The Weakest Link

Sometimes I dream, that he is me,                                                                                                              You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be                                                                                              I dream I move, I dream I groove                                                                                                                  Like Mike, if I could be like Mike!

Growing up, I played every type of sport. But Basketball was my true love. New Air Jordan’s were the best way to get me to do anything. Michael Jeffrey Jordan was the greatest athlete in the greatest sport and I was alive to witness his reign. With all due respect to the modern era superstars, in a sport built on superstars, MJ’s star still eclipses them all.

Basketball is a strong link sport. There are only 5 men vs 5 men on the court. One elite player can lift four average players easier than say on a football pitch of 11 vs 11. Lebron James won the NBA Championship last June, carrying his Cleveland Cavaliers team to a huge upset win against the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors had just set the single biggest winning record in NBA history, 73 wins and just 9 losses. Their team chemistry was widely lauded as their main strength. Lebron was the best player on either team (and in the world) and by sheer force of will, beat (arguably) the best team ever assembled. Basketball is a Strong Link Sport.

In their book, The Numbers Game, Chris Anderson and David Sally explain how Football is a Weak Link Sport. With apologies to the Authors, I’d summarise it as: On a football team of 11 players, if your worst player is only 40% as good as your best player, he negates all the good play of the superstar. Say Messi dribbles the length of the pitch to score a fantastic goal, but Mascherano kicks into his own net!

I heard Graeme Souness call this the “find the dope” tactic. He means find the weakest link and exploit it. Football is a Weak Link Sport.

The government are flying budgetary kites at the moment. One of the kites soaring about is the “special tax deal to lure emigrants home”. The idea is that, because (as the Irish Tax Institute) we are currently paying “overly progressive” taxes, we need to entice “highly skilled and entrepreneurial” emigrants home with tax breaking sweeteners.

Who can possibly be against returning emigrants? Nobody

Who can possibly be against reversing the brain drain? Nobody

Who, without coming across as greedy, could argue this is a bad idea? No one…

…except maybe me?

Fine Gael is a Strong Link party. They are playing basketball. They consistently have policies that trumpet the “developing of world class and highly skilled jobs”, “policies that ensure market confidence” and “plans to attract and reward talent”. All of this makes for excellent soundbites, and the nodding dog media report it as evidence of innovative political action.

In reality, this means that those who are already ahead, get more opportunities to pull even further ahead. It means that instead of tackling inequality, lending a hand to the weakest link, we end up with stronger strong links. The growth of wealth inequality cannot be arrested or reversed by policies that reward Strong Links, while ignoring the Weak Links.

This ideological battle is the reason for the disintegration of the centre in politics and the main reason why we are seeing such a rise of extremes on both sides.

The best way to attract back emigrants is to make Ireland a place worth coming back to. It is by providing world class education, ensuring access to decent health care, having adequate and affordable housing and offering real value for those “overly progressive” taxes that we all have to pay.

So please, stop playing basketball. Stop cultivating the culture of Them vs Us. Focus on raising the standard of your weakest link and you will improve the team’s performance. Level the playing field and watch bit part players excel.

And our emigrants are not stupid. They are brave and intelligent. Build a country they want to be part of. If you build it……. they will come!

Tony Groves September 2016Image result for trickle down economics


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