'Money is the root of all evil' – that’s what some would have you believe. As it happens, it’s an amputated quotation; the full one is ‘The love of money is the root of all evil.' And how true that is. Throughout my life, my concerns over money were more often about how little I had in my bank account rather than on to what degree was that little was impacting on my life. When I thought of my balance looking solid or even bloated, I got a warm fuzzy glow. When I thought of my balance being skinny and skeletal, I worried.
Something similar applies to governments. They fret if the national debt is too big for its boots; they get ecstatic and shout loudly if they can point to a nice fat government surplus.
Let’s avert our gaze from the state of the UK’s trashed economy and look at the South. By 2026, the Dublin Government expects to have a surplus of €56 billion. There’s something delicious in thinking about that Euro mountain. But there’s a catch.
Why, on a personal or public level, do we like to sleep on a mattress stuffed with €1,000 notes? Because we could do so much with it – buy a swish car, build an extension, have a month-long holiday in Bali. If we don’t bother with spending but just trudge along at the same old pace, occasionally warming our heart at the thought of our overweight bank balance, we’re being truly stupid. Money exists to be spent, not fondled.
That thought doesn’t seem to have occurred to the Dublin Government. They have a medical system where citizens have to take out insurance and even then cough up hundreds of Euro if they want to avail themselves of an expert consultant. They have a housing system where thousands of people including children are sleeping on the streets and a climate crisis that is tipping us towards oblivion. Yet the Government has shown consistent disregard for these areas and others. Are they mad? No, it’s just that they love money.
Besides, if you’re a true neo-liberal, and most of the Dublin Cabinet are, you’ll have an aversion to government ‘interference’. 'Leave it all to the market, the market knows best' is their mantra, so they let the market rip and watch it cure itself of any weaknesses. The market doesn’t like governmental interference – look at what happened with Liz Truss.
If Leo Varadkar and his Cabinet cared about their constituents, they would gag their neo-liberalism, tie its hands behind its back and lock it in the boot of the car. They would then take their massive surplus and make major inroads into the homelessness problem. Or they could construct a free-at-the-point-of -delivery health system. Or provide subsidies that would get drivers out of their cars and into a frequent and desirable train system.
Doing any one of these would be a smart move, since resolving them even partially would be a vote-winner. But despite the most recent opinion poll – Fine Gael 19 per cent, Fianna Fail 18 per cent, Sinn Fein 34 per cent – the Dublin Government seems determined not to do the bleedin' obvious.
As a general election breathes down their neck, of course, they’ll probably organise a give-away budget. This will reward their rich friends, and to take the bad look of it, they’ll probably toss a few quid in the direction of Sean Citizen.
One of the greatest American Presidents was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His New Deal pumped money into US schemes that helped the hungry and unemployed, and a welfare system that supported those in need. He also explained to the public what he was doing, with his famous 'fireside chat' broadcasts.
Clear communication, a proper welfare system, support for those in need: Leo and Micheál should do themselves a favour and take their cue from FDR.