Are capitalism and parliamentary democracy unsuited to Ireland?

farnaby

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Threads discussing emigration tend to focus on those who feel forced to leave Ireland in the bad times to make a living. But emigration is a constant theme even in the good times, reflected in govt policy towards the wealthy i.e. our supposed wealth-creators. In the US or UK tax cuts/breaks for the wealthy focus on ideology – the rich shouldn’t be punished for being rich. Here however, low taxes on the rich are borne of fear – the very real fear that our membership of the EU and Anglophone world make it easy and attractive for the talented wealthy to leave, thus depriving the nation of both their talent and wealth. The result is a squeeze on the middle class, a reliance on indirect taxes and ultimately inadequate public services.

Extrapolating from this it seems that modern capitalism is not suitable for Ireland. There are two elements of capitalism I intend to focus on:
1. The belief that the wealthy deserve their wealth
2. The belief that unlimited wealth acquisition is a good thing

Both of these things can be for the public good, if the profit motive leads to a vibrant, strong, diversified economy. But this is not the case for Ireland. Here there are two ways to become very wealthy:
  • Build a viable sustainable business through value creation and astute cost management
  • Get yourself to the top in an economic sector with inextricable ties to politics – property, construction, banking etc. – and rely on your friends to keep business going (e.g. property tax breaks)
If you successfully go the first route, and have the ambition to increase your wealth further and further, Ireland becomes too small and expansion from Ireland too difficult compared with taking opportunities on a grander scale elsewhere in the world. (Michael O’Leary and Ryanair may be the exception that proves the rule.) The result is emigration of the rich and talented – and any mention of tax rises will only tip those considering leaving over the edge.

The rest take the second route and lead us to the cozy corrupt cartel carnage we are witnessing now. And yet the bankers and developers were venerated as the best among us only three years ago. The tax breaks and shelters (and evasion) were there to give these guys what they and the govt thought they were due for leading the Celtic Tiger onwards and upwards.


This leads me on to questioning our parliamentary democracy system. We effectively have a unicameral system lacking any serious checks and balances (the senate and presidency are incredibly weak and ineffective in this regard). Power is centralised to a small group around the Taioseach, which controls not only the executive and legislative, but also a huge range of appointments to state and semi-state bodies (e.g. regulatory bodies), and the leading media player in the country, RTE. This ensures that those who want to gain from power (i.e. the second group of ‘capitalists’ mentioned above) have a small, unitary group of people to develop relationships and influence with. We know this happens and we now see the damage it causes yet the only serious idea for political reform, by Fine Gael, is to abolish the Senate and remove the illusion of a bicameral system. Yes, it happens elsewhere in the world but the extent to which it has occurred here and the near certainty it will be business as usual in future leads one to despair.

I therefore come to the conclusions that our parliamentary political system will never make the country successful; and that we will not be saved or sustained economically by those of us inclined to acquire wealth endlessly for its own sake. Obviously there is no magic bullet to the problems outlined here but the need for one thing is clear – diversification, both politically and economically. We cannot continue to vote only for local representatives and expect constructive, objective national policy to emerge free of the influence of vested interests. I don’t believe in direct democracy but want some kind of ‘direct representation’, where we elect people to do a specific job in a specific area e.g. regulation, health, education etc. no matter what their party affiliation is. Likewise economically we need to stop venerating those who would leave us or screw us to get wealthy, and consider the distributist vision of productive power spread more evenly across the economy.
 


farnaby

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birthday

What do you propose as an alternative?

Stalinism?

Islamic theocracy?

Feudal monarchy?
Direct rule from Brussels for 70 years.
Local politicians could have control over design and colour of post boxes etc although I'm sure some would still manage to bring croneyism and corruption into things.
If things went well over several decades gradually things like roads, infrastructure, education could be introduced.
After 70 years or so if the population were deemed mature enough control of Health and Finance could finally be devolved.
 

farnaby

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What do you propose as an alternative?

Stalinism?

Islamic theocracy?

Feudal monarchy?
Nothing so extreme. I believe in democracy and private enterprise. But our parliamentary democracy is so prone to the consequences of excess centralised power as to be oppressive; and to be an Irish person making a hell of a lot of money, as capitalists want to be, requires one to either be part of a 'golden circle' type group or to leave the country.

Economically I am attracted to distributism - the widespread diffusion of productive power to people who don't seek limitless wealth by any means, but who run solid businesses and get their just reward both in monetary terms and in the satisfaction that their business provides to others. This is similar but ultimately different to the prevailing capitalist ethos, which prizes ruthless speculators over the truly productive. So I'm saying Ireland would be better off without such a capitalist ethos.
 

Mitsui2

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After 70 years or so if the population were deemed mature enough control of Health and Finance could finally be devolved.
Only 70 years? Such an optimist! We've had Health & Finance for nearly 80 years as it is, and look at the state of them!
 

slx

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The single biggest problem in Ireland is the electoral system. In theory, it sounds fantastic and very democratic. In practice, it is encouraging TDs, who are supposed to be national legislators, to be nothing but jumped-up councillors.

These men and women are just spending all of their time on constituency issues and things that councillors ought to be doing i.e. local roads projects and other minor internal constituency issues while completely ignoring their duties at national level.

The result is that we are electing the wrong type of people to the national legislature and they are spending almost no time on 'big picture' issues.

They do not want to spend any time in parliament, which has resulted in a situation where the executive is too powerful and has become almost unaccountable to parliament. On top of that, the executive itself is not even all that interested in doing what it should be doing and tends to pass everything over to quangos and the civil service.

The options are:

1) Change the electoral system radically e.g. moving towards a single seat constituency system where TDs could actually spend more time Leinster House on serious issues.

This could be coupled with reducing the number of councillors, and moving towards locally elected executive mayors or something to take the focus off TDs in local areas.

2) Radically change the entire system and look at something like an executive directly elected president with a 4 year term with parliamentary oversight e.g. like the French system or the US system.

It's quite clear though that the current system is a complete failure. It was invented to bridge ideological gaps in a society with competing armed factions where they wanted to avoid conflict. It's no long appropriate to modern Ireland and we need an ability to choose a Government based on ideology and policies. What we're getting with the current system is a kind of bland centrist compromise which is incapable of making decisions on anything and which has no ideological direction.

We've also had a situation where Fianna Fail will basically do absolutely anything to get elected. That includes using our own money to buy our votes and getting us massively in to debt.

Something HAS to change.
 

anons

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The single biggest problem in Ireland is the electoral system. In theory, it sounds fantastic and very democratic. In practice, it is encouraging TDs, who are supposed to be national legislators, to be nothing but jumped-up councillors.
I think you're definitely on to something with your premise but I disagree with your solutions.

Single seat constituencies would need smaller constituencies and therefore even more focus on local issues. If anything we should be considering bigger constituencies, probably combined with a list system either at a local or national level.
 

farnaby

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The single biggest problem in Ireland is the electoral system. In theory, it sounds fantastic and very democratic. In practice, it is encouraging TDs, who are supposed to be national legislators, to be nothing but jumped-up councillors.

These men and women are just spending all of their time on constituency issues and things that councillors ought to be doing i.e. local roads projects and other minor internal constituency issues while completely ignoring their duties at national level.

The result is that we are electing the wrong type of people to the national legislature and they are spending almost no time on 'big picture' issues.

They do not want to spend any time in parliament, which has resulted in a situation where the executive is too powerful and has become almost unaccountable to parliament. On top of that, the executive itself is not even all that interested in doing what it should be doing and tends to pass everything over to quangos and the civil service.

The options are:

1) Change the electoral system radically e.g. moving towards a single seat constituency system where TDs could actually spend more time Leinster House on serious issues.

This could be coupled with reducing the number of councillors, and moving towards locally elected executive mayors or something to take the focus off TDs in local areas.

2) Radically change the entire system and look at something like an executive directly elected president with a 4 year term with parliamentary oversight e.g. like the French system or the US system.

It's quite clear though that the current system is a complete failure. It was invented to bridge ideological gaps in a society with competing armed factions where they wanted to avoid conflict. It's no long appropriate to modern Ireland and we need an ability to choose a Government based on ideology and policies. What we're getting with the current system is a kind of bland centrist compromise which is incapable of making decisions on anything and which has no ideological direction.

We've also had a situation where Fianna Fail will basically do absolutely anything to get elected. That includes using our own money to buy our votes and getting us massively in to debt.

Something HAS to change.
Kind of agree but I am less and less inclined to believe that the system is simply ineffective - it is at times, but it is at other times highly effective at being downright damaging (fuelling the property boom for example). The TD-as-local-fixer is no longer a representative making demands on the national executive, he/she/it is a buffer between the electorate and the executive, allowing the wealthy and weasely to be close to government, but not the common citizen.

Direct elections to a beefed-up Senate and Presidency (option 2) are the minimum I'd go for, pending a broader move to more diverse centres of power.
 

slx

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The biggest problem is that there is a power vacuum at local level. The TDs are taking on a role that should be held by a powerful and accountable local authority which only deals with local issues.

One of the most important things we could do as a nation is to finally resolve the mess that is Irish local Government.

The simplest way of doing this would be to remove the role of city/county manager and replace him/her with an elected executive Mayor.

I'd also take the opportunity to shrink the number of councillors by about 50% and merge a lot of the lower population local authorities into broader regions. There's absolutely no way that we need the preserve the historical 26 counties for modern administrative purposes. That being said, there's no reason why the counties could not co-exist along side new administrative regions much like the historical provinces do today i.e. for sports, tourism etc.

I'm sure that some system could be designed that would ensure good representation with a smaller number of more powerful councillors and some kind of a cabinet arrangement on the council where it elected people to particular portfolios.

If local Government actually worked and was actually accountable and if the mayor or councillors were able to actually do things on the ground then you would release TDs to their duties in Leinster House.

There also should be a legal definition of what a councillor / mayor and TD is and what their roles are. TDs should be legally prevented from interfering in local authorities' work .

In the current setup, TDs are behaving like some kind of Mayor type figure rather than as what they're supposed to be - national legislators!
 

making waves

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Dylan2010

the way I look at it , Irish people can be very productive. The problem is we dont have the backbone of societies like Germany , Sweden etc. Whatever system Ireland has it needs to be accountable at all levels in particular in financial matters. As long as someone in West Cork thinks that someone in Dublin is paying for his roads and someone in Dublin thinks that someone in Europe is paying for his food, economic decisions will be a nonsense here. I'd vote for a system where there is some distribution from the top 10% to the bottom 10% but after that everyone else should be responsible for their own health needs etc.
The history of Irish society has been to run it like a ponzi scheme, which is just wrong
 

farnaby

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No alone is capitalism and parliamentary democracy unsuited to Ireland - it unsuited to every country on the entire planet.
...
The alternative is democratic socialism with a system of participatory democracy.
The vast majority of US citizens would consider it treason to abandon capitalism (or even just the elements of unlimited wealth creation I described earlier). Parliamentary democracy has worked ok for Britain - at least there is little appetite for overhauling the system.

For those who can agree to such statements (and accept you would not) I am arguing that Ireland is different and what works elsewhere has simply been proven not to work here. Unrestrained capitalism creates bubbles and we have shown a propensity to blow ours up to the point of self-destruction. The centralisation of political power through parliamentary democracy has exacerbated political group-think and cronyism here to an oppressive degree. To say so does not deny democracy or enterprise, it just means we need to do things our own way.
 

obfp2010

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To use a worn out phrase, smaller government closer to the people. Not revolving round the parish pumps but working on a national level only. Involves a major reeducation of the electorate but now would probably seem a good time to try.
 


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