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 at Trickstersworld