Half Measures, Half Marathons


Dublin Half-Marathon medal; Tony Groves


Standing on the crowded start line of the Dublin Half Marathon, among the people who get up early in the morning, on Saturday was an interesting experience.

Thousands of people, with all manner of motivations and goals crammed together to run 13.1 miles. It was, to my mind, the very opposite of the echo chamber.

It was a true Republic of Opportunity.

The distance was the same for every participant, the hill at mile 5 treated everyone with the same contempt and the pockmarked roads of North County Dublin had no care for variance of stride or stumble. Real free market capitalism.

The Republic of Opportunity that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks of is very different, his vision is based on the American Dream of Big Business and Foreign Direct Investment. There’s no point going on about how the cyclical path of this journey leads to disaster.

The majority of people are aware that the Republic of Opportunity is a two tier society. They know that government allowed Ireland, 1% of the EU population, to carry the burden of 40% of the Financial Bailout Cost.

Most of us know that our Democratic Representatives chose not to represent us when austerity was the EU medicine on offer and we know they stood up for Apple when they were paying an effective tax rate of 0.05%.

Most of us know about the 8,000 homeless people, the 675,000 on hospital waiting lists and most of us, based on the latest opinion polls, don’t really care.

The unpalatable fact for those of us on the liberal left is that the majority are happy enough with the boom and bust cycle we are trapped in.

Most of us are happy to pretend capitalism didn’t flame out in 2008.

Most of us, and this is the kick in the balls, think the way to avoid the mistakes of the past is to double down on the practises that caused it.

We like the Republic of Opportunity guff because it plays to our ego. It let’s us perpetuate the myth of the self made man. It is both the wealth effect and, what economists call, Subjective Expected Utility Theory in one.

Those with wealth, capital or on the property ladder feel better off; they spend more money and take more risks. Unfortunately, their sense of wealth is subjective to the underlying asset; in Ireland that’s mainly land. Land, as an unproductive asset, is the number one driver of inequality.

The homeless crisis, the rental crisis, the increase of property prices by €500 per week are all related how land is treated in the Republic of Opportunity.

The majority of those with capital must know that the price of their current economic good fortune is paid with the misery of those locked out of the market.

Nor is the Republic of Opportunity solely for the landed class. It is also for the Foreign Direct Investment that drives our ‘Leprechaun Economics’ economy.

Ireland is a great place for FDI and FDI capital. Before, during and after the recession FDI was increasing here.

But this good news story is also a driver of inequality in it’s own way. When you have workers, many of whom get up early in the morning, paying marginal tax rates of 50% and huge Multinational Corporations paying a blended average rate of 2.8% then you have a recipe for conflict.

When you factor in that these FDI companies employ little in the way of indigenous workers and most of the labour is in sales, marketing and legal & accountancy then you’re faced with another problem.

While there’s no official data, it is estimated that almost 80% of Google’s Irish Workforce are from outside of Ireland. As an open borders advocate, this represents a conundrum. Ireland needs more diversity, not less.

But how can the average paid, non FDI, worker compete against a high paid Facebook accountant for the 1 Bed Apartment in the IFSC?

They can’t. But, rather than follow the linkage between a Multinational Company paying 3% in tax and poorly funded social housing issues, it is easier for the fella priced out of the rental market to blame Johnny Foreigner.

There’s a very real risk, at least in Dublin, that a wealthy sector of foreign workers become targets of the anger of inequality. Anger, that should be directed at the establishment, might give rise to the ugliness of racism. You can already see it fraying at the edges, in the comments sections and social media posts.

This is not a kick at the Republic of Opportunity. This is a funeral dirge for the optimism that we’d learn the lessons of the previous crash.

Someone recently pointed out that there’s no point deriding the political figurehead or any political slogan WITHOUT first looking at the electorate.

The outsourcing of democracy via a vote every five years doesn’t absolve the public from responsibility. Sitting in our armchairs, feeling shocked by the latest RTÉ Prime Investigation is not social activism.

Moaning that someone should do something isn’t going to move the Republic of Opportunity mantra closer to an opportunity for all.

The very transient nature of our “democracy”, when viewed through a generational lens, absolves, at least in my eyes, the politicians more than the citizenry.There’s a cheap refrain: “There’s no point voting, sure whoever you vote for don’t the government always get elected?”

The counter (and more truthful response) to that is: “The people get the government they deserve.” Increasing inequality, housing crises and health crises are the responsibility of us all.

You can’t just tick a box every five years and then point fingers for the next 1,824 days. The wasted decade will be truly lost if, as we seem so keen to do, we forget the lessons of the past.

If we want to keep running around in a feudal system, based on haves and have nots, then cry ‘keep the recovery going’ and walk onwards to the looping circuit of the Republic of Opportunity.

Maybe to walk a mile in Leo’s shoes we should all be forced to run 13.1 miles. And just end up where we started from again.

At least I got a medal for my idiocy.

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

67 thoughts on “Half Measures, Half Marathons

  1. b

    This post comes courtesy of the second captains podcast last week and aidan regan’s paper with an extra ‘blame Leo’ thrown in from Tony

    1. rotide

      Beat me to it. I look forward to Tony’s next column comparing Klopps impact at liverpool with Leo being the actual devil.

      1. egghead

        I see the comments section ad hominen attacks, mentioned in the piece, have arrived in the comments section. How very boring it must be to be such predictable trolls.

          1. Tony Groves

            Now, now lads. Leave the trolls alone. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have such insights into a dark corner of our society. Better they shake their fingers at me in here, than get themselves into trouble in the real world.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            egghead, rotide is the resident troll. Nobody takes anything he says seriously. His comments about Tony are just whining from an attention starved shut-in.

          2. Brother Barnabas

            I’d have thought that responding to comments and engaging with readers on the comment thread was fairly noble and to he applauded.

            On what grounds do you regard it as trolling, rotide?

            I’d also suggest that if you’d any balls, you’d use your real name when engaging in a personal attack on someone who uses their actual name.

          3. b

            in this comments section, the naysayers have been told they live in a dark corner of society, called worthless, FG scavengers etc. All by different people. who are the real trolls here? is it any wonder people don’t use their real names

            I don’t give a poopy poo about being called names but it is disappointing that the comments section is turning into such a circle jerk over one side of the arguement

          4. Brother Barnabas

            True. But I’m specifically referring to a person who anonymously makes a personal attack on someone who puts their real name to their comments.

          5. rotide

            “I’d have thought that responding to comments and engaging with readers on the comment thread was fairly noble and to he applauded.

            On what grounds do you regard it as trolling, rotide?””

            He responds and engages with people that share his worldview. I’ve been called a racist for correcting his facts, actually had him respond with ‘TLDR’ to other stuff.
            As to using my name, Tony made a choice to use his real name. Frilly made an entirely different choice. You are also making a choice ‘barnabas’, but apparently the choice has different ramifications depending on how you are politically aligned to the editorial?

            I literally could care less what this champagne socialist hack desperately trying to make a name for himself in the blogosphere thinks about my opinon on his writing. He can take it or leave it. He clearly feels the same about me. That’s grand. Keep sharpening that pitchfork though.

          6. rotide

            As to personal attacks, I’m literally responding in kind. I tend to not make ad hom comments to people that try to play the ball first. Tony though tends to go in with both feet first and ask questions later when it comes to critique.

          7. Frilly Keane

            Now Rut
            You could have added that I choose to stay under the covers cause I’m not seeking to enhance a professional agenda here
            And am totally independent
            I’ll continue to write about what I want

            I don’t plug my profession, or my livelihood, or try to get ye to buy a book
            I don’t even ask for retweets

            Or do as I’m told
            I rarely use quotes
            And other people’s studies, graphs, data and research

            And I never NEVER copy

    1. Gorev Mahagut

      4. Boost regional development by changing the name of “Dublin” to “Fat Ass City, County Syphilis”.

  2. Andrew

    ” As an open borders advocate, this represents a conundrum………………………………… Ireland needs more diversity, not less”
    Tell us what you mean by ‘diversity’ and why we need more of that. Then tell us how much diversity is enough in your eyes. Is there a figure?
    Should open borders be truly that, open to anyone to come whether they are will or capable of working or not?
    Should there be no requirement to be able to support yourself?

    1. Tony Groves

      In a nutshell, whatever freedom of movement “free trade deals” extend to MNC’s should be extended to people.
      The greatest loss to humankind is the potential creativity trapped by geopolitical bs.

      1. Cian

        Tony, Isn’t that at odds with your article above? Wouldn’t this ‘freedom of movement for people’ not attract people to Dublin? this would push up the rent even higher? While at the same time undercutting wages.

        1. Tony Groves

          Not at all, Cian. I am in the piece an open borders advocate. As you know, when you’re not busy cherry picking points, I’ve written extensively about solutions to the housing crisis.
          None of which means we should not acknowledge the rise of ugly racism.
          Right, I’m out of here, I’m going for a swim. xxx

  3. bad@memes

    Tony, I have stuff to do.
    Pay no attention to ANY critics.
    They are all faceless, anonymous and worthless.

    I’ll be back later, maybe, but in the meantime…
    If the going gets tough tell them to go and get stuffed.
    You’re WAY too nice to them, seriously..

  4. Pádraig Ó Raghaill

    There are so many rubs.
    Firstly, depressingly, change rarely happens from below, it comes from the top, an overproduction of the elite-semi-elite class looking for influence. When that influence cannot be accommodated we then find the climate that leads to political change. However, rarely is that political change a positive move forward for the people, nearly always it is a flavour of the previous regime.

    Open borders, that I also support, is a double-edged sword, free movement of capital only aids in keeping labour costs down. The entire open border project only came about as a way to keep labour costs in check, it is a core component of neoliberal policy. We need to step away from the -ism’s and into the reality of what free-flowing capital be that human or corporate does to local markets.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      “it is a core component of neoliberal policy”

      A1 but they want it to keep taxes and tariffs down. It has no effect on wages. They pay as little as they can get away with. Foreigners being in the country has nothing to do with wage levels.

      1. Pádraig Ó Raghaill

        I could supply you with a few studies that show otherwise, I would need to dig them up but can do so if requested. (Borjas 2009): when the supply of labour exceeds its demand, its price should decrease (depressing living standards for the majority of the population).

        How about a simple scenario, I need to employ a doctor, I can look at Ireland, pay about 130k or I can import directly for around 60k. It is also not just about wage but also expected production versus expectations of the employee.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          I can show you studies as well. Clamps can show studies that say all sorts of crazy things about sociology. Also, I’m not sure your scenario plays out in the real world, as with most right wing economic theory. Are you suggesting a foreign doctor is not going to expect to be the same as an Irish one? I’m not sure it’s even legal to pay a foreigner less because he is foreign. Profits are higher than ever, yet real wages are lower than they were 10 years ago. They’ve been on a downward trend since the 70s. Blaming foreigners is simply wrong.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            “Are you suggesting a foreign doctor is not going to expect to be the same as an Irish one?”

            Are you suggesting a foreign doctor is not going to expect to be *paid* the same as an Irish one?

        2. Pádraig Ó Raghaill

          Yes, of course, you can always find a study to reflect what you wish the study to say. However, at what stage do you think supply and demand left the rails of standard economic theory?

          Of course, I can pay a doctor what he is willing to be paid; it’s contractual employment. There is a going rate for doctors, and then there is contract negotiation. That is pretty basic stuff. Doctor’s wages are now much lower than what they should be in many parts of the world, as many countries just started importing doctors instead of hiring their own. It has become a transient industry of trying to gain a better deal.

          Labour markets are not that dissimilar than niche business markets, how you think an excess of labour does not affect said labour costs are quite stunning.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            Profits are up, wages are down. It’s pretty mindblowing to think that real grown up adults think that’s because the woman running your bread through the till at aldi is from Lithuania.

          2. Pádraig Ó Raghaill

            How did I forget
            Do you know what Ryan Air did to pilots wages along with the other airlines? What happened to the airline industry was pure butchery. It was enabled by the ability to broaden the scope of where pilots came from. The same thing happened to maintenance which is why it is nearly all served out of Asia, and now you learn one component instead of being a well-rounded engineer. removing the specialised nature and easily replaced. Labour market deregulation was quite the nasty beast.

          3. Pádraig Ó Raghaill

            It’s pretty mind-blowing that you think excess labour makes no odds.

            While this is about America, if you mind is open at all, you may find it interesting. It is unbiased, highly informative and well worth consuming. It is a several part series, hope it is not TLDR for you.

            The End of Prosperity: Why Did Real Wages Stop Growing in the 1970s?

  5. Yep

    So, it’s the peoples fault for voting for one thing then getting another? Is it not a broken system that leads to the finger pointing? There is no accountability for most so people become disheartened. Once you find out you were lied to there isn’t anything you can do but march or send strongly worded letters.

    Open borders advocate? I have a feeling you would have many positives of an open border policy but when presented with fact based statistics that would counter this policy you would cry racism. Which is a shame, Tony.

    Did you see the German election results?….

  6. Andy

    His marathon analogy is funny.

    In a truely equal society no one would win that race, everyone would come in with the same time. Yet someone did, people who had more ability or put in more effort came in ahead of those who may have been older or younger, or have done less training or inherently have less speed in their legs.

    It’s a bit like life. You get out of it what you put into it & there are winners and losers.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      In a truly equal society, everyone would start that race on foot, but that doesn’t happen in ours. Some have taken PEDs, some have bribed other runners/officials, some are running the race in a chauffeur driven sports car. I’ve a mate, who I love a lot, but he has a similar attitude to yours and somehow forgets that his dad got him his last 2 jobs. Society isn’t equal.

      1. Pádraig Ó Raghaill

        There is no such thing as a society without social stratification; it existed throughout history. Maybe you think there is some Marxist augmentation that can fix that.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          Right, yeah. Marxist paradise, yadda yadda yadda because that’s the only place I could be coming from. So, what I’m saying is, recognising the *fact* that society is unequal and unfair, perhaps some of the blowhards can stop moralising and judging the less fortunate and perhaps not throw a strop when someone suggests giving them a hand via social welfare money and/or programmes.

          1. Milo

            And there would be flowers, in golden sunshine and baskets of corn picked by the happy peasants. Get away you commie. The only way you get that society is by force. Thst much we have learned. You would have us back in the Stone Age by dawn.

          2. Pádraig Ó Raghaill

            What you could try and do, as novel as it might seem, is explaining yourself instead of the stereotypical soundbite rhetoric. If you go down the UBI road, which as with open borders I am also open to. You have to take into account the pull it creates. Seeing that countries are not closed systems, it requires a necessity to address the pull factor with limitations of eligibility.

            We are so far down the road of structural decay of our complex societies that there is no easy fix. A large percentage fully understand inequality, yet, knowing problems and having solutions are quite different. Even if you address on a small scale the breakdown of social capital in areas of a systemic circular disadvantage you will still have at least 3 to 5 generations before you can turn those areas around.

            There are many ways to finance initiatives like a UBI. However, Ireland is not a big economy, so here the challenges are greater even though per capita they might seem easier than larger economies. You hit a problem of scale, and this does not mean we should not try and work out how to address inequality. So while I welcome “recognising the *fact* that society is unequal and unfair” it is an easy problem to poke with a stick and a very tricky beast to address.

  7. Mourning Ireland

    Except the he Dublin Half Marathon was an unmitigated disaster in terms of location and organisation. Never again.

    You obviously were not there.

  8. bad@memes

    Andy… Let me guess – You’re a WINNER, aren’t you?
    ”You get out of it what you put into it’…’

    The last man I heard saying that was Bobby Gillespie, 16yrs and 2 days ago. He was off his nuts on E’s at the time so he has an excuse.
    Also, he wasn’t a doodly doodle like you.

    I don’t know what you think you could win when you sell your soul for money..
    …but keep on ‘winning’. You’re great at it. Probably…whatever.

    I’ll keep calling anyone like you a loser.

    I have nothing to lose.
    I sleep better than you ever will.

        1. bad@memes

          It’s highly unlikely that myself and Tony would agree ALL the time, unless we are BOTH correct, ALL THE TIME.
          You might not understand.
          I might not care…but I do. It’s people like YOU who don’t.

          (This is not directed at you personally, but you elected yourself as a spokesman for your mindset. That was a bit silly…)

  9. bad@memes

    Eh, Mr and Mrs Moderator.
    Don’t let me down. I did nothing wrongly.
    If this is not my fifth uncensored comment on the trot I’m going to lose my rulebook.

    You wouldn’t like me when I have no rules.

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