Sunday, May 30, 2010

Economics 30/05/2010: A gargantuan task ahead

As the Government continues to insist that the worst is over for Ireland Inc, let us consider some headline numbers on the structure of our public spending.

The figures reported below refer to 2008 comparisons, so they omit most of the horrific fall-out from the current economic crisis. as such, these comparisons relate more to the structural imbalances our state is running, not to the recessionary effects. This is worth keeping in mind, for it means that the differences between Ireland and other states reported below, as well as the adjustments required for us to reach sustainable long term equilibrium on spending and taxation sides will have to be put in place no matter what happens to our economy in years to come. It is also worth keeping in mind because the figures reported below underestimate the extent of our post-2008 imbalances compared to other countries that had experienced much less pronounced crisis over 2009.

All data is taken from the publicly available sources - the IMF and CSO - so the Government and our tax-and-spend crowd of Unions-led economists are fully aware of these. Plausible deniability does not apply, therefore, when it comes to our Government pronouncements about its policies and the current position of the Irish economy on international competitiveness scale.

Chart above plots Ireland's position vis-a-vis its peers in the developed world in terms of the overall size of the primary (non-capital) share of public expenditure in the economy. Two facts worth highlighting here:
  • Ireland's Government spending as a share of our real economic income (GNP) is the second highest of all countries in the group, and is well in excess of the average for small open market economies (SOME). It is in excess of Germany (Berlin) and well ahead of the US (Boston).
  • By this metric, Ireland simply does not qualify as a 'market' economy, as domestic private sector accounts here for less than 47% of GNP! In the USSR of the 1980's, private economy (black market) accounted for around 40% of the total GNP. Get the comparison?
Chart above shows that Irish public sector is clearly one of the most lavishly paid one in the entire developed world. In fact, our public sector wages and earnings swallow over 14.4% of our national income, making Ireland's PS workers the 5th highest paid (on aggregate) in the advanced world. The gap between Irish public sector earnings bill and that for the average SOME is a massive 4.47% of our GNP. Roughly speaking Irish public sector wages bill contains a roughly speaking 48% premium relative to the PS counterparts in similar economies around the world. Clearly, even the reductions in overall take home pay imposed on PS in Budgets 2009-2010 has not erased this premium, especially when one recognizes that since 2008 our GNP has contracted almost in line with the decline in PS pay.

Chart above maps Ireland relative to the US (Boston) and Germany (Berlin) to show just how absurd the whole notion of Ireland Inc being positioned between Boston and Berlin is in the real world. In reality, just one parameter - Social Benefits as a share of GDP/GNP - marks our relative position as being between Boston and Berlin. In every other parameter, we are a basket case of excessive public spending and taxation relative to both the US and Germany.

With the above data in mind, what adjustments in the budgetary positions will be required to bring Ireland into the exact position of being between US and Germany to reflect our stated competitive benefit of being an economy that can facilitate trade and investment flows between the two giants - the EU and US?
To restore our competitive balance we need:
  • A cut of €23 billion in gross annual primary spending by the state (current expenditure) - some 14.7% of our GNP. Not €3bn as Brian Lenihan is doing, or €3.5bn as An Bord Snip Nua was suggesting. A whooping €23 billion, folks!
  • The cut above cannot come from the capital budget side - where most of the cuts so far took place. It has to be cut from the current expenditure. The reason for this is simple - capital spending is one-off item of expenditure and it is associated, in theory, with a net positive return on investment. Current spending is permanent and yields no financial return.
  • The cuts must include at the very least a €9.3bn reduction in the wages and pensions bill in the public sector (5.9% of GNP or almost 44% cut in the total PS wages bill, achievable through both reductions in numbers employed and wages paid and pensions benefits entitlements).
  • Social benefits, at least in the long run, actually are in line with us being smack between Boston and Berlin, so no adjustment is needed here in the short term (given further deterioration in the fiscal position in Ireland since 2008, I would actually recommend a temporary cut here. Also, longer term reforms, to change the structure of welfare benefits and state pensions must be enacted, but for the reasons different from the budgetary considerations).
  • Instead of raising tax revenue, Irish Government should engage in a dramatic reduction of tax burden on the economy. Generally, total tax take in the Irish economy exceeds the average Boston-Berlin position by 6.5% of GNP, requiring a reduction in overall tax burden of €10.3bn on 2008 numbers.
  • This reduction in the tax burden should include a cut in personal income tax, CGT and personal gains/profits taxes of 2.1% of GNP or €3.3bn.
There is absolutely no ground for our Government and policy leaders' claims that Ireland is strongly positioned between the low(er) tax US and high(er) tax Germany as a competitive destination for exports and investment arbitrage. In fact, due to the Government-own policies, fiscal and tax imbalances created in this economy mean that we are, at a macroeconomic level, grossly uncompetitive relative to
  • both the EU and the US,
  • as well as relative to our main competitors world wide - the small open market economies.
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