WHAT a joy it must be to be one of those journalists, economists or social ‘influencers’ who can loudly proclaim their opinions on the issues of the day without once having to engage their brain or a modicum of logic.
How wonderful it must be to write about the need to fix the housing crisis, and the health service, and climate change, and school class sizes or... ooh, can we have a shiny new cycle lane and a tram on every street in the city please - oh, and the county too! And have people praising your every word.
And how wonderful it must be to then also inform your readers, listeners or followers that, hey, we want some tax cuts too... the cost of living is rocketing and the place is getting damn expensive.
And, of course, to win lavish praise for that too. After all, people love to hear good news!
Except, of course, it is utter bunk.
Dear reader, you probably know me by now well enough to appreciate that I don’t engage in such folly: If you run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, you’re liable to get bitten on the bum eventually. Just hope it’s the hare doing the biting, and not the hound!
I prefer to take a more rounded view of the world: I believe that if an opinion lacks consistency and fails to stand up to scrutiny, it becomes mere scribblings and hot air. Sometimes - actually, at all times - you have to get off the fence and make an unpopular call, if it is necessary.
Which is why the recent calls from some political quarters to introduce tax cuts, at a time when the country is in desperate need of investment in so many areas, are plain ridiculous. And why the clamour from so many commentators that, yes, they really should do both, is so unedifying.
Now, I am going to make an unpopular comment here: I don’t really blame the politicians for doing this: For announcing huge investment on the one hand, and craving tax cuts on the other. They know that the average voter doesn’t do subtlety and scrutiny.
It’s the people with no political skin in the game who vex me the most. People who don’t have to persuade, convince and bribe voters, but who still seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to adopt a position where you can face in two directions at the same time on something as important as the finances of our nation.
You cannot bang your fist on the table and bemoan the fact we need more investment in houses and hospitals, and then insist on a cut in your taxes. Did you see how much we borrowed last year, or even last week, just to get by?
One of the most common cliches in recent times has been a phrase that is dished out whenever the housing, health and climate crises rear their heads, and an e-wateringly expensive solution is proposed.
“We cannot afford not to do it.”
It’s a neat phrase, absolving the person of any responsibility for the public finances.
“We cannot afford not to do it.”
It’s a phrase that really gets my goat. Because it’s usually a signal that the person uttering it has no grasp of the overall issues at play.
A swift economic lesson for beginners: Let me explain what happens when a country, like Ireland, spends far more money than it raises in taxes. Answer: It requires borrowing on a gargantuan and unprecedented scale.
That is what has been happening in this country for the past 18 months, since the pandemic began.
We are now entering a period where hopefully the threat from Covid is receding, where the economy can be revived, and where we can begin to reduce the debt fountain from a gush to a trickle.
However, it is widely acknowledged that areas such as health, housing and climate change still require vast investment. It is fair to say that a large majority of voters favour this. Certainly I do, as long as we reap the rewards of such investment - which is far from a guarantee.
Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar agrees with this assessment, yet there he was this week, at his party’s think-in (now there’s a misnomer), declaring that we can look forward to tax cuts and pension and welfare increases when Budget 2022 is revealed
But how on earth does he square the circle that we are going to have to continue borrowing vast sums of money to fund all this - that our debt mountain is going to end up dwarfing Everest?
And please don’t feed me the line that interest rates are rock bottom now. I could go out and buy a Ferrari for €50,000 at low interest rates (I might even tell the wife we can’t afford not do it), but I’d still have to find that €50,000.
Has Leo forgotten about the horrors of 2008, when Ireland practically went bust? After all, it is the reason he got into power.
Do we, as a nation, who continually fret about what climate change will do to the next generations, want to leave them with a vast, unmanageable and unserviceable debt as well, all because, in the famed words of Brian Cowen, we all partied with public finances?
When even the Irish Congress of Trade Unions calls for the Government to abandon plans for tax cuts, you know the politicians have made the wrong call.
Shame on those commentators who think we can have it all, without a second thought for our growing national debt.
Of course, it could be that Leo, who has had a rough old summer, is craftily positioning himself and his party as the folks who wanted tax cuts, but were stymied by their big-spending coalition parties.
If that is the case, those people queueing up to back his call for more investment and cuts in taxes look more foolish than ever.
No, better to say it loud and say it proud: Read my lips: No tax cuts please.