The squeezed middle
Sir, – Your “Squeezed Middle” series is apposite but when Dan O’Brien (Weekend Review, February 4th) writes, “In many ways we’re all middle class now”, I must beg to disagree. It seems to me that the people described in the articles are the new working class in that they are totally dependent on what they earn to survive. If they do not earn, they are entitled to very few benefits. This has always been the lot of the working class. Maybe it is time to redefine our social categories? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – With regard to “squeezing”, I am sickened at the way the long-standing VHI subscribers have been treated. I want to know what Minister for Health James Reilly is doing about it. Talk is cheap. Health insurance is not. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The ever-increasing cost of private health insurance in this country could now be considered as a very sick joke at the expense of the squeezed middle. — Yours, etc,
Sir, – With regard to squeezing people, just look at the rubbish that is piling up on streets around the city. If this doesn’t improve soon, we will be like Naples, but without the sunny weather and Neapolitan ice cream. On January 16th, 2012, yet another public service was consigned to the rubbish heap, as private operators took over from Dublin City Council in collecting our bins. For those with short memories, where were all these “super-efficient” private operators at the worst of the snow last winter 12 months ago, when Dublin City Council binmen were the only ones to brave the extreme weather and collect our bins?
Is this how we reward their loyalty to us? And now these private operators will only collect our rubbish if we pay €100 up front (no, this is not the household charge – this is another €100 charge before they will deign to dirty their money-grubbing hands and collect our rubbish).
We all need to prepare ourselves for the shape of bins to come. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I was disappointed to see Prof Brian O’Nolan asserting that inequality didn’t increase during the Celtic Tiger period (Weekend Review, February 4th). This was compounded when Prof O’Nolan’s view was repeated by your economics editor Dan O’Brien. Prof O’Nolan is correct to observe that low incomes in Ireland rose during the Celtic Tiger in contrast to the stagnation of lower incomes in the United States. In fact, over the long period from 1987 to 2007 incomes at all levels roughly doubled. But this does not mean inequality didn’t increase.
A simple numerical example can illustrate. Suppose the top income is €100 a week and the bottom income is €10. All incomes double. The top income is now €200 and the bottom income is €20. Measures of inequality common among economists such as dividing the top income by the bottom income or the more sophisticated gini coefficient show no change in inequality in this circumstance. But the distance between the bottom and the top has doubled from €90 to €180.
In this instance, the popular intuition that inequality rose is correct, and the experts are wrong.
Sir, – In his recent speeches our President has specifically attacked the Austrian economist FA Hayek. Mr Higgins has argued that Hayek’s influential writings in favour of free markets resulted in our present crisis (Home News, January 26th).
In fact, Hayek wasn’t really concerned about the market. What he cared about was liberty. He never claimed that the free market was perfect – merely that it reflected, for good or for ill, a free people making free choices.
Hayek also argued that where there is a government that takes a large proportion of our annual income, as we have in Ireland, that there would be a new divide between the haves and the have-nots, a new and pernicious inequality. This inequality is between those who can depend on the government and enjoy complete security and the new underprivileged who have no security and upon whom all the adjustments are required in a crisis fall.
There is no mystery as to why there is a “squeezed middle” in Ireland. Our President’s solutions will bring more into the ranks of the haves but at the expense of an ever greater squeeze on the have-nots. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – No wonder we’re squeezed. Have you ever tried peeling us? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Given the near-constant spectre of austerity over the average Irish family, health, unfortunately, is becoming the latest in a long line of “will have to do with-outs”. The €50 handshake that is required for Joe Soap to see his GP, combined with the increasing cost of medication, means that the average lower-paid worker is already at a disadvantage when compared to their benefit-receiving cousins. Given that Ireland has one of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease in Europe, and this weekend’s report on the projected increase of cancer cases over the next decade (Home News, February 4th), how are we to promote an environment of health surveillance in times of austerity? – Yours, etc,