a All that glitters isnt gold… Continue reading
We need to talk about elephants. White, in the room, dancing It doesn’t matter , elephants are where it is at. However, rather than ascertaining how to manage, evade and if needed cull same, our government, which resembles an elephants graveyard of hope, is goading and ignoring.
So, public sector pay is back on the radar. The publication by the CSO of the recent public/private sector pay comparisons has given rise to the usual outpourings from the organs of media billionaires. The facts on the face of it seem stark : see the graph. However, beyond the bilious soundbits of bitter hacks, a different, complex, story emerges. That there is a wedge, whereby public sector pay is on average greater than private, is a fact. The issue is why : some may simply think it to be capture of the coffers, others might note that one is comparing apples and tomatoes.
So Richie Boucher, the CEO of Bank of Ireland, is on a salary and benefits package of over 800k. The BoI AGM is on today, and the Irish taxpayer owns 15% of BoI. The minister for finance has declined to vote to reduce this package (and that of the part time chairman…). At the same time the other minister for finance Brendan Howlin, has more or less decided to ignore the vote of public sector and will (despite having said he will get the labour relations commission to investigate how to ) impose or assume the pay cuts voted down.
This softly softly approach to Bank of Ireland contrasts massively with the hectoring bullying approach being taken to the public sector. While BoI has done ok over the last year and Boucher’s tenure it is up the reality is it is still in the intensive care ward. If it finds itself needing billions more it wont go to the markets but to us. So, what applies to me should apply to Richie. But, it wont. So, why is it ok to treat Richie different? Are the richies that different
I spoke yesterday at the Irish Proshares Association ( a branch of IBEC), along with Jim Power and Constantin Gurdgiev. A gloom of economists indeed.Part of the discussion after our presentation got me thinking of the nature of the “debate” in ireland, where much focuses on public sector versus private sector. The debate is posited in these manichean, zero sum, hobbesian (both Eddie and Thomas….) terms. Sometimes it is overlain with the language of productive versus unproductive. There is an unspoken assumption that all private sector activity is productive and all public sector unproductive. Speaking as we were in the spanking new PWC building, with a magnificent view of the skeleton of Anglo’s headquarters, I suggested that we reconsider our language.
Anglo was of course a private organization, and one would be hard pushed to find anyone that would concur with the statement “this was a productive use of money” to describe its last decade or so of existence. Similarly one might well conclude that (steady now…) the HSE is a productive body – one can and must argue about HOW productive but the nature of public health provision is to increase overall economic productivity. Less contentiously, we can look at multinational tax arbitrage (private, but productive?) and the provision of second level education (public, inarguably productive). Much of the problem seems to stem from confusion about being productive (a net addition to economic wellbeing) and productivity (how many “units” of economic output are produced per unit of “input”).
A more useful approach might be to look at public money versus private money. Like all universities TCD is part public part private funded. We get a bloc grant from the state (because there is a public good in having a well educated population); we get a sum of money which the state provides us as opposed to charging fees to undergraduates; we obtain competitive scientific research grants from both public and private bodies; we charge fees for courses to private individuals; we have some campus companies and other activities which give a yield. We might want to think of all the private sector bodies and how they obtain monies – there is a vast flow of money from the public purse to the private sector directly each year, not to count the indirect multiplier effects. Lets concern ourselves with how effective, how productive is the use of public money regardless in the first instance of whether the body is called public or private sector, itself a rather flexible legal distinction when the 100% public owned state bodies such as NAMA, IBRC and so on are not classed as public sector. The contractual nuances of the individual disposing of the money might well be important but of prime importance is how the money is deployed. And in that context, the debate needs to mature (but it wont of course)….