We want Berlin-type services with Boston taxes

This is why we can’t have nice things. We cod ourselves that we can, but we neither raise enough money to pay for them nor do we make them work when we get them.

It took us until Thursday to count the votes for a mere 11 MEPs, having voted last Friday.

It is incomprehensible that in a country with hundreds of thousands of unemployed people, we cannot find enough warm, literate bodies up to the task of taking pieces of paper, seeing what’s written on them, and moving them to a particular pile.

India, with a considerably larger population, managed to get their count finished four days after the polls closed. The shambolic, “yerrah shure it’ll do” attitude to what is the cornerstone of our system, representative democracy, is telling.

We seem as a nation incapable of economically efficient organisation. The election showed this, and not just the counting.

First, consider the slow resurgence of Fianna Fáil. Having flung the country over the precipice, we have decided to punish those that are sweeping up the shattered remains of the State while rewarding those who flung. There are great people in Fianna Fáil, at all levels. The fact remains that in every generation, they manage, through gombeen populism, to induce an economic calamity. And we love them for it, it seems.

We saw Sinn Féin benefiting from the general sense of tiredness regarding economic restructuring, and while not quite promising a chicken in every pot they have clearly read the Fianna Fáil playbook and realised that extravagant populist promises can be made; so long as some of them are carried through they will be rewarded.

Combined with Labour’s efforts to channel the destructive impulses of the Gormley-era Greens, and Fine Gael’s realisation that austerity alone is not a policy, the stage is set. The auction of the State at the next election will make the 1977 Fianna Fáil election manifesto seem a model of fiscal prudence.

As a people we place no premium on honest political manifestos.

All this is set against the fact that still, after six years of budget adjustment, we run a deficit of the worst kind, being composed in the main not of a structural but of a debt nature. We are, more or less, now paying our way as a state in terms of income and expenditure net of interest on the national debt.

Fianna Fáil started and the current administration cemented the policy of converting private debt to public. And we have not learned to punish all equally who collaborated in that. Remember, Sinn Féin voted for the bank guarantee.

We are running up to an auction. In the run-up, one meme will be reinforced — that we are groaning under the weight of a usurious taxation that must be relieved. Every party in Ireland is a Tea party: Some are Barrys, some Lyons, some Robert Roberts, some Capital, some own-brand.

All are tax cutters to make the Teapublicans in the US weep with joy. And its bunk. Our tax issues are not in the burden — they lie in the way we levy them. We are unable or unwilling to structure a modern taxation system that is fit and proper.

Tax as a percentage of GDP in 2011, the last year for which comparable data is available across the OECD, is now 10% below what it was in 2000. At 28% it is a full 6% below the average OECD country. That we insist on using GNP, not GDP, shows we are unwilling to organise our economy in a modern fashion.

We are multinational corporation junkies, more akin to Costa Rica than a modern European economy. Tax on the average worker in 2012 in Ireland was 26%, again well below the OECD average of 35%. Our tax issue lies starkly out of line with social contributions — PRSI and the universal social charge . We collect only 40% of the EU average in total in these charges.

Employees here pay 33% the social insurance charges of the EU average, employers 47%, and the self-employed 13%. Coupled with an indirect tax take of only 85%, the EU average reduces this total tax. But is any party going to come out and say they’ll increase PRSI and the universal social charge?

We will continue to cod ourselves and to engage in piecemeal reforms. We do this in tax all the time — a nod to a special interest here, to a lobby there. We do it in health all the time — layers of complexity overlaid with inefficiency stewed in a bureaucratic mire that comes to the boil only when political heat is applied.

We are doing it in relation to the installation of water meters, postcodes, school patronage, across the gamut of the State. We want Berlin levels of public services with Boston levels of tax but with Burundian levels of government effectiveness.

We can do better, but to do so we must start demanding and then rewarding political honesty.


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