July 2016        

Cherishing all the nation equally

Jimmy Doran

The 1916 Proclamation wanted us to cherish all the children of the nation—all the people of Ireland—equally. Some argue that a fairer, more even distribution of some of the output can attain a decent society; but, for economic and political reasons, if the inequality that exists at the point of production between those who own the wealth and those they employ to work still exists, it will not succeed.
     There is no such thing as a nicer, fairer type of capitalism. It is by design unfair and unequal. It will always produce an elite who cream off the profits that are created by the work that the rest of us do.
     Ireland is now the most unequal society among the OECD countries by market income before tax is calculated. Income is not the only measure of inequality: it is also wealth, power, happiness, security, health (mental and physical), quality of life, opportunity, starting-point in life, to mention but a few.
     Labour’s share of income has being steadily falling as a share of total income since the 1980s: the rich have been getting richer, and continue to do so. CEOs’ pay is now a staggering 160 times that of shop-floor workers. Unlike the worker, their wage is directly linked to the profits of the company. A lot of their payments are paid in share options, equity grants and other capital-related arrangements on which they don’t have to pay standard levels of income tax, as they come under capital gains, which is taxed at a lower rate than income.
     It is difficult to get an accurate measurement of the total wealth of the elite, as a lot of it is hidden offshore and is drastically underdeclared. Most of this wealth is not from salaries, so it is much easier to conceal. For the rest of us on PAYE, this is not the case. So let us look at who earns what in Ireland.
Gross incomeNumber of people or tax units
€100,000–200,000 80,000
€200,000+ 20,000
     Average income is €35,000; but 66 per cent of the people earn less than that—well over one million people. The top 10 per cent earn more than €75,000; 90 per cent of the people earn below €75,000. Half the population earn less than €28,500.
     The figures above are from the Revenue Commissioners and refer to “tax units,” so a married couple who share their tax credits only come up as one income, and in fact an unknown number of these incomes are actually shared by two people.
     The top 1 per cent of earners’ share of income peaked at 72 per cent of all earnings in 2007. This fell to 70 per cent in 2012 but has been rising steadily since.
     Let’s compare the earnings of the average worker, the top 10 per cent and the top 1 per cent in 1975 and 2006.
AverageTop 10%Top 1%
1975  €15,188   €43,467   €90,518
2006  €35,490  €134,384  €444,190
     In 1975 the top 1 per cent earned roughly 6 times the average wage, but by 2006 they had doubled their share to over 12 times the average.
     So what about share of wealth? The most recent figures are from a survey by Credit Suisse in 2014.
Top 1% Top 5%  Top 10%  Top 35%  Bottom 65%  
     There is nothing unusual about such figures in the “developed” world. The Gini coefficient is a measurement tool used for comparing equality and inequality. It is between 0 and 1; the nearer to 1 you get the more unequal the distribution.
     Ireland is about average, at .71, Denmark the worst, on .88, and Belgium the best, on .63. So the developed world is a very unequal society as far as the distribution of wealth is concerned.
     So what does all this mean in reality?
     Food deprivation affects 1 in every 13 people in Ireland in 2016; that is to say, more than 180,000 people cannot afford a meal with meat or fish every second day. 10½ per cent suffer from clothing deprivation; put another way, 374,000 Irish citizens cannot afford new clothes.
     25 per cent of people cannot afford to replace worn-out furniture. 21 per cent suffer from energy poverty; 5½ per cent suffer from extreme energy poverty. 13 per cent go without heating at some point in the year; 8½ per cent cannot afford to keep the house warm; 391,000 people can’t afford to heat the house at all.
     23 per cent of people have neither health insurance nor a medical card.
     The poor are always discriminated against; and the poorest of the poor are discriminated against even more so. Let’s look at Travellers, for example. Travellers’ life expectancy is 10 years less for women and 15 years less for men. 68 per cent of Travellers are illiterate; 89 per cent are unemployed; 94 per cent are living in poverty; suicide rates are 6½ times the national average.
     This all brings to mind what James Connolly said.
If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the Green Flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the socialist republic, your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule through her capitalists, her landlords, financiers, and through the whole array of commercial and industrial institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.
      So, sadly, despite the intentions in the Proclamation of 1916, we most certainly do not cherish all the children of the nation equally. The most fitting way to commemorate the men and women of Easter Week would be to set about achieving their aims and rid this country of the gombeen class that seized power after the British were driven out and begin to build the republic that they fought for.

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