I almost choked on my breakfast on Friday when I read about Friends First’s economist Jim Power saying entrepreneurs were at risk of being “demonised” and “taxed off the face of the earth”. What planet is he on? Is it the same one in which Barclays Bank can make £11bn profit but pay only 1% tax? Or the one where the CEOs of prominent Irish companies make €1m+ salaries? What multiple of the average industrial salary, or for that matter the (now-reduced) pay of the minimum wage worker, does JIm Power think it’s appropriate for the entrepreneurs to earn? Is 100 to 1 not enough? Or should it really be limitless, as is actually the case? Just how much money do the entrepreneurs need? For how much longer can we all pay for them? 

Taxed off the face of the earth indeed. Hilarious. If it wasn’t so frightening. Because what Jim Power seems to call for is the same version of laissez faire capitalism / light-touch regulation / low-tax economy dogma that got Ireland into the mess it’s now in. Correct me if I’m wrong – after all, given the spirit of the election debate up to now, I wouldn’t be surprised if public sector workers are blamed for it – but exactly which class of society was it that ran up the massive debts, lent out the money to the developers, or borrowed the vast sums for their clever plans?

So the orthodoxy lives on. And it looks like folks are going to vote for more of it. The main parties are all committed to repaying the bank debt, albeit whilst renegotiating the bailout as best they can. Let’s not beat about the bush, though: a class of a few hundred or so entrepreneurs can eat and drink and buy cars and houses and holidays and enjoy fat bonuses for making big profits that, oops!, suddenly turn into losses (almost €18bn at Anglo Irish, which we are expected to pay) that they pass on to the citizenry. Privatized profits, socialized losses. Laissez faire capitalism / light-touch regulation / low-tax economy dogma. And what does the party tipped to lead the next government want? More of the same. In its manifesto [in which economic/economy is mentioned 98 times and business is mentioned 89 times while equality/fairness/justice are mentioned just 7 times], Fine Gael says it wants to ‘make Ireland, as it was in the late 1990s, one of the best countries in the world for doing business’. Scary. Wasn’t Ireland in the late 1990s just an earlier, pre-crisis version of the monster that eventually emerged? A laissez faire capitalism / light-touch regulation / low-tax economy dogma regime built on enabling corporate tax avoidance, befriending footloose financiers, and scamming the neighbours?

Ah but sure the new government will have a plan to cut public sector jobs (and pay?). And it will aim to lower taxes, as if it’s high-tax economies that cause all the problems. But €100bn is €100bn. Someone will have to pay. Who, then? Answer: We’re all going to pay. Unless we leave. Certainly that’s the plan for many. Emigration, escape, call it what you will. Jumping ship might be an appropriate term.

But we can’t all leave. For the SWINE (squeezed workers in negative equity), jumping ship won’t work. The SWINE will stay and pay. And the entrepreneurs?
Alistair Fraser
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