December 19, 2013
The Government’s new economic strategy was unveiled yesterday. It is supposed to outline new thinking for the next decade. Yet it seems very much like everything else that we have ever seen before.
It is long on things we “must” do, making it read like an early new year’s resolution list. It is not so hot on the things we are actually “going” to do. It’s full of good intentions like promising to go to the gym, eat less chips and cut down on pints, without committing to actually getting up on the treadmill at 8 this morning.
The document, written in nice, big-spaced green writing, with lots of bare white unfilled pages, reads like more of the same. This unsatisfactory feeling was backed up by the quotes from the Taoiseach, saying this was “no time” for change.
It is the perfect time for change because change is a constant. It is the one certainty in life. In a globalised world, countries that embrace change succeed because globalisation forces the pace and scope of change. The world isn’t waiting; it is revolving.
In our own work lives, those who embrace change tend to have successful careers and meaningful, if somewhat stressful, lives. But an element of stress is important and probably essential. Life isn’t easy. It isn’t meant to be without worry and stress, but these concerns are made tolerable by flexibility and adaptability.
The idea of transforming the economy by doing nothing new doesn’t wash. But we could transform the place.
If we consider the four big government objectives, there is ample room for simple initiatives that could help the Government achieve its aims quickly.
The first aim in the document is never to go back to the boom/bust economics of the 2000s characterised by far too much credit to the property sector; the second is debt sustainability; the third is to reduce taxes to encourage people to work and to employ; and the fourth is to create conditions for the maximum employment possible.
How might you go about doing these?
Lets start with speculative cycles. The best way to stop boom/bust and speculative urges is to limit credit being funnelled into property. Without credit, there can be no bubbles and without excessive leverage, there can be no speculation.
Tomorrow the Central Bank could move to stop this booms/bust cycle so that we never, ever have a property pyramid again. It could do this by limiting the value of the collateral against which the banks can lend.
When you look at all property markets, they are driven not by supply and demand, but by excessive lending against collateral. As soon as prices rise, the ‘equity’ in the houses rises and banks feel that they have permission to lend more and more cash because they have the buffer of equity.
But this only ensures that yesterday’s rising prices leads to tomorrow’s increased lending.
A suggestion to stop this price/lending spiral was tabled by Israeli economist Amos Rubin. Imagine that regulators instructed lenders that the combined maximum loan amount should not exceed 70pc of the moving-average value of a property, offered as collateral, over the preceding 20 years.
This would wipe out any future house-price nonsense at a stroke, and the socially insecure would need to find another asset through which to display their endemic inadequacies.
By preventing money going into property, we liberate that money to go into other investments, which have the potential to create jobs and opportunities for Irish talent, particularly young talent.
The second government aim is to stabilise our debts. The best way to do this is reduce them. The main debt dragging the economy down is not government debt but personal debt associated with too much housing-related mortgage debt.
Irish mortgage debt could be wiped out overnight by using the same tool used to pay off the bondholders of Anglo.
Anglo had no money so the Irish central bank used “magic” to invent money for the shell Anglo in order to pay back its creditors. The central bank did this by accepting an IOU from Anglo and depositing real money in Anglo’s account in return. Anglo used it to pay the bondholders.
This was the famous promissory note. It was a promise to pay. The Government underwrote it. But instead of paying it late March, the Government negotiated with the ECB that we’d pay it back in 2038.
Why not do something similar for mortgage holders?
Fund the cost of mortgage debt relief — via a debt for equity swap — where the banks take ownership of 50pc of the house with a massive promissory note. This promissory note could be paid back when the houses are sold. The banks can recoup the money sometime in the future.
This would take the boot of debt repayment off the necks of hundreds of thousands of citizens and would kickstart domestic demand overnight.
If it’s good enough for Anglo, surely its good enough for you? As domestic demand starts up again, we could address the third problem of reducing tax on our citizens by demanding that the multinational pay the 12pc they claim they pay but don’t.
The multinational are corporate welfare tourists, coming here so that they can get the best tax deal in the world.
They don’t pay 12pc. In reality, they pay 2.5pc.
According to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, US multinationals in Ireland reported net income of €95.6bn.
On this “taxes other than income and payroll taxes” payable in Ireland in 2010 amounted to €2.4bn, giving an effective rate of tax of 2.5pc — far below headline rate of 12.5pc.
If these companies were to pay tax at the very low — by international standards — of 12.5pc, the exchequer would net €10bn in corporation tax per year.
You could give a lot of tax cuts to the ordinary citizen with this money adding to domestic demand and investment just at a time when the debt deal reduces personal mortgage-related debt.
These changes to the way we do business would not only be fair and just, but would create the demand to lift many hundreds of thousands of people off the dole queues. And imagine, this could be done without any house price inflation.
We could have a people boom not a property boom! Now wouldn’t that be the productive result we are all looking for?
This is what real transformative change looks like.
DAVID MCWILLIAMS LAUNCHED A NEW DAILY GLOBAL FINANCE AND ECONOMIC NEWSLETTER YESTERDAY, WWW.GLOBALMACRO360.COM.
THIS IS ACCOMPANIED BY A NEW PUNK ECONOMICS ANIMATION, AVAILABLE HERE.