Wednesday, August 04, 2004


The long post relating to Irish politics but dealing with universally applicable liberal capitalist nonsense

Mary Harney, for those who don't know, is leader of the small (about 4% of the electorate) but ideologically hegemonic liberal-right Progressive Democrats, and Tanaiste, or Deputy Prime Minister, of our great government here in the land known to well-meaning but patronising English people as Eire.*

Ideologically I've departed from Mary's parish, though as I've pointed out before, I think one has to recognise the intellectual strength of that general philosophy, more compelling in many (most?) ways than standard social democratic/left-liberal thought. Also she remains one of our better politicians on a personal level; I'm still quite fond of her, anyway.

Nonetheless I couldn't help chortling away to myself at the exposition of her political philosophy as reported in Monay's Irish Times.

She starts out with a viscious assault on the integrity and patriotism of Ireland's entrepeneurs:

"...Ms Harney says increasing tax on wealth would only encourage the rich to live elsewhere as tax exiles..."

What an unconsciounable smear. Such small minded begrudgery could only be motivated by an ugly and unworthy sense of envy. These heroes, the corporate Romuluses and Remuses of the Celtic Tiger, have lifted up the plain people of Ireland from their state of low destitution: does she think they would abandon us now over a few percent more for the taxman? That they have some sort of wealth-fetish that would supercede their love of their fellow-countrymen?

Well so do I actually.

Harney went on, so the report tells us, to say that "those who had earned wealth had the right to decide what should happen to it". What a splendid principle! - those who do the work should control its fruits. Positively socialist! Naturally though, for Harney this principle in practice supports its own negation; for this point was made in "defend[ing] the Government's cuts in inheritance taxes".

To repeat in order to emphasise, as well as clarify: the principle - "those who earn wealth should have the right to decide what should happen to it"; the application - "wealth should be controlled by those who have done nothing to earn it".

Of course one has to expect the Orwellian description of those who successfully appropriate wealth through exploitation as "wealth-creators" or "earners of wealth"; yet "equality of opportunity" ( as opposed to "equality of outcome", favoured by redistributionists) is supposed to play an important part of any conscientous liberal's normative Weltanschauung. Inheritance (the abolition of which was, incidentally, among the strikingly modest immediate "demands" of a certain Manifesto written 150-odd years ago) is hardly compatible with the meritocratic ideal.

But then who are we to overrule our forerfathers when it comes to the social and economic realities they have bequeathed us? As Harney says: "If one generation has earned the wealth and worked hard, it is reasonable to say that the should make the decision on who benefits from that". Reasonable indeed, but why limit this to inheritance? - if we're serious let's have a fully fledged Necrocracy: the rule of the dead. After all, everything we have is owed to past generations one way or another. Restore the staute books from the foundation of the state, I say! From a certain point of view the nightmare Joyce was trying to awake from is actually rather pleasant.

In this (widely shared, or at least unquestioned) view the aforementioned meritocratic ideal becomes no more than a tautological sleight of hand. The syllogism: 1) society should be ordered by merit; 2) those who are wealthy have, by definition "earned", even "generated", wealth; 3) it is therefore wrong in principle to punish with higher taxes those who have earned their place at the top. Q.E.D.

Thus Harney, in the same interview, mixes loosely the normative and the observational, the prescriptive and the descriptive, the should-be and the is: "...we live in a meritocracy where people are rewarded on the basis of merit....We live in a society where every body should have equality of opportunity and that's what's important...". (Emphases added).

This came in defence of a party colleague's remark to the effect that economic inequality was a driver of economic progress, a view she shared even if it "could have been explained using different language"; by which, of course, she means "different, less truthful language". After all, few in Ireland object to such views. Expressing them openly and coherently, on the other hand, is pushing things.

But never fear, for the PDs have a social policy as well - specifically crossing their fingers and praying for patronage: "I would like to see perhaps in Ireland, on a voluntary basis, a greater culture of some of the wealth that is acquired going back to the state...perhaps through endowments, through foundations". Well, perhaps.

"There is a very strong culture in the United States where very rich people have a great sense in wanting to give something back to the society which gave their wealth".

And it works out so well there...

But hold on...what's this about "the society which gave their wealth (sic)"? That noise, faint in the background, is the sound of a large house of cards collapsing.

*Though, rather confusingly for all concerned, that is the name of the country according to the Constitution.

Footnote to your footnote:

"Article 4: The name of the State is √Čire, or, in the English language, Ireland."

Not really that confusing - except that "Ireland" is also (or instead) the name of the whole island ... Maybe "Irish Republic" is the easiest term.
Whatever about all that, thanks for the informative stuff about Ms Harney, who's not nearly as well-known outside the-country-with-several-names as she should be.
Quoting from memory? Either way it's impressive. The confusing thing is that Irish people are irritated by English people referring to their country by its constitutionally proper name. (I have an idea that it might have something to do with shame at neglect of the Irish language and culture, but it's only an idea).

Then there's also the 1949 Republic of Ireland Act which declares that to be the name of the state. "The Irish Republic" might indeed be the easiest one; but it's also the only one with no explicit legal basis.

Legal, schmegal (or possibly Smeagol): we had the needs of proofreaders, copyeditors and indexers in mind.
Anyway, "Emerald Isle" has no legal basis either, but everyone in Britain says it all the time. Er ... don't they?
Oh Gawd, spare us please...anything but the Emerald Isle. Come back Eire all is forgiven.
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