Unthinking Tanks

Financial Doping has become a term synonymous with Premier League Football. Nouveau Riche clubs, like Chelsea and Manchester City, have cut the legs off the “level playing field”, in order to tilt success in their direction.

Seemingly unlimited supplies of Billionaire Investors are lining up to buy a “franchise”. The Premiership need only rid itself of that pesky relegation trapdoor (the main hindrance to further investment) and a tidal wave of (even more) excessive spending would wash in.

In an excellent assessment of the state of the modern GAA, a hat-less Ewan McKenna pointed out the financial doping done, which helped make Dublin the unstoppable juggernaut that it is today. He is right, and as a Dub fan, I don’t like him for it.

But sneering at financial doping is a niche sport. You see, those who are claiming the high moral ground would quickly flip into soft denial, should their particular passion become the plaything of a billionaire investor. And it’s not limited to the field of sport.

Think about it, or more precisely, think about the Think Tanks. We are constantly fed the opinions of so called experts attached to “independent” think tanks as Facts. From the OECD to ITI and any other acronym you can devise, we are constantly given expert advice, by experts in giving advice, that suits their paymasters*. This, I’d argue, is financial doping of the public narrative.

Recently, the media had a multi-joy-gasm at the Irish Tax Institutes recent report on our “overly progressive taxes”. But just how independent is the ITI?

A quick look at the ITI’s website confirms:

“The Institute places particular importance on our EU and global alliancesWe engage with the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice. Our efforts are assisted by liaising closely with our sister Institutes across Europe and through our involvement in the Confédération Fiscale Européenne (CFE). This is a grouping of all EU states’ tax institutes – of which the Irish Tax Institute is a leading member.

With this emphasis on our EU services, the Institute is well placed to alert members to developments as they unfold in Brussels. In the course of regular Institute delegations to Brussels, we meet regularly with Commissioners, Commission officials, MEPs and other influencers.”

They must think working with the European Commission means publishing “A Guide to Changes In Irish Tax Rules – The Global Tax Reform Agenda” on the same day the Commission had ruled that Ireland gave Apple illegal state aid. Nothing says “liaising closely” with the EU, like publishing something contrary to the EU findings. You’d almost think it was timed to support our minority government and the MNC’s!

I could go into funding and sponsorship, but I need to tread carefully and don’t want to be accused of not donning the green jersey.

Another media darling “Think Tank” the Hibernia Forum, has enjoyed a voice across all the platforms this week. This Right Wing Libertarian “forum” claims to be:

“An independent advocacy group dedicated to the principles of a free market, individual liberty and responsible and prudent Government. It seeks to build on the natural entrepreneurial instincts of Ireland and its open and progressive economic atmosphere, and attraction to foreign inward investment.”

All sounds very good; except that today’s free market is not free. Large multi-national corporations use free trade agreements as geopolitical tools to gouge larger tax free profits, uninhibited by those troublesome workers’ rights and proper regulation.

But the Hibernia Forum is flying, It’s on askaboutmoney.com, it’s on Pat Kenny Live, it’s poor-bashing in the Sunday Independent. They gloated on Twitter that “The Hibernia Forum is more in touch with the Irish Public than our politicians”, because an Irish Daily Mail opinion poll found 57% of people said we pay too much to the unemployed.

Let’s forget that this 57% stat comes from a Daily Mail’s confirmation bias driven “opinion poll”. Let’s pretend the question was not already inherently biased, I mean, who in their right minds would say we get value for our taxes in Ireland? And don’t even mention the fact that these polls are designed to fit an agenda; that of telling the squeezed middle to punch down and not up.

Let’s instead focus on the facts:

  • The Irish unemployment rate has fallen to less than 8%.
  • There are now more people at work than pre 2008 financial crisis
  • Social Welfare rates are lower than pre-crisis
  • The number of long term unemployed has decreased by 26,082, or 17%

But those facts don’t suit the “blame the poor” narrative of this Think Tank. This is a Think Tank that believes in the “equality of opportunity”, yet doesn’t want a level playing field. Imagine saying you believe in equality, but don’t believe that those less well-off should be given access to equal opportunities!

How does Brendan Burgess think poorer people will bridge the gap? The answer is, he doesn’t, nor does he care. He’s quite happy to, in his own words, “cause hardship” to those at the bottom, in the name of “free market” principles.

Important to note, I share many libertarian values. I’m against nanny statism, I believe in personal freedoms. I want prudent government spending and efficiency in public services. Crucially, unlike the Hibernia Forum, I do not want them at the expense of the poor.

These are but 2 examples of forums that are part of the Chumocracy financial doping. Essentially, we have Institutes/Forums/Think Tanks that are supported and financed by wealthy vested interests, in order to report in favour of the same vested interests. Yes, they may occasionally clash; but never in matters of challenging the status quo at the top levels.

As the Budget nears, the agenda of all these Financially Doped agencies comes into play. They make Pre-Budget Submissions, filling the airwaves with “expert” opinion; commanding the headlines with catchy pitches. They are all on message. You need and deserve a break. (True) You want the Government to cut taxes and welfare rates because the poor and working poor have it too good. (False)

In this financially doped ocean of media and experts, I’m just a small fish trying to compete with the Big Sharks. My voice will not get heard. But I’m not getting paid for this. I’m telling you that these experts are not independent. I’m saying you should look beyond the headline and examine the motives. But I’m shouting into an empty echo chamber of my own well-meaning biases; another victim of financial doping.

Tony Groves October 2016 Image result for echo chamber cartoon

*we won’t even mention that Redacted owns most of the media and “chills” the rest

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