Don’t panic! (unless you want to)

So, #budget11 has been released from its cage and set free amongst the unsuspecting public. Terror hit the streets of Dublin as news of this cash gobbling monster spread. People flocked to ATMs in an attempt to claw back any money they could from the bricks and motar that retained their savings. Bank of Ireland customers experienced problems withdrawing cash due to an “unforeseen technical issue”. The reported queues at ATMs would have embarrassed the best stocked Russian supermarkets of the 1940’s even if they had a “meet the Baltika beer model day”. Aprés #budget11 I can’t but wonder how much of that frantically withdrawn cash was destined for the fuel pumps before midnight with 4¢ on a litre of petrol and 2¢ on a litre of diesel set to come into effect.

Some of the main focal points of the budget include a cap on public service salaries at €250,000 (as I noted yesterday), cuts to social welfare payments, cuts to capital spending, a notable increase in the PRSI contribution for the self-employed, removal of the stamp duty relief (now 1% on all sales under €1 million, and 2% on sales above €1 million), and a widening of the tax bands so that more people are “contributing” to the tax take of the state.

Let’s look at some of the things that weren’t done. To start the cap of €250K on public service salaries is ridiculous, this figure is way too high as I explained in yesterday’s opinion. It’s not that there are enough people earning this to make a significant contribution back to the coffers but rather it plays on the expected average wage and thus increases costs right across the board, untenably so. Ministers and An Taoiseach received a cut. Again a frankly ridiculous token gesture that still sees An Taoiseach earning more than the UK Prime Minister – take a hit, share the pain and then people will accept your proposals. Give them free cheese while you party hard with the leaders of the big countries and you’ll lose them forever – lead by example An Taoiseach. In capital spending we hear that many road projects will be stopped due to cutbacks but still the white elephant that is the Dublin Metro is allowed to proceed as if nothing was wrong. What exactly is the fascination with this project that it has to be kept on the table, even in the most austere times when the potential few who might use it will probably end up emigrating so that it can be built? Means testing social welfare, children’s allowance and pensions was not entertained. Such a simple idea that should gel well with a cabinet who seemingly believes that those who can afford to pay, must and I ask why not those who can afford to go without, be allowed to go without? Rather than cuts in children’s allowance, etc for everyone why not means test it for equitable treatment of the truly deserving? Same goes for pensions, I can’t imagine that ex-Ministers will really be requiring the level of pension payments of which they are in receipt of? Pensions are supposed to be about maintaining a good standard of life after the work is done, not about acquiring even more wealth and expanding savings.

Some basic things that I would have changed anyhow, for what it’s worth. The reality however is that amid all this talk of cuts and harsh measures, we really are just farting around in a huge cup of tea with no chance of achieving anything other than a comical enactment of a Brownian Motion demonstration. The wonderful bailout still hangs over our heads like a net of Damoclean rocks awaiting orders to fall. Senior bond holders (to you and me, this means people who took out a risky investment plan but paid enough in so that nobody would tell them they lost money in a downturn) still go untouched at our expense, even against the recommendations of the IMF. Yes, the IMF (the experts in sorting out financial disaster) were overruled by the boys in the EU who controlled the sweet box full of treehouse monies – thankfully our fate lies in their learned and experienced hands! Yes, the bailout we will not escape. It’s a mathematical certainty of which, only the most unscrupulous liars would have no trouble in denying.

How will the man in the street feel tomorrow morning? Probably a little more annoyed than he feels today, probably a few Euro worse off per week, probably not any different in terms of surviving than he was 12 months previous nor any worse off in those basic terms than he will be in 12 months to come. The country does need a heavy FDI injection to get some money circulating again while we endure the illusion that someday it will all be over and we can go back to 4*4’s in every driveway, bringing the 2.3 children to school and borrowing to acquire a holiday home which would be situated at most, 250 miles from your doorstep but ultimately people just need a reason to drive themselves forward again.

Apathy will attack the heart of the society for some time to come but we need to keep doing something, not for financial gain nor debt removal but for the continuance of the human race and to make life bearable. Very few will end up in 3rd world conditions, it’s attitude and spirit that keeps our heads above water while our meager finances more than cover the real cost of living. Only when man stares into the abyss and all that. I hold out hope that society will bond again, that neighbourly relations and community projects will thrive again and people will turn away from the “it’s my entitlement” attitude that has stifled so much in recent times. I have begun to see small pockets of this spirit grow in the last few months and I dearly hope it will foster the multitude into a new way of being – the old way of being. There’s no need to panic, unless of course you really want to. Maybe the threat to the Irish ladybird at the hands of the Asian ladybird is enough to push you over the edge?

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  1. Those small pockets of spirit were probably catalysed by people affected worse than a few Euros less a week. My neighbours are all doing OK and we haven’t bonded or become a better community. Real change would require a much broader destruction. As it stands I see most of us muddling through on our own for some years before normality is restored and we can go back to the “old” ways you mention. I was rather hoping for some proper destruction to my class, a real kick in the backside to build better communities, not just switch from M&S to Aldi and Spain to Kerry.

    • Valid point Paul and I probably romanticised the elements which I saw and too quickly grabbed my rose tinted shades. I guess it had been so long since I saw real community spirit that it struck me hard, that there was a chance for such again. As you say a more significant shock than moving from M&S to Aldi would be required to really get folk mowing each other’s lawns. However, I do hold out hope that attitude change will percolate throughout our once fair land, that people won’t try to knock you off your feet in the street because they won’t deviate from their chosen path and that neighbours will become second families again. Obviously respecting privacy, space, etc but some of the old attributes are sorely lacking from society at the moment. Crime, discontent and depression are thriving as a result. We need that to change as it’s one of the few things we can change for the foreseeable future IMHO.

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