How do you retain respect for ‘superiors’ during this recession? Some of them will almost certainly have been better at whatever job you do than you. Many of them won’t however. They are primarily responsible – at least more responsible than you – for the recession which is gripping us. So, how do you feel about work now?
It’s difficult, isn’t it? Certainly, there is a societal responsibility for what’s befallen us: most people – American and Irish – got wealthier since the early 1990s. Some people though found their greed gene ballooning hugely. They lost the run of themselves and now everybody else is supposed to stump up and bail them out. Meanwhile, many of the greedy hang on to the loot. I don’t believe it will work; expect some civil disobedience.
I heard a conversation on Ireland’s RTE radio between Pat Kenny, Tom Parlon and others. It was thoroughly insane. They were discussing tomorrow’s Budget and wondering what might be in it. For a start, Pat Kenny makes about €800,000 a year (I honestly don’t see how anyone can ‘earn’ that) and really should have said so at the outset of the programme.
€800,000 a year is perhaps not huge by American standards. The Gorilla of Greed, Dick Fuld, made $480,000,000 out of Lehman Brothers. Bill Gates became the wealthiest person in the world. He was worth about $54,000,000,000. He had more money coming in than he could possibly spend in a lifetime, so he decided to give much of it away.
Why was there not a cap on the amount these people could make? After all, the 25 richest people in the world owned more than 20 or 30 countries. There was not a cap because it wouldn’t be unregulated capitalism. Even if the profit motive was propelling people along towards ever-greater riches – and there is an argument for this – why not tax them at 95 or 97 per cent once they have passed an agreed threshold.
Anyway, Pat Kenny wondered about taking loans out for prospective students. Remember this guy makes €800,000 a year. Tom Parlon is a former Progessive Democrats TD, who has landed a job with the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), and he was all for students taking out loans. A student representative suggested that loans was double taxation because many graduates end up on highest rate of income tax.
It was becoming clear: people at the top of the wage structure expected others to help pay their debts. There was even talk of slashing the national minimum wage below its current level of €8.20 per hour. “It’s too expensive,” said a voice.
OK. Let’s get this right: €8.20 an hour is too expensive but €800,000 or $480,000,000 or even $54,000,000,000 is not. What is going on here? Really, we need a whole new set of values to protect people from predatory behaviour. The conversation on the Pat Kenny Show was just an extreme example of such predatory behaviour.
The big question in tomorrow’s Budget is ‘will people take it’? Finance Minister Brian Lenihan made a desperate gaffe with his last Budget, telling people it was “no less than their patriotic duty” to support it. He told this to people who have had relatives die for Ireland, spent years in jail and endured hard economic times along the way. Mr Lenihan, do not use that ‘patriotic’ nonsense again.
There is a problem with the economy in Ireland as there is all over the world. But really, we need an entire new set of values. The market seems to be better for cars, shoes or chocolate but as soon as it sniffs out education or health – surely, shared values – it is disastrous. In Ireland, for instance, teachers in private schools are paid by the state! That can hardly be right.
In America, Hillary Clinton got short shrift when she attempted to reform the health service there. Meanwhile, Mary Harney is pressing on with privatising the entire health service in Ireland. She’s been warned many times that it is not the way to go (the American example where between 30 and 40 per cent of people have no health insurance is often cited) but she persists.
Of course, you’ll have some respect for ‘superiors’. Many are nice people but many are not. Indeed, preferment or promotion in the conventional sense has been bestowed on those who are prepared to “shaft the staff” – in other words, bullies. I used to write for The Irish Times, when it was not so conspicuously a right-wing newspaper and my final column after 12 years mentioned the fact that “this was a bullying age”. It was.
Perhaps, the worst aspect of such bullying was the sense that people were reacting to greater atomisation. They were being prised apart and made extremely competitive by forces which were unleashed with deregulated capitalism. It’s difficult now to understand how the process happened but the pattern was clear: if it didn’t end in 2008 it was always going to do so by, at latest, 2012.
So, when Brian Lenihan stands tomorrow to deliver the Budget, how do we take him seriously? That’s difficult but if he as much as mentions people’s ‘patriotic duty’, he can forget it. The cheek of the young man; the sheer cheek.