Ireland’s Competitiveness Scorecard 2011

The NCC has released its new study – available here.

6 replies on “Ireland’s Competitiveness Scorecard 2011”

“Ireland remains an expensive country in which to do business”

And therein lies the problem. I don’t actually see any real action being taken to drive costs down across a broad base. It seems to be more a game of wait and see and hope they come down on their own without having to be too proactive about it. Do we have a Minister for cost reduction and competitiveness?

I can’t actually say I’ve noticed costs coming down in Ireland either (other than houses) – not in PR Guy’s household anyway. Income shrinking but cost of everything I do going up. That second car’s gotta go at this rate.

It is interesting that you should mention the second car. As I see it is those kind of decisions on big ticket items that will be made over the next few years.
One of the really ‘big ticket’ item is third level education for children. A painful reality will soon dawn on many families that third level education cannot be afforded. I wonder how people will respond.

Health costs remain huge. Prof John Crown, a leftie himself, noted that Mary Harney had created a command a control bureaucracy in the HSE that Stalin himself would be in awe of.

Oddly…a PD created a communist system, with horrendous inefficiencies. Also community risk rating for health insurance is simply a tax on the young, who’ll likely not enjoy a similar proportion of the benefits when they themselves age (due to shifting demographics)

Consultants got so bored with their 32 hour weeks that they tended to hold down 2 or 3 other jobs.

I’ve also had the (misfortune) to see how bad the HSE’s financial management systems and processes are…amazingly awful, shocking information deficits, no accountability…and no linking of clinical outcomes (product) to expenditure…and yet still nothing like NICE in the UK for hi tech treatment/drug approval

The whole thing is a horrible shambles, with mid and senior management most to blame. Worse still their inefficiency has infested the ‘private’ healthcare system in Ireland.

My view would be sell the HSE, dump community rating…and give everyone the money to buy their own insurance.

PR Guy has beaten me to the money quote:
“Ireland remains an expensive country in which to do business” (p4). It dovetails beuatifully with Ernie Ball’s “Ireland is an expensive place to live.” The almost resigned consensus across the spectrum from the government machine to the left is quite remarkable.

On this occasion the NCC has avoided the ‘briathar saor’ – something should be done, somebody should do something – and asserts “..[W]e simply have to embed structural change in many sectors of our economy..”. But, of course, by making everybody responsible, nobody is responsible.

At the beginning of each section and sub-section there is a preamble and summary seeking to distill and present what the NCC wishes to convey from the clutter of graphs and data presented. This is carefully drafted, nuanced stuff. A couple of examples highlight the skills applied and the quality of the drafting.

On p56 much is made of the sharp reduction in the cost of electricity for large industrial consumers. It does concede that this might be temporary as a ‘rebate’ will be phased out. But, of course, it doesn’t reveal that this was a fix managed by the DCENR and the CER, in response to intense lobbying from the big players – in particular the US TNCs. The CER, under this pressure, managed a ‘re-balancing’ of network charges so that large volume users would have lower prices, while small volume users would have higher prices. The lost revenue in the large volume market was mostly made up in the small volume market – since you couldn’t have the ESB losing out, you see. It is a little bit more complex than this – differences in timing and cash flows etc. (you have to make it reasonably complex to conceal precisely what you’re doing), but this was the thrust. In addition to appeasing the big industrial players, it had the effect of rigging Eurostat’s electricity price statistics temporarily in Ireland’s favour. External observers, not aware of the fiddle that was been perpetrated, would have been impressed. But you’d never grasp all this from the NCC’s assessment.

On p83 we have this gem:
“Ireland’s international reputation has been damaged by serious lapses in corporate governance in the last number of years. It is important to
point out, however, that regulatory failures primarily occurred in the domestic financial system, rather than in the internationally traded sector.”

This statement is factually correct. But look closely at it. By juxtaposing ‘domestic financial’ and ‘internationally traded’ any consideration of regulation of the IFSC is eliminated. But it gets better. There is a subtle shift from ‘lapses in corporate governance’ to ‘regulatory failings’. It conveys the impression that some people our regulators had no reason to mistrust or question did some bad things. And it gets better still. The attempt to ring fence these regulatory failures to the domestic financial system also ensures that any consideration of regulatory failures in the domestic, non-traded sectors is eliminated.

This is an absolutely classic piece of ‘civil servant speak’. But it is total and utter bullshit as defined so well by Prof. Harry Frankfurt. And it is high quality, shrewd, cunning, refined bullshit. There are numerous example thoughout the report, but hardly any as well crafted as these. Alan Clark’s memorable phrase “being economical with the actualite’ captures it well.

I’m not saying there is a deliberate intention to deceive – I’m sure all on the Council are entirely honourable men and women. Nor is there ‘an indifference to truth’ which characterises the lower-grade bullshit in almost all political, policy and regulatory pronouncements. Instead, it is a finely and carefully calibrated assessment of how much of the truth may be revealed. Too much and umbrage could be taken in many quarters; too little and the Council would lose any bit of credibility it still retains. And avoiding provoking umbrage is paramount, as this could lead to conflict within the broader government machine – and conflict must be suppressed and smothered at all costs. It’s of no concern if these costs are imposed on final consumers and the economy as they’ll always cough up.

It would be unfair to single out the NCC – even if it is failing in its duty to the public by operating within these explicit and implicit constraints. All reports produced, sponsored or commissioned by the government machine are characterised by this finely and carefully calibrated assessment of how much of the truth may be revealed.

But they are all bullshit and bullshit that is damaging the interests of ordinary citizens and the economy. It would be silly and naive to expect those who produce these reports to prejudice their positions and careers by coming clean and presenting the unvarnished truth. The onus should not be on them. The onus is on those who represent the people and unthinkly consume this bullshit.

Someone should mention that the NCC is a social partnership body that actually produces some good stuff – unlike, for example, the dire drawn-out incoherent nonsense that comes from NESC. Have a look at what the NCC were saying 10 years ago – if only we had implemented most of those recommendations we really would never have lost so much of our competitive edge. Of course, the NCC has always been weak on labour market, and particularly pay issues, but no one is perfect.


Agree. But, as per my comment above, they never got to grips – nor could they allow themselves to get to grips – with the underlying causes of the problems that prompted their, often sensible, recommendations. It was always the ‘briathar saor’ – this needs to be done or that should be done. They never identified who was screwing up and what needed to be done, precisely, to prevent or remedy the screw up.

These sorts of bodies – in particular the NCC and NESC, if they are to serve any useful purpose, should be funded and directed by, and reporting directly to, the Oireachtas. Once they are locked within the broader government machine, they are a total and utter waste of space, time and resources. The government machine monopolises all available resources and competence. The Oireachtas is totally starved – and apparently is perfectly happy to be totally starved – of the resources and competence required to hold the government machine to account.

Most people still seem to fall for the fiction that if you have opposition parties in the Oireachtas shouting the odds and the media giving Ministers a grilling occcasionally and poking fun at them that all this will keep the Government in line. This is absolute nonsense. Ministers are simply the well-paid PR operatives for the government machine behind them. It is this that needs to be scrutinised and held to account. And only an appropriately resourced and re-empowered Oireachtas can do this.

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