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Neolibs’ great experiment in meltdown

Written By: - Date published: 12:45 pm, December 15th, 2009 - 41 comments
Categories: capitalism, economy, International, tax - Tags:

With huge infusions of EU cash and deregulation that brought in foreign companies looking to make a quick buck, Ireland’s economy grew pretty quickly over the past 25 years. On the back of their new-found wealth, Irish governments implemented a neoliberal revolution – cutting taxes for the rich, privatising public assets, the usual formula for hollowing out government. They called it the Celtic Tiger and as recently as last year John Key was saying we should emulate their model (how he planned for us to be situated on the periphery of the world’s largest single-market, I don’t know).

The problem with the Celtic Tiger was that it was made of paper and it would only stay standing as long as it was held together by a healthy global economy. With the tax-base hollowed out by cuts for the wealthy and businesses, the government ran deficits for all but 5 of the last 25 years, a situation that was manageable only as long as growth continued. When the global economy went into reverse, the paper Tiger collapsed – the housing bubble burst, deflation took hold, unemployment skyrocketed (12.6%), and so did government debt. This year’s deficit will be over 15% of GDP and the country’s credit rating has been downgraded. GDP has fallen 11% over the course of the country’s 2-year recession.

Wherever or not Ireland’s neoliberal policies actually contributed much to its growth is debatable – the EU money (ie big government), worth €40 billion since Ireland joined, was certainly vital. But the blame for the subsequent collapse can surely be laid with the kind of neoliberal policies that Don Brash and others would have us enact here.

While other governments (like New Zealand’s) came into the recession with a broad tax base and healthy books, the neolibs had left the Irish government threadbare. When it should have built up surpluses and assets on the back of rapid growth, it gave tax cuts instead. That would be fine if the myth that neoliberal policies lead to endless growth were true but it isn’t – the growth was cyclical, the tax cuts were structural. Then came the recession and with it falling tax revenues. The government had no money to pay the bills.

The Irish government has been forced into crisis mode to try to control its debt. It has just introduced its second emergency budget this year. It is unwinding neoliberal policies by increasing upper-end income taxes, capital gains tax, and capital acquisition tax, broadening the tax base, and regaining control of the banking system. But even that is not enough to control spiralling debt. To save money the government wants to slash benefits and all public sector workers’ pay by 5-6%. That’s a huge income cut for hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries and 400,000 workers, which is going to devastate families and probably lead to a massive strike.

They call it cowboy capitalism for a reason. Neoliberal policies are short-termist and irresponsible. They run countries like some frontier town in the old West. It might lead to dramatic growth in the short-term but, eventually, it comes crashing down.

41 comments on “Neolibs’ great experiment in meltdown ”

  1. ben 1

    Sorry to say Marty, this is a ridiculous post. Ireland, after being an economic basket case up until the mid 1990s, took off and in spite of recent downturn is still one of the wealthiest countries in the EU, well ahead of UK and behind only Switzerland, Norway and Luxembourg in the EU. Yes, their downturn is sharp. But Ireland is still well ahead of the pack.

    Perhaps you’d prefer to be in Bulgaria, with a third of Ireland’s income per capita? I hear the recession isn’t quite so bad there.

  2. ben 2

    To save money the government wants to slash benefits and all public sector workers’ pay by 5-6%. That’s a huge income cut for hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries and 400,000 workers, which is going to devastate families and probably lead to a massive strike.

    They call it cowboy capitalism for a reason.

    What does this have to do with capitalism? These are government cuts. If you’re going to blame anything, blame democracy for installing the government that made a decision you didn’t like.

    How can government cuts possibly be blamed on capitalism?

  3. tsmithfield 3

    Marty,

    This is a bit of a silly post.

    The market is based on the concept of risk and return. Sometimes the shit hits the fan and people lose money. Its called the market correcting itself. No-one ever guaranteed a continual smooth upward slope.

    If you don’t like that, then you should go and live up in the hills somewhere and enjoy a life of total self-sufficiency.

    • Pascal's bookie 3.1

      Google gives me about 12.8 Million hits for “the end of the business cycle “.

      Which was a popular phrase some time back. Along with
      the end of history’, ‘paradigm shift’, ‘switzerland of the south seas’, and DOW 36000.

      • TightyRighty 3.1.1

        wasn’t that friend of the people, comrade Gordon “jonah” brown, the one who first claimed to have ended boom and bust? so maybe it’s not capitalism to blame. could it be the socialists?

        • Pascal's bookie 3.1.1.1

          I dunno, was it? Is Brown a socialist? Am I? Who gives a fuck?

          Booms and busts are a part of Capitalism. There has been along and sorry parade of neo libs and neocons with different coloured rosettes telling me since the mid eighties and before that they can fix that through
          de-regulation, and the cutting of the taxes.

          Turns out that nah, they can’t, they just make shit worse.

          • TightyRighty 3.1.1.1.1

            really? they have honestly been telling you that? they don’t sound like neolibs to me? it’s pretty much a basic tenent of market theory that markets go through periods of rapid growth followed by shorter periods of recession. whoever thinks they can end boom and bust by regulation or deregulation is an idiot. because you can’t correct for the individual moods that make up the market, these things naturally occur. kind of like global warming. though apparently regulation will solve that one. global government anyone?

            • Pascal's bookie 3.1.1.1.1.1

              Art Laffer is supply sider. We can split hairs about what to call them TR, but it’s supply-siders baby. The Economist, for eg, told me in the eighties that NZ would become the south sea swiss because of the purity of our reforms when compared to Aussie or Brit or anywhere else, (cups of tea notwithstanding).

              “DOW 36000” was by the supply-side reformers, and so on.

              • TightyRighty

                I’m confused? so any neoliberal is wrong because some of them said deregulation is the way to avoid boom and bust? because there is a big difference between avoiding boom and bust, and smoothing out the growth curve.

                it has to be said as well that any comparison with britain at the moment should show in stark clarity that whatever the last two governments have done to try and achieve this smoothing of the growth curve, compared to britain, a welfare state, they have succeeded.

              • I said what I said, not what you imagine I said. If you want ot smooth the growth curve, some things can be done. For three decades we avoided major busts.

                Then the neolibs came in and deregulated, and we have had a series of financial busts. If that is what they were trying to avoid, it hasn’t worked.

              • ben

                Pascal the exact opposite is true. The period called the Great Moderation occurred during a time of deregulation.

              • The verdict on what’s called ‘the great moderation’, by some, (Helicopter Ben’s phrase isn’t it?) is yet to come in. It’s exactly the sort of thing I was talking about. Neoliberalism as ‘the end of history’ for economists.

                Since the eighties some stats have lost volatility. At the same time, there has been a series of financial bubbles and busts. Real household income has stagnated, wealth disparity has increased etc.

                I’m not sure that it applies to NZ’s experience in any case. Our GDP growth and employment figures have been patchy, to say the least. And here, we instituted the program as faithfully as anyone.

                You guys really are starting to look like marxists complaining that your theory can’t be judged based on how it works whenever it’s tried.

              • Quoth the Raven

                On the topic of deregulation in the US it’s interesting to look at the number of pages in the Federal register (a crude measurement no doubt) there were 72,844 pages of regulations when Carter was in this dropped to 54,335 under Reagan but rose again through Bush I Clinton and Bush II to 75,526 (more then where it started). So the last few decades in the US at least was hardly a time of massive deregulation.

              • felix

                QTR I enjoy your posts here – I find many of your ideas challenging, usually thought provoking.

                Are you taking the piss above?

              • Quoth the Raven

                felix – Do you have some counter in mind? I said it’s a crude measurement. It is simply hard to get measure of these things. Deregulation in the US, if there’s been any at all and I can’t be sure there has been, has been greatly exaggerated.

              • felix

                No, I don’t have a counter in mind for measuring the amount of financial regulation, that’s why I didn’t suggest something ludicrous like “every bit of federal legislation”.

              • Quoth the Raven

                felix – There’s another measurement that is the Code of Federal Regulations. People have looked at that – same result more not less regulation over the past thirty years. Yes, I know it’s not just financial, but it should at least get you questioning the memes about deregulation in the US.

              • I know you agree it’s a crude measure, but I’m unconvinced it’s anything more than a joke. Pages?

                Seems like a small light regulation, highly targeted at a particular type of behaviour, would take a fair number of pages more than a simple one with few or no exemptions and a single brute compliance mechanism.

                So it’s not obvious to me at all that fewer pages equals less regulation.

                Reaching for a rough analogy, it’s like trying to comapre people’s wealth by weighing their net value in currency, but not looking at the mix of coins and notes. Or something.

              • Quoth the Raven

                So it’s not obvious to me at all that fewer pages equals less regulation

                Right, but what about more pages? One would think that more pages would mean more, or at least not less, regulations and when the number of pages has increased by many thousands one might have good reason to believe that the amount of regulation has increased.

              • Quoth the Raven

                Here’s the paper – for the CFR part.

  4. Sanctuary 4

    Iceland? Ireland? Ireland? Iceland? Are you a fool?

    SLOVAKIA! It’s all about SLOVAKIA! LOOK AT OVER THERE AT SLOVAKIA!!!

  5. randal 5

    blah blah blah blah blah.
    Ireland took off because they managed to secure a plethora of data processing contracts.
    on the back of that they imported the whole neo-lib ideology and another cohort of deal makers who dont care whether the market is going up or down as they stand to make on the deals either way.
    in other words they were conned like every other idiot who ever sold their birthright, their heritage, everything for a few trade items and an entirely false view of what life is really about.

    • ben 5.1

      I’m sorry is simply a load of rubbish. Ireland was an extremely depressed place in the early 1990s. There was a palpable sense of hopelessness in my experience. For the man and woman on the street what has happened in Ireland is a transformation that has raised all boats. Why should a few people making a lot of money in any way detract from the extraordinary changes that have gone on there?

      • Tigger 5.1.1

        Ireland’s fortunes were improved with EU money. Whether it improved or not isn’t the real issue, it’s how they did it. To call them some miracle case is forgetting the fact that they effectively got some handouts and spent the money. It’s no more a model for success than winning Lotto…

        • ben 5.1.1.1

          No, what Ireland did was lure in a lot of FDI with tax holidays and lower corporate taxes. They went after software because of their uniquely youthful population. Ireland absolutely took off – if you look at the charts they came from well behind the pack and shot into the lead (or close to it) in a matter of a few years. It is extraordinary what happened there – and the current (sharp) recession has not undone it. Ireland has still enjoyed a massive gain from what has happened. Marty’s thesis, that some bumps along the way somehow proves it all wrong is ludicrous.

          • Clarke 5.1.1.1.1

            Sorry ben, but these posts of yours are shading over to the delusional side of the fence. Let’s see what the OECD (not a notably left-wing organisation) has to say about your hypothesis:

            Ireland is another country where GDP has to be read with care. Ireland’s position has risen up the GDP per head rankings since 1999, and is now in the top five countries in the OECD.This remarkable transformation has been put down to a mix of factors, of which inward investment in high value-added businesses is one. But does GDP per head accurately reflects Ireland’s actual wealth, since all that inward investment (and foreign labour) generates profits and other revenues, some of which inevitably flows back to the countries of origin?

            Got that? The nominal numbers look good, but there are concerns from the OECD that the gross figures are not taking into account the capital outflows from the FDI. Next quote:

            But not so for Ireland, as outflows of profits and income, largely from global business giants located there, often exceed income flows back into the country. This means that in a GNI ranking, rather than being in the top five, Ireland drops to 17th. In other words, while Ireland produces a lot of income per inhabitant, GNI shows that less of it stays in the country than GDP might suggest.

            So here’s news: the people who invest money in Ireland naturally want it back – and when they do, the national income figures don’t look that flash. In other words, Ireland is conceptually no different than any FDI-driven sweatshop economy – it just happens to specialise in software rather than Nikes.

            • ben 5.1.1.1.1.1

              Oh I see. There’s a caveat somewhere, you’ve found it with 5 minutes on google, and now Ireland is a conceptual sweatshop and I’m delusional.

              Has Ireland seen massive improvement or not? Has only a fraction of that improvement been undone by the recession or, as Marty would have you believe, is everything in meltdown? What have I said that is wrong? Please explain.

              Weren’t you, only last week, crying foul when Bill English didn’t use GDP/capita? What, now that’s not good enough? Looks to me like you’re just picking whichever stat gives you an excuse to yell.

              • Clarke

                There’s a caveat somewhere, you’ve found it with 5 minutes on google

                Yup, it only took a few minutes on Google – which rather begs the question, does Google not work at your house? Because if you’d done the same teensy amount of research, you would have been able to temper blanket unsubstantiated statements like this one:

                reland, after being an economic basket case up until the mid 1990s, took off and in spite of recent downturn is still one of the wealthiest countries in the EU

                … with some actual facts, or – heaven forbid – a link. Which I note your posts are remarkably short of.

                As to the question of whether there has been a material improvement in Ireland, let’s let the OECD set the context:

                Ireland remains one of the OECD’s fastest growing economies, and this shows in a sharp rise in real income since the mid-1990s. Compared with 21 OECD countries for which figures adjusted both for inflation and purchasing power differences are available, Ireland’s GDP per capita swung from about 12% below average in 1995 to 22% above the average in 2003. GNI per capita moved from about 20% below average of the same 21 countries in 1995 to a less pronounced 4% above average, which is still quite a leap.

                The issue is – as Marty’s post points out – is that while a rising tide floats all boats, an ebbing tide will ground them all again. Ireland’s unemployment and national debt is now approaching the same levels as prior to the Celtic Tiger getting a run, which would seem to indicate that while the neoliberal revolution is capable of generating growth, it’s not sustainable.

                And a good shorthand way of describing spectacular economic growth followed by spectacular economic deflation might be as a “bubble”. And is that really the best the neoliberal school can manage?

              • ben

                Ok, you’re trolling. I get it. You’re picking a fight and I’m arguing with someone who could care less about reading an argument and responding. What you’re quoting contradicts nothing I’ve said. What you’ve said is I’m deluded but I’ve asked for an explanation and got none. You’ve just offered direct evidence that Ireland is massively wealthier than it was on whichever measure you think is appropriate today. Marty somehow thinks this is evidence against neoliberalism. I think he’s wrong. I’ve acknowledged the tide is currently ebbing, as you put it, but your own stats confirm the gains have not been lost. What are you on about?

              • Clarke

                You’ll see from further up the thread that you made this comment:

                It is extraordinary what happened there and the current (sharp) recession has not undone it. Ireland has still enjoyed a massive gain from what has happened.

                As usual, you provide no substantiation – it’s just an opinion, unsupported by links, research or anything that vaguely resembles facts. So let me just make three minor points that you yourself could have discovered with the judicious use of Google:

                You’re wrong.

                You’re wrong.

                You’re still wrong.

                This isn’t trolling – it’s correcting the factual errors of blinkered idealogues.

                [lprent: On this site only the moderators are qualified to determine who are trolls. We are the ogres with the big club. Not either of you. ]

              • ben

                Clarke stop trolling. Your own data shows this.

                Here is what you quoted:

                Ireland’s GDP per capita swung from about 12% below average in 1995 to 22% above the average in 2003. GNI per capita moved from about 20% below average of the same 21 countries in 1995 to a less pronounced 4% above average, which is still quite a leap.

                Here is what I said:

                It is extraordinary what happened there and the current (sharp) recession has not undone it. Ireland has still enjoyed a massive gain from what has happened.

                Your own data is confirming what I said. Nothing in the cited articles contradicts this. You are arguing with your own evidence. What is wrong with you?

                [lprent: On this site only the moderators are qualified to determine who are trolls. We are the ogres with the big club. Not either of you. ]

              • Actually Ben,

                You are the one trolling IMHO.

  6. Tim Ellis 6

    I agree with others Marty who have said that this is a silly post.

    If you read Mr Key’s speech, Mr Pierson interpreted it in a way that was deliberately dead wrong.

    Mr Key talked about making the most of New Zealand’s proximity to Asia, through investing in education and infrastructure and focussing on expanding our bilateral and trade relationships with Asia.

    Which part of that do you object to?

  7. Quoth the Raven 7

    I see that some people put a good portion of the blame on moving to the Euro because interest rates were kept low by ECB thus fuelling the property boom – seems like it could be an example of the Austrian business cycle in practice to me. Here’s a video of an Austrian arguing that a recession is on its way in the US in 2006 and a Keynesian denying it.

  8. Seems to me that ‘capitalism’ produced the goods in both senses of the phrase in Ireland. The problem was the usual incompetence of politicians who just can’t see any further ahead than the next election, and who like to pretend they rather than the businessmen and entrepreneurs did the hard and clever work.

    A left-wing government in Ireland might have done better with what capitalism acheived, but that’s all.

    A better example of capitalist stupidity is Iceland, which was just a non-productive, greed-driven money-go-round.

  9. Macro 9

    An excellent post Marty! Of course it rubs up the sensibilities of our neo-liberal “friends”, but the facts speak for themselves. The greedies can only control so much of the world and then it all collapses as a pack of cards – because their “wealth” is build on nothing and is sustained by even less.

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