Vincent Browne is not just a self-opinionated crank, he’s not even right
29 December, 2010
Again we are subjected to Vincent Browne’s regular diatribe in the Irish Times about how income inequality in Ireland (which he believes is due to our uniquely corrupt society) is causing higher death rates among poorer sections of the populace.
This time he really insults our intelligence by poo-pooing the extent to which individuals should take any responsibility for our financial mess. In a piece with the memorably daft headline “Society is more corrupt than its scapegoats” he dispenses this piece of bull: “…the problem is not of personal culpability or guilt, although there has been some of that. The problem is systemic and there is nobody around alone responsible for the system. It is a mindset, a cultural thing, an ideology. The real corruption here is the nature of our society; it’s a systemic thing, not something particular to some individuals in politics or in banking or in property or whatever….”
So forget about assigning any blame to Bertie Ahern, or Seán Fitzpatrick, or Brian Cowen, or Patrick Neary. We are all to blame. We are all corrupt. We are all sinners. Everybody is at fault, so our problems are nobody’s fault.
I usually read VB’s columns in the Irish Times, and I do it for the same reason that I often watch his late-night show on TV3: when he is in attack mode (and he usually is), it provides gruesome entertainment. I feel a little bit like a spectator in a ancient Roman arena where gladiators are savaging each other. It is terrible stuff, and wrong in so many ways, but I can’t tear my eyes away from it.
It seems to me that the logical outcome of VB’s views on income inequality and life expectancy is that either (a) there must be no income inequality (I think that has been tried sufficiently in the last century and found to be spectacularly unsuccessful) and/or (b) that people with discretionary spending power must not be allowed to use it to improve their health and longevity and/or (c) private health facilities must not be available (and it must be made illegal to travel abroad to access same) and/or (d) it is corrupt for anybody who has benefited from good education or a middle-class upbringing to exercise self restraint as regards junk food, alcohol and drugs.
I can agree with him that our medical and social services leave a lot to be desired, and that to be poor in Ireland is considerably worse than being rich in Ireland (although not as bad as being poor in most other countries). Yes, there are a number of countries where inequality in income levels is lower than in Ireland, but there are many more countries where it is higher. And to blame the difference in life expectancy mainly on income inequality is a peculiar form of blindness. For one thing, might both conditions not be a product of an individual’s personality or approach to life generally? Or might the causal relationship not be the inverse of what VB is suggesting, i.e. that bad health tends to lead to lower incomes rather than the other way round? It would be surprising if these considerations were not major influences on the statistical outcomes.
But it suits VB’s Weltanschauung to believe that everybody (presumably except himself) is corrupt or irredeemably capitalistic, just as he clings to his romantic, paternalistic view of less fortunate social classes – that they are being ground down by evil capitalists and politicians and are helpless in the face of inequity. I don’t expect him to change his outlook, however; like most barristers, his views are stubbornly held and are impervious to reason.