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Sunday MoneyComment - March 25, 2012

Posted by Jill Kerby on March 25 2012 @ 07:00

Has the Anti-Household Charge Revealed the Power of the People?

 

Yesterday, a small, but good natured group of local people – with a smartly turned out Jack Russell terrier at their head - marched down the part of Dublin’s South Circular Road where I live to join the protest rally at the National Stadium.

It was a glorious day for a demo (and for gardening) and the boxing stadium attracted over 3,000 similarly inclined people from all across the country who had decided to take a stand over the €100 household charge.

But the real test of this national protest will be next Saturday, March 31stdeadline.

Will the bulk of the households of Ireland capitulate as the Minister for the Environment expect them to, cowed by his threats of unleashing other agencies of the state on them, including the courts if they fail to pay, or will the ‘We are the 80%’ hold firm and defy the minister?

First let me say that Phil Hogan seems to be is a nasty sort. Just another jumped up power monger who was elected by a miniscule number of local supporters but is utterly disdainful of the wider citizenry who continue to pay his inflated salary, pension and expenses.

He reminds me of Dick Cheney.  Enough said.

But his recent, brutish, threatening behaviour and that of the Fine Gael minions who were shoved in front of microphones after he was yanked off the national airwaves, seems to have put a little more steel in the backbones of the protest groups and many other folk (who may have been about to pay up) who dislike such blatant intimidation.

So will the majority register and pay the household charge by next Saturday?

Maybe.

It has been my experience that most people in this country are far more afraid of the State and its agents, like tax collectors and the courts, than the State is afraid of them. (Hasn’t it always been thus, even in so-called democracies?)

But this little protest has at least provided a tiny glimpse of what happens when folk are emboldened, if only for a brief moment, to threaten to cut off the state’s source of power – taxes.The politicians, whose very own livelihoods and source of power are personally threatened by this act of resistance, end up panicking.  They say the most extraordinary things (“you WILL pay, or else”) in the most menacing of tones. 

The ‘servant of the people’ mask slips and they reveal their true nature.

Since this economic depression began, the Phil Hogan’s in all the ruling parties have of course, been lucky. The USC (Universal Social Charge), a far more blunt and non-progressive tax instrument than the household charge has had a devastating impact on personal spending power and the domestic economy.  The higher VAT is further destabilising the retail trade.

Yet the USC (and 23% VAT rate) was passed, implemented and is being collected with barely a whimper because every employer also felt compelled, under fear of retribution, to hand over this money.

Self-assessment tax collections, by contrast, only work when the taxpayer themselves decide it is in their self-interest to do so. We’ll see next Saturday how many people collectively decide it is no longer in their interest or that of their families to pay this charge and instead to defy the will of the state.

I’m guessing that a large number of people who paid directly from the government payroll or whose income is mainly derived from the exchequer and therefore ripe for a little ‘withholding’ action, will pay the household charge by March 31st.

They and many others, despite their deep unhappiness with austerity and the repayment of private bank debts will also pay because they also reckon €100 isn’t worth fighting over and they always pay their bills at the last minute anyway.

That will leave the diehards. 

 

The property tax

But the entire chambolic event doesn’t auger well for the introduction of the property/site water usage taxed from next year, when real money is at stake.

If the state can’t convince the bulk of the private property owning citizenry to cheerfully and promptly pay a small charge that is clearly needed in 2012, at a time of desperate economic need by local authorities, how can it possibly imagine that the same people will agree to pay a multiple of €100 next year? 

Many people are not convinced any new money raised will improve services in their community; some believe the income tax and all the other levies allocated for local authorities is already being wasted.  

Saturday’s protest was organised by parties who are not just against bailing out the banks, but who also oppose any tax that is not progressive enough to exempt their followers as well as the unwaged/poor (who are already exempt.)

The bulk of all taxes, say the anti-household charge leaders, should always be paid for by “the rich” though they are divided on whether a property tax is ever justified, except for “the rich”. (Property tax is a tax on wealth, not labour.)

If a site tax is introduced there is certainly a risk that many anti-household tax supporters, living in modest dwellings but on valuable sites, will be required to pay more than than someone who owns a fine house on a low value site. Cue demands for average industrial wage income exemptions if that happens.

Ironically, the dwellers of the high moral ground share also share the same attributes with the Phil Hogan’s.

If they were in power they too would use threats and force to make whoever they deemed rich enough to pay for the services and entitlements they believe should be free to their followers.

If Ireland is ever going to get out of this deepening economic quagmire, the part of the anti-household charge campaign that has revealed that the people do have the ability to curb the rampant power of the government - needs to grow.

But the other side of the picture, the redrawing of the function and power of the state and its servants, in accordance of the real desire of the people, how much funding it requires (as opposed to how much it wants) and whether those funds are collected voluntarily or by force, hasn’t even begun.

Until then, we’re just a bunch of debt serfs who will be led by trumped up little dictators from either the left or right.

 

Ends

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