The Centre Must Not Hold

at

Tony Groves

 

There’s a myth that needs busting.

It’s a seemingly innocent, widely held belief that is instrumental to the structure of not just Ireland, but most of what we call the Western World. The big lie is that a large portion of our economic and social stability stems from what we are always told is called the Centre.

This comfort blanket lie is only centrist in so far as it is central to a collective and willful ignorance.

It forms the basis of economic policy and the shrinking of social mobility.It is the foundation stone of neoliberalism, corporate pirateering and some of the worst aspects of human behaviour.

The narrative is that the Centre has ensured relative peace and stability since the end of World War II. It is that Centrist economic policies, centrist work ethic and centrist governance has made the West rich.

In order for this to be true the the corollary is that the poor countries of the world have hard left economic policies, poor work ethics and corrupt governance.

The proof for all of this, according to the centrist, is that the West has been generously pumping billions of dollars into these poor countries and still they lag behind in the United Nations Human Inequality Index.

The West, via the World Bank, boasts that, due to their assistance, the global poverty rate has decreased dramatically in the past three decades, from half the citizens in the developing world in 1981 to 21 percent in 2010, despite a 59 percent increase in the developing world population.

The centrists argue that it is western generosity in the shape of aid totalling $130 billion per year that has seen these developments. $130 billion, that’s a huge sum of money. To put it into context, it is almost as much as the entire profits of all the combined banks in North America for 2016.

Even within Ireland, the centrist generosity is on full display. Ireland tops the OECD Income Inequality table, with a score of 0.58. But, the centrist will yell, that’s before transfers. And in fairness, once transfers are taken into account Ireland has a much more middling inequality ranking of 0.31.

All of these stats ($130bn in Foreign Aid, 0.31 Inequality Ranking and slashing poverty by nearly 30%) are the reason every 2nd Op-Ed pukes up the line “the centre must hold”.

But it bloody well must not. The centre is a statistical mirage. The numbers aren’t real. They are paid for and used by (dare I say alt-centre) centrist ideology that is all about maintaining a parasitic existence.

The trickle down economic policy of the centre is an economic disaster. If you look at all the new income generated by global GDP growth over the past few decades only 5% has gone to the poorest 60% of humanity.

During the same period, the richest 8 people in the world have accumulated more wealth than the bottom 50% of the world’s population.

That’s eight people with more money than nearly 4,000,000,000. Based on the current rate of “trickle down” growth we will eradicate global poverty sometime in late 2217.

The foreign aid of $130 billion is also never put into the context of net flows by the (alt)centrist. Why would they? To do so would only expose that, according to Global Financial Integrity and the Norwegian School of Economics, for every $1 in aid given to a poor country, we in the west remove $24 in cash outflows.

That’s over $24 for the wealthy west and $1 for the poor box. A sweet deal for the grasping centrist.

Next we come to the centrist (World Bank supported) claim of slashing poverty. The figures themselves are undeniable; hundreds of millions of people have indeed been lifted above the poverty threshold.

And that got me thinking of something an old sales manager of mine used to say,“What gets measured, gets done.” The ‘What’ is what matters and in the case of the World Bank the ‘What’ is a benchmark based on the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day.

That’s $1.25 per day to cover everything, light, heat, food etc. The ethical poverty line, based on figures from those poor countries, and not the World Bank, is $5 per day. Leaving aside the centrist $1.25 and going with the $5 required to actually move out of poverty, crushes the centrist claim of slashing global poverty.

In fact, it shows we are growing it. The $5 dollar benchmark leaves 60% of the world’s population in poverty. That’s an increase of 10%. The ‘What’ matters.

Finally, to bring it back to our dinner tables, let’s look at Ireland and what our (alt)centre stats can tell us about inequality. Well, the obvious statistic is that by using transfers to reduce inequality from the highest down to average levels is very much the same as paying $130bn in foreign aid to strip out $1trn.

A country that in 2008 had 16,000 millionaires and 1,600 people homeless, now has 91,000 millionaires and nearly 8,000 people homeless. These transfers are simply taking a few dollars from Peter to placate Paul’s hordes..

Ireland’s GDP growth is an EU leading 4.5%. Ireland has an at-risk-of-poverty rate of 16%. But, without these transfers (Department of Social Protection payments) the number shoots up to 51%.

That’s 51% of Irish people depend on some form of DSP payment to keep the lights on. A staggering figure that makes no sense in a country that is nearing full employment and heading the EU GDP growth rates. I don’t have the latest data for Ireland’s trickle down rate, but the homeless and vulnerable stats aren’t encouraging.

To be centrist is to be pro status quo. To be pro status quo is to support a right wing economic structure that is failing the majority of people. Tolstoy once told Chekov that his writing would improve if he’d pick a point of view.

The people who say they are centrist, by going with the right wing flow, have picked a point of view.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a true centrist, but I’ve met plenty who think they are. Most are just cogs in the right wing wheel, happy to believe that they’ll leave the world in a better place than they found it. Heck, they even have the stats to prove it.

As Mark Twain might have said; lies, damned lies and I’m a centrist statistic.

Tony Groves is a full-time financial consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the financial industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly aTrickstersworld

 

60 thoughts on “The Centre Must Not Hold

  1. MoyestWithExcitement

    “I don’t think I’ve ever met a true centrist, but I’ve met plenty who think they are.”

    Yes. They are right wingers. ‘Centrist’ is just a word used to trick people into thinking they’re not right wing ideologues. Often they’re also fooling themselves. They are the types of people who say ‘I don’t take sides’ or talking about “Balance” like a religious virtue. Those people just want to look down their noses at someone so they distance themselves from those ghastly skrieking opinion havers.

    1. ahjayzis

      No they’re people who think right-wing economics are beneficial for everyone if they’re watered down with some social spending trinkets.

      They’re wrong, but that’s what they believe. Salves their conscience I guess and let’s them be ‘intensely comfortable’ with the super rich.

      1. MoyestWithExcitement

        “No they’re people who think right-wing economics are beneficial for everyone”

        That makes them right wingers. If you believe in social heirarchy and/or that people’s values come from what they do to pay the rent, you are a right winger.

        1. ahjayzis

          Yeah, it does, economically. But they’re often socially liberal. They think one cancels out the badness of the other. You have to make that distinction between centrism and Thatcherism, where you know people will suffer but that’s life and they probably deserve misery anyway.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            “Yeah, it does, economically. But they’re often socially liberal.”

            I used to think that too. No longer. Economics and sociology are two branches of the same tree. Your beliefs about economics are, usually, very closely linked to your beliefs about people. It is essentially about believing some people are worth more than others. You can be perfectly fine with weed and gay marriage and still be of the opinion that people who wear baseball caps and chains are lesser. You can be ok with black people but still think of the working class as lazy and inept as opposed to an inevitabe product of the economics of thinking those people are lazy and inept. Bigotry and right wing economics are first cousins.

          2. MoyestWithExcitement

            Just to add; believing poor people are lazy and stupid (and stereotypes you hear about black people in America are frequently the same stereotypes you hear about people from the likes of Ballymun here) leads to supply side economics, the gutting of public services and tax breaks for the ultra rich.

  2. LennyZero

    So, 35% of Irish people are getting DSP payments to keep them above the at-risk-of-poverty rate, and you think this is right wing?
    Only 16% of Irish people are actually below the at-risk-of-poverty rate, how is this economic structure failing the majority of people?

    1. Donal

      It is right wing policy that ensures that 35% of people need DSP payments

      Stronger unions, less legislative assistance to the rich, and the figure of employed people who need top up payments to survive would be lower

      1. LennyZero

        A right wing policy government wouldn’t give DSP payments to people. Social welfare is a socialist policy(the clue is in the name).

        1. Donal

          All right wing governments pay the poor to stop them revolting (within more developed countries anyway)

          1. LennyZero

            Governments who pay social welfare = right wing
            Governments who don’t pay social welfare = right wing

            Ok then.

      2. nellyb

        Unions are like feminism nowdays, morphed into what they used to be against. Unchallenged status quo promoting parochial ‘values’ and luddite style ignorance, improving lives of handfuls at the expense of many.
        Look at two tier system in teachers compensation. And what is happening in HSE, with the myopic actions of unions (do they push for reforms within HSE? do they challenge impotent management? No man, they take it on taxpayers purse, easy target), is tantamount to eradication of irish state, slowly killing fellow citizens. I can’t understand how this is OK with anybody of a sound mind. Yet it goes on.
        So, no to unions UNTIL they reflect, repent and get back to original platform. They also need start loving the country they live in, not just the members paying their wages.
        For the record – I don’t like neo-liberals, they are more dogmatic than Marx, bit like clergy. “Denialists” :-)

        1. nellyb

          actually Marx isn’t dogmatic just scant on details here and there. and yes it makes Marx a better choice for me than neo-liberals.

        2. Michelle

          Feminism is about equality and that includes the poor. Feminism and socialism go hand in hand. There were always people who think others have enough and should pipe down. That’s you. You don’t get to say when equality movements have gone too far.

    2. ahjayzis

      Yeah, that’s right-wing.

      When you use the state to subsidise the poverty wages of big businesses, that’s not socialism, it’s a bung to business.

  3. Harry Molloy

    if most people are right as you say, does that mean a minority are left?

    and if so, is the centre not a nice compromise?

    I have to say I disagree with the piece, politics is all about compromise.

    You can stick to your guns and be a Puritan to whatever political dogma you subscribe to but if you are that much of a fundamentalist, you are likely on the fringe and will stay there unless you compromise.

    And if the centre is bad what is the alternative? Hard left or hard right? No thanks, both have shown to be damaging.

    So what is the centre, what is a mix of left and right? Well, it can be what we have had in Europe for the last few decades: Capitalism, ie the ability to create enterprise, to be rewarded for innovation and the potential of becoming rich , coupled with progressive taxation for the provision of social services and a social safety net to ensure starvation and a lack of access to healthcare are a thing of the past.

    Some countries are better than others (we’re looking at you again Scandinavians), and we go particular have a lot to improve upon. But our fundamentals are there, fine tuning is what is required to ensure services are delivered as they should be.

    A radical alternative, right or left, means scrapping all of the above and starting again. Is that really necessary? Is it not better to improve what’s there? to be constructive as opposed to destructive?

    In any case, we’re a democracy and have never shown a desire to move away from the centre. You can say we’re pushovers or you can say we’re pragmatic.

    I think back to the mortification of some posters that there were Greeks holding placards and chanting “we aren’t Ireland !”

    Indeed, they were not.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      “You can stick to your guns and be a Puritan to whatever political dogma you subscribe to but if you are that much of a fundamentalist”

      It’s just mad that you say this before while also expressing dogma and fundamentalism.

      “And if the centre is bad what is the alternative? Hard left or hard right?”

      This is dogma. It’s also fundemantalism. The only alternative to neoliberalism/centrism is extremism? No. Neoliberalism/Centrism is just another ideology.

  4. Biddy

    Don’t usually comment on you’re stuff Toeknee, but this is good, about time somebody pointed out that the centre is not actually centre at all.

  5. Jake38

    “The narrative is that the Centre has ensured relative peace and stability since the end of World War II. It is that Centrist economic policies, centrist work ethic and centrist governance has made the West rich.

    In order for this to be true the the corollary is that the poor countries of the world have hard left economic policies, poor work ethics and corrupt governance.”

    Nonsense. The corollary is that poor countries are run by kleptocratic elites (Angola, most of West and North Africa, Central Asia, Russia), familial Communist aristocracies (North Korea, Cuba), or military juntas (Eritrea).

    Which is Tony’s preferred option?

    1. nellyb

      you do know (don’t you?) they became ‘communist’ because they rebelled against neo-liberal colonial plunder. And why isn’t republic of Ireland not on the list of kleptocratic elites? For sentimental reasons?

      1. nellyb

        well, Russia had a problem with incompetent royals spending more time praying and fighting the borders than on pursuing progressive policies. British royals got dry throats from explaining it to russian relatives on a loop. Gave up at the end.

  6. b

    “During the same period, the richest 8 people in the world have accumulated more wealth than the bottom 50% of the world’s population.”

    and at least half of them have committed to a gigantic redistribution of that wealth

    1. Biddy

      oh please, rich folk charity is no substitute for genuine redistribution through progressive taxation.

  7. Donal

    This is a nice companion piece to Dermot Lacey’s earlier
    Labour are the perfect example of centrist, despite union membership falling and wages stagnating for years they still feel like they are somehow working for the working man/woman to improve their lot. All they are doing is giving a sheen of respectability to all the policies that the “centre” wants.
    True labour policies would be fighting for the worker against the employer

      1. Donal

        There doesn’t
        Let worker and employer be the same person and there is no need for it

        All employment is exploitation of the labour of the worker. If this exploitation isn’t negotiated fairly, with due regard to the power imbalance between the two, disagreement will follow

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            It is literally that. Look up the word ‘exploit’ in the dictionary then consider if many of your other views on the world are based on your misunderstanding of simple words.

          2. Donal

            It is.
            Exploitation is not a value laden term, it simple means to make the use of
            It has come to mean something negative as the manner of exploitation was unfair

      2. ahjayzis

        It’s really a fight between worker and shareholder in larger businesses.

        The employer in that case has a duty to the shareholder and the shareholder only. It’s why the word competitive is so popular – it means reducing working conditions year on year, forever.

        It’s why pensions aren’t really a thing anymore, we’re all forced to pay a financial institution to gamble with some money we put aside now instead.

        1. Rob_G

          While there is merit to what you say, pensions, at least at the duration/level of benefit that existed from the mid-20th century until recently, were mainly done in by demographic challenges – people living longer (and therefore benefiting from pensions for longer), and people having fewer kids (fewer new workers to support the increasing numbers of retirees.

  8. Rob_G

    Tony is quite good at finding figures, and then not doing the slightest bit of investigating into what they actually mean (or he does understand what they mean, and he wishes to sex them up for Broadsheet’s audience)

    That’s 51% of Irish people depend on some form of DSP payment to keep the lights on. A staggering figure that makes no sense in a country that is nearing full employment.

    – presumably parents in receipt of children’s allowance and old age pensioners make up the biggest chunk of that figure; employment levels would have no impact on either of these figures, and not really ‘staggering’ when you consider what % of the population are either parents or older people.

    “Ireland tops the OECD Income Inequality table, with a score of 0.58. But, the centrist will yell, that’s before transfers.”

    – measuring a country’s inequality without taking into account taxes and transfers is senseless; it would be like saying “Ireland spends 0% of GDP on social welfare (before taxes and transfers)”.

      1. Rob_G

        True to form, Tony ignores the part of the data set that doesn’t support his hypothesis…
        ;)

  9. AndrewSB49

    The Alt-Centre (FG/Lab & FF) sacrificed the poor & the powerless to bail out the rich & the powerful. And then they run an election campaign on the slogan Keep The Recovery Going … which really meant: There’s plenty bones to pick here for the vultures – let’s get them in for a feast!

  10. Tales of Old Dublin

    Great piece, hopefully more people will realise the con that has been played on us regarding equality, social mobility and the belief that the current system gives us a fair deal, and if it doesn’t it must be our fault. It doesn’t and it isn’t.

      1. Cian

        Tony, when you say “for every $1 in aid given to a poor country, we in the west remove $24 in cash outflows.” are you, ahem, bending the truth a little?

        These external “cash outflows” include the billions that the various tin-pot dictators are funnelling into their banks in Lichtenstein and the Cayman Islands.

Comments are closed.