Why Irish people are not rioting in the streets

25 February, 2011

Domestic and foreign commentators are fond of asking  questions along these lines: “with all the hardship, increased taxes, pay cuts, loss of economic sovereignty, unemployment, emigration, greedy politicians, corruption and the general  lack of accountability, why are there not riots or even street protests in Ireland?  Are Irish people unusually passive compared to Greeks, for instance?” 

Michael Lewis, in his now-famous Vanity Fair article, notes that “There’s been no Tea Party movement, no Glenn Beck, no serious protests of any kind…… The Greeks already have taken to the streets, violently, and have been quick to find people other than themselves to blame for their problems: monks, Turks, foreign bankers. Greek anarchists now mail bombs to Angela Merkel and hurl Molotov cocktails at their own police. In Ireland the money was borrowed by a few banks, and yet the people seem not only willing to repay it but to do so without a peep of protest.”

I am puzzled as to why anybody should be puzzled about this.

The simple answer is that the Irish Government is still spewing out money (most of it borrowed) to pay social welfare benefits which remain the envy of equivalent recipients in other EU countries, while failing to tax to any real extent the owners of residential property (that is to say, most of the population), despite the inflated cost of running our highly inefficient local government.  And public sector employees are still paid extremely well, given their job security and ridiculous index-linked pensions.

In short, the Irish Government is buying peace on our streets.  And it is buying it with money that it doesn’t have.  Even after all the cuts and tax increases of the past three years, we still have a government budget deficit of about €19 billion annually – for every €100 euros the Irish Government spends, it borrows about €35.  It borrows more than €2 million every hour of the day.

Michael Lewis and other commentators should come back in two or three years’  time, when real cuts in social welfare and real tax increases will be in place.  They might see a bit more than a “peep” of protest.

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