood. This needs greater attention. ”

      I’m not going to be a big fan of council housing as it tends to lead to a ghetto situation imo . I would be a fan of housing associations similar to the UK but the big problem in Ireland was the planning system which was a licence to print money and incentivise corruption. Is it ironic that it took the state to turn an abundant resource (land) into a scarce one?

      I agree with your comments on the visible hand. The Right can be split into the coercive Right or voluntary Right, even Maggie T despite her rethoric never really got out of the coercive box. The flow of history last century was that the gov. should be tweaking every aspect of our lives. They even had an economic philosophy to back it up, Who would have thought that the US would ever be in the business of taking over car companies! My big fear on the global scale is that it is difficult to see the difference between the interests of the State and firms like Goldman Sachs. These firms would not nearly have as much power if institutions like the Fed had much more limited power, we would not have to live though these generational gambles that we now seeing happen.

    • eileen King says:

      “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety…”

      … And you will lose both!

      To the Irish people: If you vote ‘yes’; it will be the last vote you ever have.

      Eileen


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