There’s a piece in the SBP at the weekend that manages to encapsulate perfectly a certain world view. Under the line ‘How long will the middle class suffer in silence?’ Martha Kearns states…
“I’m as mad as hell and I’m going to take this any more!” The iconic cry from Peter Finch’s character in the movie Network could be adapted to become a battle cry for Ireland’s increasingly distressed middle-income earner.
Spiralling ever downwards under a mountain of debt, the so-called ‘squeezed middle’ is finding it hard to breathe.
This demographic of mainly private-sector workers is rarely heard on Joe Duffy’s daily radio show or seen at the latest anti-austerity march. More prone to silence, they probably don’t feel they have as much of a right to moan with the rest of them.
I find this most interesting that she should push the public/private sector divide. Though she seems a bit hesitant about it. Clearly some are public sector. It would be useful to know how they sneak in under the wire, so to speak.
Of course it’s impossible to quite make this case without it seeming, well, a little disproportionate. Hence the following sentence or two:
They are still employed, still (just about) able to pay their bills and maybe, just maybe, able to save up to go on a break to the sun for a week or two in the summer. So it’s hard to feel too much sympathy towards them.
Well yes. It is a problem. Isn’t it? I mean, why the sense of grievance when those on, say, significantly lower incomes find it vastly more difficult to do any of those things?
It’s important to remember that, while they are not covered by the Croke Park agreement, they have already had pay cuts similar to, or higher than, those mooted under the public sector deal and would be ecstatic at the idea of a pay freeze. Also, Budget 2013, with its property tax, PRSI contribution increases, motor tax hikes, cuts to child benefit and maternity benefit tax, was not kind to these people.
Looking at their pay cheques now, they would probably laugh at the term ‘middle-income earner’.
Actually, that’s nonsense, and she should know it. Now, I’m not PS myself, labouring under a contract with the PS. But… fairs fair. There have been wages cuts for PS workers long before those ‘mooted under the PS deal’. And they existed before CPI. There’s already – and she should know this, she really should, a ‘pay freeze’. Then there’s the small matter that unlike the private sector where the breakdown was some cuts, mostly wage freezes and in other instances wage increases, in the public sector there were systemic across the board wage cuts. Oh yeah, and pension contribution increases, and all the various bits and pieces imposed by CPI as well. And of course ‘Budget 2013’ impacts in precisely the same way upon public sector workers as private sector workers.
Still, perhaps it’s best that she moves onto a new target.
…it was with a heavy heart that this section of society examined last week’s new government plan for troubled mortgages, as they knew that if anyone was to benefit from it, it wouldn’t be them.
The Central Bank didn’t mess around: it warned that repossessions were on the cards and families would be losing their homes; even those engaging with lenders could lose their homes.
Of course, this is distressing news for the people who are unable to pay their mortgages. The latest figures show that around 144,000 homes are in arrears, with those already structured and buy-to-lets bringing it up to 180,000.
Now some would suggests that for all the obvious caveats that 180,000 are in a pretty dismal place and many, perhaps most, through no fault of their own but due to the excesses of a market which was cheered by political, media and economic commentators as being at the exemplar of the success of this state.
However, while it is distressing, they are being offered a way out. Long-term deals could result in them downsizing to a more affordable home or continuing in their current homes with lower levels of debt, if they get some sort of write-down.
But what about the 420,000 mortgages that continue to be paid? For sure, some of those people have no problems meeting their debts, but there is nothing in the plan for those who are struggling to pay their mortgages but continue doing so.
These are the people who never complain or take to the streets. They’re made to feel lucky – guilty even – that they still have a home, a job and some sort of lifestyle.
Actually that raises the thought that isn’t that precisely what PS workers are often made to feel. indeed looking back a few sentences in her own story, isn’t that what she is sort of implying?
Anyhow, back to the rationale as to why the middle class are different…
It doesn’t matter that they have worked for 15 to 20 years to get to their position in their careers only to be back earning wages they were taking home ten years ago – only now they also have a negative equity mortgage and a family to support.
But [Michael Noonan] doesn’t seem to realise that the people who are not in “mortgage distress” but are in other sorts of financial distress (as a knock-on from ensuring that the mortgage is the first bill to be paid) are also no longer participating in the economy.
They are no longer buying their lunch or morning coffee, they are cancelling their health insurance and cable television subscriptions. They are getting rid of their second cars, cutting their trips to the pub and no longer paying a babysitter so that they can have a night out at the cinema.
They are scrutinising every pay cheque to make sure they have enough money in the bank to cover the mortgage and crippling creche fees, maybe even putting one or two payments on the credit card.
In a way this is amazing, if the writer is being entirely sincere. But the problem is that in a society where others are doing so much worse and that she is unwilling to expend any time on building some degree of solidarity across sectors and classes that it’s impossible to take this at all seriously.
Again, she sort of kind of sees the contradictions in her stance:
Of course, it’s hard to feel sorry for these people in a world where others are on the breadline. That’s why you won’t hear them on the radio or see them on the streets.
But you don’t have to be on the breadline or in mortgage arrears to be struggling. This group may be silent, but the evidence of their distress can be seen everywhere – in the boarded-up shops they once supported, the empty pubs they once frequented and the cinemas they no longer go to.
There’s an element of truth there, that the lack of disposable income is crushing jobs, gutting the economy. But this isn’t just about the middle class, and that class – however nebulously one can define it (and her own caveat as regards the PS early on in the piece is telling) isn’t alone in feeling the pinch and worse. Indeed it’s precisely because of the lack of interest, and yes – solidarity – expressed that the position of this supposed middle class is being laid bare as being vastly more contingent than its cheerleaders might like. And needless to say there’s no reflection on the thoughts that firstly for many in the working class the things she takes for granted simply aren’t a feature in good or bad times or that in the latter the situation worsens.
Of course this is part of a much larger process, a transfer of wealth that it would appear is quite deliberate, a shift towards making near universal the instability, the poor provision whether social or otherwise, that is a facet of everyday life for many working class people whether employed or unemployed. And yet the immediate response, the instinctive one, at least as exemplified in this piece is to go looking for people to blame. Everyone but themselves.
Which brings to mind Ben Franklin’s point that “We must hang together, gentlemen…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.”
Social solidarity. Once gone not easy to get back.
The U.N.D.P.’s annual Human Development Report was released this morning. There’s obviously a lot to chew on in over 200 pages, but the section I found most compelling was on the growth of the Middle Class in the global South:
The middle class in the South is growing rapidly in size, income and expectations. Between 1990 and 2010, the South’s share of the global middle class population expanded from 26% to 58%. By 2030, more than 80% of the world’s middle class is projected to be residing in the South and to account for 70% of total consumption expenditure.13 The Asia- Pacific Region will host about two-thirds of the world’s middle class by 2030, Central and South America about 10% and Sub-Saharan Africa 2% (figure 4). Within Asia, China and India will account for more than 75% of the middle class as well as its share of total consumption.
Another estimate is that by 2025, annual consumption in emerging market economies will rise to $30 trillion, from $12 trillion in 2010, with the South home to three-fifths of the 1 billion households earning more than $20,000 a year.14 The continued expansion of the middle class is certain to have a profound impact on the world economy.
The “Rise of the South” is the overall theme of the report, which also calls for changes to the governance structure of global political and financial institutions to reflect the reordering of economic power:
By 2020, according to projections developed for this Report, the combined economic output of three leading developing countries alone-Brazil, China and India-will surpass the aggregate production of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States.
During a conference call earlier this week, I asked the UNDR’s Communications Chief William Orme whether “global south” was still a useful term. Economies like Brazil, China, India, Turkey, Indonesia, etc. may not be “developed” countries yet, but surely the challenges they face are different enough from other “southern” countries that the label is of limited usefulness.
We’d be welcome to suggestions. The key is getting them to catch on. We have OECD members – Turkey, Chile, and Mexico – which we’re counting as part of the “south” for the purposes of this study….
It’s something we’ve had a lot of internal debate. The “theology” we have in the Human Development Report is that we use these as similes or metaphors because they’re commonly used terms. We define countries by human development performance, in our index we have it divided into four categories – very high HDI, high HDI, medium, and low – but even that covers up a huge number of differences in the categories.
HDI index is the best known feature of the report, a ranking of the world’s countries from 1st place Norway to 186th place Niger according to their level of human development, an alternative measure to GDP that incorporates factors like health, education, and income. The United States ranks third, though it drops 13 places on an alternative measure of HDI which factors in income inequality.
Big chances in the rankings this year include Portugal, which fell three spots between 2011 and 2012 and Libya, which bizarrely jumped up 23 spots due to newly available GDP data. On the conference call, the HDR’s chief statistician Milorad Kovacevic warned against reading too much into year-to-year changes which often have more to do with revisions of available data than changes in development levels.
Leo “Lion mouth” Varadkar is our current Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport a position he has held since 2011. Varadkar was born in Dublin, the son of an Indian father and an Irish mother. He qualified from Trinity College as a medical doctor a place, which has, groomed its fair share of right wing ideological pedagogues. To attend his lectures he would have had frequently passed the bronze statue of Edmund Burke the founding father of modern-day Conservatism and free market advocate. It was in this establishment that Lion Mouth took to the yellow brick road, donned the colour blue, and adopted the mantle of the righteous right of conservative dogma. Leo becomes an ardent follower of the witches of the East and the west the representatives of International banks and Industry. His enemies were the good witches of the north and the south. For they were the careers of poor farmers, the lower classes, the middle classes and even the upper middles classes that were won’t at times to turn their backs on these honest witches.
Leo donned the silver shoes of politics and followed the brick road to Sinister House where his duty was to represent Johnny Citizen. Here he boldly stated I did not aspire to represent everyone. It is my objective to represent a particular viewpoint. I do much better in middle-class areas than working-class areas.
“I get the vote because they would respect the work I do on the ground and would have a similar viewpoint to me. They don’t think the solution to their problems is loads of welfare.” So, we now know that the Mouth shows little regard for the majority of his constituents, in fact, if they are lower class and on welfare, he is most likely to despise them.
Lion Mouth would have us all believe that he is just that little bit different from the rest of the Sinister House incumbents who, largely, he considers to be beneath him in terms of ability and intellect.
To quote the Mouth himself
“I would be, free-market centre right;
One rather obvious issue to put to free-market ideologues who still advocates the practice that ‘business’ should be free to do what it wants is; ‘ look around at the devastation in the economy. Would you say it’s caused because of a lack of free-market policies or excessive socialism?’ Welfare is not the problem. The major problem has been the gung-ho, business right, the very same people who took the wrecking ball to the country and smashed it to pieces. These men will not rebuild it; you the sucker Johnny Citizen must bear the cost of reconstruction. At the same time, these people will push the idea that we need to free up the market further if we are to progress. The principal ideas behind, “Lion Mouths” beliefs appear to be, the right of the minority to expropriate from the majority. In short, they will rig the game to ensure you pay their losses and if he has his way, you my dear friends are condemned to live in the land of shifting goalposts and crooked playing fields.
Lion Mouth is an ambitious person and has designs on higher placements within the precincts of governance. However, Le Grand Dame the Wizard and ruler of Sinister House knows the aspirations of Leo and consequently, treats him with a sense of indifference.
His appointment to the position of Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport, was not a post to his liking. In terms of aptitude, he appears to be unable or unwilling to contribute to the future development of Transport and Tourism. He has made a little ripple in the sports portfolio by having his own personal trainer. The ruling Wizard knows he has made a clever choice in his positioning of Leo. For he knows the frustrations of this gaffe prone, would be trujillisto, will implode due to the impossibilities of his position. The Wizard has cunningly left his department short of funds.
The Wizard keeps his own dossier on Lion Mouth. The folder is in chronological order except for the first page. The front page reads.
June 2010 Varadkar and a number of other frontbenchers stated they had no confidence in me their leader Le Grand Dame. A large majority indorsed a subsequent confidence motion in the leader. Underneath the entry he writes at no time forgive; never forget to keep your enemies close. These entries then end with vulgarities F…… Backstabber, my fury knows no bounds etc.
Skipping through the pages one would highlight the following.
Sept 2008 Lion Mouth accused of racism by the media– wants to offer inducements to unemployed migrants to return to their own country, in particular, Africans. The leader comments –This man should understand this turf better!
March 2010 criticizes our former leader, which goes down poorly with older party members.
February 2011 note the unauthorized promise… “If things go our way, there will be a new government in six weeks time, and the banks aren’t getting another cent.” How stupid.
May 2011 I note Leo declared that Ireland would very likely need a second bailout. He causes severe embarrassment to the Government even a comment from Trichet.
November 2011 The newspaper headlines read Leo slates Irish tourist trade for poor service, in particular, bar’s restaurants and shops. The Wizard scribbles rather than shoot his mouth off, why does he not introduce a grading system for these establishments.
June 2012 Varadkar has said public sector pay increments need deferring. These comments were both insensitive and unauthorized, particularly at a time when public services need restructuring. Just who does he, think he is?
August 2012 Target Express: 390 jobs to go as the firm ceases trading. Leo goes missing!
High taxes on diesel are killing coach tourism. No response from Leo, why!
Saturday the 1st of Sept. Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has said that the Government is bound to honour the Croke Park Agreement. In June, he was saying the exact opposite unprompted about turn why!
On the very back page of his dossier Le Grand Dame “Writes Lion Mouth has delusions of grandeur”. He is both self-righteous and envious because he sees lesser souls occupying higher echelons.
Dead fish have more charisma than Lion Mouth.
What he does not realize is if he ever dares to cross me again he will find out my orbs are considerably bigger than his. Come on Gaffe mouth hop a ball.
MIDDLE-INCOME families who have been hit hardest by austerity and stealth taxes cannot take another “hammering” in the Budget, senior Fine Gael Minister Leo Varadkar has said in what will be seen as a blunt warning to Labour that the ‘coping classes’ have had enough hardship.
The Transport Minister has warned that a property tax is just about the limit of extra taxation that ordinary working people can take in the December Budget and that raising extra revenue from middle-class voters — such as taxing child benefit — was not sustainable.
He also indicated strongly that the new property tax would have to include some measures which would stop the charge becoming essentially an urban tax.