Wednesday 25 July 2007

Can Ireland be as unequal as Brazil?

This was a question that a commenter asked of David McWilliams in response to the latter's article on globalisation and inequality.

I would doubt if Ireland will go like Brazil. First, though inequality in Ireland is disturbing, it is not as if we’ve shot to the top of the European league. As McWilliams says, we’re still mid table on a European basis - and that’s after more than a decade of one of the most spectacular booms ever seen. The economy is slowing down now and is likely to reach more sustainable levels - so the great leap in wealth made by rich is likely to slow too.

Second, despite our wealth and our clear preference for an Anglo-Saxon form of capitalism, our welfare state is held in high regard. What I mean is, there are redistributive measures in Ireland that would be unthinkable in Brazil. Even our right of centre, pro-business government significantly increased almost all forms of welfare over the last 10 years (maternity benefit extended, OA pensions ramped up hugely, and so on). Why did they do this? Because our welfare state is still very popular. In other words, despite all, we still have a soft spot for the weaker in our society (thank God and long may it last). The weak spot I see is the growing privatisation in some sectors - notably health and education. It remains to be seen how far this can go politically and already it is a hot topic (had FG or Labour won a few more seats last election, some measures might already be in reverse gear)

As a final note - you’ll recall that Charlie McCreevy was seen as one of our most right wing finance ministers. The public just didn’t like it, so FF, finger on the pulse to the last, moved him on.

So there’s still a feedback loop from the ordinary man back to cabinet decisions. I’m not saying the rich don’t have a minister’s ear when they wan’t to, but our country operates in a way that, I think at least, will stop us from ever being as horribly unequal as Brazil.


vince said...

It is refreshing to read an Irish blog with a glass half full take on things. Correct or just plain wrong headed, it's still nice to read it.

Marcela Rosolen said...

Brazil is the best country ever...

It has its problems, which nation doesn't? But we have the best ppl, the best places, the best food, etc... :))

Your blog is cool!!

Tomaltach said...

Marcela, thanks for your comment. I agree totally. All countries have their problems. Brazil is more unequal than Ireland though - but as you said, its your country and it is immensely rich in many many ways. I would like to go there some day :-)

Your blog is cool too - wish I could read Portuguese!