Stephen Collins – Basic Information (Irish Times)

Things not nearly as bad as they are often portrayed

Inside Politics: We enjoy living standards that were unimaginable to previous generations

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan: his plan to ensure that budgetary discipline continues until 2020 has provoked a predictable clamour from “anti-austerity” campaigners. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan: his plan to ensure that budgetary discipline continues until 2020 has provoked a predictable clamour from “anti-austerity” campaigners. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Michael Noonan’s plan to put structures in place to ensure that budgetary discipline continues until 2020 has provoked a predictable clamour from “anti-austerity” campaigners.

Some politicians and pundits have learned nothing from the past decade and appear to believe that, despite our massive debt burden, the exchequer can return to lavish spending without regard to the consequences.

There is also the question about just how austere our “austerity” actually is.

Some, particularly those who have lost their jobs or have ended up in serious debt, have undoubtedly suffered significantly during the current downturn but for most people the adjustment has not been nearly as painful.

The fact that over 90 per cent of home owners have signed up to pay their property tax obligations is hardly a sign of a society buckling under the stress of “austerity”. On the contrary, it reflects the fact that most people are still doing remarkably well by historical standards.

We enjoy living standards that were unimaginable to previous generations and according to a range of international yardsticks, we are one of the most prosperous and fairest countries on the planet.

That is not something “anti-austerity” campaigners or the media purveyors of doom want to hear but it is worth looking at some of the evidence.

One very important international measurement of a country’s wellbeing and economic health is the United NationsHuman Development Index. This ranks countries on factors including income, education, health and life expectancy.

Seventh best
The report for 2012 published a few months ago ranked Ireland seventh best off out of 186 UN states. It didn’t generate a lot of publicity here, probably because it runs counter to the dominant media narrative of a country in the depths of depression.

Ireland had slipped two places since 2008 but coming in seventh overall and the third highest in the EU is remarkable given the scale of the current economic adjustment. The UK was in 26th place, and we were also ahead of some long-term rich countries like Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and Canada.

When the index was first published in 1990 the UK was in 10th position and Ireland was in 17th. We have come a considerable way since then and the financial crash has not destroyed most of the gains made in the interval.

The UN index is not the only international measurement that puts Ireland in the top tier. Average wage statistics from the OECD put Ireland second only to the United States in terms of gross incomes, while the World Economic Forum global gender gap index puts Ireland in fifth place last year, up from tenth in 2006.

A range of reports from the OECD, the European Commission and the ESRI have shown that we have one of the fairest income tax and income redistribution systems in the world. It means that those earning the most have borne the greatest share of the fiscal adjustment since 2009.