The Irish verdict George Osborne would like to forget

The case of Ireland is a cautionary tale, not an instruction manual.

RIP Ireland's economic miracle. A combination of tax cuts and increased public spending -- coupled with the credit crunch -- has left Ireland with a budget deficit of 32 per cent of its GDP this year. The credit-inflated bubble has now well and truly popped, the draconian austerity measures have failed -- as many predicted they would -- and the Irish government appears close to being bailed out by the EU.

Along with Greece, the Irish experience from the nineties into the noughties seems to be a perfect example of how not to do things. But in 2006 -- at the very apex of the Irish bubble -- one economic sage decided that Ireland was actually a fine example of how to run an econmy. His name?

George Osborne.

Writing in the Times (pre-paywall, folks), the then shadow chancellor declared:

Ireland stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking.

Long-term, eh, George?

There was little "long-term" about the artificial housing and banking boom that Ireland underwent in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Despite Osborne's claims, Ireland did not surge ahead because of its highly regarded education system or increased research and development at universities.

Ireland boomed instead on a toxic mix of cheap credit, lax banking regulation and by becoming a borderline tax haven.

Slashing corporation tax -- a move continually hailed by Osborne as the way forward -- simply weakened Ireland's tax base even further, making the recovery that bit more difficult.

We should learn from Ireland's mistakes. Unfortunately, however, Osborne wants to copy them -- at least judging by Osborne's cuts to universities, the 3.4 per cent reduction in the education budget and his continued obsession with reducing corporation tax -- to the point where companies could end up paying less tax than their cleaners.

The case of Ireland is a cautionary tale, not an instruction manual.

UPDATE: Alphaville over at the FT points out another cautionary tale from the Irish experiment.

"Sovereign bailouts involve a certain quid pro quo.

For a start, there's been talk that Germany is pushing for the country's low, low 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate to be hiked.

...

Awkward. And perhaps not least for a certain tax-avoiding search engine."

Which tax-avoiding search engine could that be? Why, the one that George Osborne bragged about speaking to in his Times op-ed: "I will be asking Google executives today why they set up in Dublin, not London." Alphaville explains exactly why Google set up in Dublin:

"Google Ireland sends the earnings on a tax-lite journey to the Netherlands, whence a shell subsidiary passes it on practically untouched to a Bermudan holding, basically. They call it a 'Double Irish'.

Jammy stuff. Until your tax haven files for a bailout from some very angry Germans, that is. And 26 per cent of your earnings is a lot to put at risk..."

Getty
Show Hide image

The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.