Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ireland's SFA, that's the Small Firms Association, not a brilliant Welsh band have released the secret to halting the elevator crash that is the Irish economy.

After pouring over reports from experts of taxation, fiscal decentralisation, abstinence theory and dirigisme, by talking to Marxists, Keynesists, Ricardoists, Humists, Hayekists, Malthusians, Georgists and by engaging in all night gin sessions with think tankers on normative economics and bluesky strategists they have discovered the answer.

They propose reducing the minimum wage from €8.65 per hour to €7.65 per hour.


At least its a lot clearer now what SFA does mean for employees of these business's.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Our Knowledge Economy, 100 years ago

I happened to be in Clifden this week. With a couple of hours to kill I went for a spot of sightseeing. After pottering around the village and taking the car on the Sky Road Drive I headed back to Dublin.

Just on leaving the village there was a small sign pointing down a lane for the Alcock and Brown Landing Site. The lane turns into a eight foot wide raised unpaved trail, with rain flooded bog on either side and goes on for about 2kms. At the end of which is a large whitewashed obelisk to commemorate the flight.

Oddly this is one of two memorials to the flight, another lies on the other side of the main road. Just beside this was what looked like a council built urinal wall, but with a plaque. The plaque commemorated the 100th anniversary of the first message sent by Marconi's transatlantic station.

I was surprised, I knew about the significance of Marconi's station, but just presumed that the area would be preserved, with an interpretative centre, car park and the OPW charging an arm and a leg for access. But here it was in the middle of a desolate bog with sheep shearing pens as neighbours. It was both delightful and a little shocking that the area hadn't been manicured, pruned and plucked into a pristine tourist hoover.

From where I was standing I had a good look around and it became apparent that this had been an enormous industrial complex. There was the foundations of dozens of building over a mile radius, the remnants of a narrow gauge railway and the stumps of mast anchors. The main building 200 metres across the bog was fenced in, to control sheep, and was littered with the machinery of the wireless station. The station at its peak employed over 300 people. It was the Microsoft and Google of its day.

On the way home what had me thinking was not so much that the site was unexploited but that 100 years ago Clifden was host to two major technological developments that would transform the global economy; namely cheap realtime long distance communication and long distance air travel. Clifden, and the west of Ireland was literally one end of the bridge between two empires; one decaying and one emerging.

Yet somehow we ended up in the 1930's as an absolute economic and cultural basketcase. What should have been a dynamic, export led, knowledge based economy became a peasant holding, conservative, clergy controlled and isolationist island on the bit end of Europe. The Marconi station ceased operations in 1922 due to the war and plans for a Clifden airport are still ongoing.

There has always been assumption that our geography has cursed us. My Leaving Cert books both apologised and excused Ireland's underachievement and poverty, hinting that with no natural resources and sitting on the edge of Europe weren't we doing grand anyway. An underlying, almost chronic, shoulder shrugging is our most destructive political trait. Look at the latest reaction by the Government to the appalling shortfall in the public finances, its all "what can we do, its all bad everywhere".

But.....we had the opportunity a century ago and seemingly blew it and we have (had) an opportunity now, we can still straddle two empires, one European the other Americans and exploit the benefits and association with both. For that to happen we need more than ever to examine the madness that is our electoral system.

It needs reform so that intelligent, professional, specialists unencumbered by short term parochial issues can input to state policy. We need to dump the STV-PR system, weed out the Willie O'Dea's from cabinet and introduce a partial List System so that brains and experience not cutehoorness is what qualifies you to sit on the top table in Ireland in charge of a €60 billion budget.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Christopher Hitchens; Waterboarded

This was posted up on You Tube yesterday and is well worth watching.

It features British writer, Christopher Hitchens volunteering to be "waterboarded". The Bush admin calls these and order forms of interrogation "alternative set of procedures". Amnesty and others have claimed its torture. Hitchens had written and commented in support of enhanced interrogation.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sorry? nah!

A number of years back I was sitting in the departures lounge of Stanstead Airport for a connecting flight. Alone and with a couple of hours to kill you get to that stage where you begin to notice and filter the wallpaper and background noise of modern life.

One of the tannoy announcements I actually listened to for the first time was a non-apology apology from Ryanair.

It went something like this; "Ryanair regrets to announce the delay in flight FR123 to Dublin, this is due to the late arrival of the incoming aeroplane."

Its was a clever non-apology apology as it indicated a clear disconnect between Ryanair and the aeroplane. It was as if anxious Ryanair staff were out on the tarmac nervously looking at their watches and the distant horizon waiting for this aeroplane to appear out of the sky. It was as if there was some "Aeroplane Dispatch Centre" that had screwed up and was late in sending the plucky Ryanair costcutters their flying machine on time.

Yet the reality is that incoming aeroplane was a Ryanair flight and the reason it was late was due to the airlines scheduling turnaround policy so as to fit as many flights in given day.

Our Minister of Finance had his own Ryanair moment today when he announced the dreadful updated exchequer figures for 2008. It now is evident that Ireland inc will face a €8 billion shortfall for the year.

Aside from the predictable external factors cited by the Government (Credit Crunch, Oil Price) Minister Lenihan cited "lower than expected tax revenue receipts. This is due largely to lower growth than projected at Budget time and to a fall off in tax receipts as a result of weaker property market activity".

Fair enough Minister but who is responsible for this weakened property market?

You and your government colleagues who, in the face of repeated advice to the contrary, encouraged house prices to get out of control so to shore up support from their developer paymasters, facilitate a consumer binge from feel-wealthy home owners, fund Fianna Fáil's cyclical spending sprees around election time and egged on every last cent produced in the economy to be reinvested on the most unproductive of assets until like a black hole the thing collapsed in on itself.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Olympics to save us all, or not.

July 1st and still raining.

Has anyone else noticed how many commentators are repeating the opinion that the London Olympics are a solution to unemployed Irish/Irish based construction workers.

Last night on Questions and Answers (something needs to be done to perk that programme up) Alison O'Connor of the Sunday Business Post was at it, on Sunday, versatile blogger, Sarah Carey mentioned it in her Sunday Times column, on the Newstalk panel that morning it was offered up as a type of safety valve.
On an governmental level Minister Micheal Martin and the head of the Enterprise Ireland having been talking up the opportunities the London Olympics offer.

Given that, according to the Construction Industry Federation, there were some 282,000 in 2007 working directly in construction in Ireland, and that at most 20,000 jobs will be created in building Olympic venues that's still a big gap.

Perhaps this panacea being proffered is a case of letting them down gently.