When the quake hit

Victor Duggan and his Mexican wife Ixchel in the park in Mexico City that they headed to when Tuesday’s earthquake struck. Photograph: Tom Griffen

My wife, Ixchel, and I moved from Paris to Mexico City late last year for work. Although born here, and having lived here most of her adult life, my wife’s family had moved to the north of the country only weeks before the earthquake that hammered the city in 1985, killing nearly 10,000 people.

Even she had never felt anything like the mega-quake that struck this past Tuesday, September 19th, nor the one that hit the south of the country a dozen days earlier. This was a new and terrifying experience for both of us.

We live in Roma Norte, a newly-hip neighbourhood that has only in recent years been reclaimed and restored, having been devastated and depopulated by the 1985 quake.

My wife, Ixchel, and I moved from Paris to Mexico City late last year for work. Although born here, and having lived here most of her adult life, my wife’s family had moved to the north of the country only weeks before the earthquake that hammered the city in 1985, killing nearly 10,000 people.

Even she had never felt anything like the mega-quake that struck this past Tuesday, September 19th, nor the one that hit the south of the country a dozen days earlier. This was a new and terrifying experience for both of us.

*** This article was first published in The Irish Times on 21 September, 2017 ***

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Leonomics: lost in fiscal space

After months, if not years, of shadow boxing, the Fine Gael leadership race was less Game of Thrones, and more Mad Max. Two men entered, one man leads. Realistically, there was only ever going to be one winner.

In some ways, the new Age of Leo bears all the hallmarks of what came before. His swift and seemingly inevitable ascent to the throne was a decade-long masterclass in media management and the projection of a political image. Ever-ready with a pithy soundbite, if light on Ministerial accomplishment, it was a true triumph of style over substance.

That is not to say that the Taoiseach is devoid of substance. Far from it. In fact, recognising Paddy’s scepticism of ‘ologies and isms’, he has become adept at using the dog-whistle, where once he would have blown the fog-horn. Where once he whipped up a frenzy of opposition to the sale of methadone in his local chemist or openly invited immigrants to self-deport, his recent leadership campaign was aimed at ‘people who get up early in the morning’. He has learned over the years to cloak his hard-right instincts in language that is populist and palatable. This is Leonomics: Reaganomics with Irish characteristics.

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Twelve steps to tackle Ireland’s housing crisis

Watching Ireland’s housing crisis unfold has been like watching a slow-motion car crash.

Surging numbers of rough sleepers around our cities were an early sign, shortly after the economic crisis struck. As job losses mounted, and wage cuts began to bite, more and more people struggled to pay their mortgage and keep a roof over their family’s heads.

Meanwhile, the shutdown in house-building was storing up problems for the future. Chronic shortages in housing supply have sent rents surpass their boom-time peaks, while house prices have increased by half since they bottomed out four years ago. Record numbers of families are forced to stay in hotels or in emergency accommodation. Some have had to resort to sleeping in their cars or putting themselves at the mercy of the local Garda station.

*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 29 June, 2017 ***

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Venezuela: failed state, betrayed revolution

Venezuela is in crisis, sliding further towards collapse.

Opposition protests sparked by attempts by the Supreme Court, stacked with loyalists to President Nicolás Maduro, to usurp the legislative powers of Congress have already seen dozens killed.

Perhaps inconveniently for the government, the President’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) had lost their Congressional majority in the 2015 elections for the first time since Hugo Chávez was swept into power by a democratic landslide in 1999. Shortly after Chávez’ first became President, he set about re-writing Venezuela’s constitution, giving more powers to the Presidency and laying the foundations for his Bolivarian revolution – Socialism for the 21st Century, as he called it.

This piece of history is important, given that President Maduro last week pledged to reconvene another constituent assembly to re-write the constitution once again. This is seen by many as a thinly-veiled attempt to delay the regional elections scheduled later this year, and the Presidential election scheduled for 2018.

*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 12 May, 2017 ***

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Mexico: political risk update

“May you live in interesting times” is a Chinese curse that seems apt to describe Mexico at its current political juncture. Times are certainly interesting. With the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., much focus in recent months has been outward-looking. Indeed, political risk in the diplomatic sphere is perhaps higher than at any time in living memory.

Domestically, the current administration is on the cusp of its final year in office, and the lame-duck status that goes with it. The pre-campaign to elect a new President in 2018 is well under way, with a very real possibility that Mexico will elect its first ever leftist President. At the same time, recent high-profile incarcerations of former high-level government officials and narco-traffickers has shone a spotlight on corruption and organised crime like never before.

With imminent – and important – state-level domestic elections in June 2017, seen by many as a prelude to the Presidential elections taking place in July 2018, the scope for political and policy change in Mexico over the period to late-2018 is significant. In light of the single term limit on the Mexican Presidency, the incumbent, Enrique Peña Nieto, will give way to his successor on December 1st, 2018. Opinion polls suggest a three-way fight between Peña Nieto’s PRI, the opposition PAN – which held the Presidency from 2000 to 2012 – and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), at the head of Morena, the movement he left the PRD – traditionally Mexico’s 3rd party, and for whom AMLO twice contested the Presidency – to form.

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Do Trump’s Tax Cuts Threaten Ireland?

Yesterday, U.S. President Donald Trump made his ‘big announcement’ on tax cuts. Some Irish eyes aren’t smiling at the prospect of the headline-grabbing reduction in the corporation tax rate from 35% to 15% actually coming to pass. Essentially, though, this latest announcement amounts to little more than reheated campaign promises, washed down with Trump’s now-familiar saccharine bombast.

This was not a well-thought out exercise in policy innovation, but rather a cheap PR stunt designed to boost his flagging ratings and attract plaudits ahead of the media-constructed – but substantially meaningless – landmark of his Presidency’s first 100 days, which falls this Saturday.

*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 27 April, 2017 ***

OECD Corporation Tax Rates since 2000

Source: Tax Policy Reforms in the OECD 2016

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Globalisation for Slow Learners

The IMF recently published its updated outlook for the global economy. The good news is that recovery from the crisis seems to be finally picking up some momentum after a decade of sub-par growth. The bad news, as they see it, is that this momentum could be stopped in its tracks if the sword of Damocles that is the threat of protectionism – whether emanating from Trump’s White House, May’s Westminister or elsewhere – falls. This could throw the process of globalisation into reverse, they worry, and slow growth in the size of the economic pie.

Alongside their biannual economic forecasts, the IMF also publishes its latest thinking on various themes. In light of increased focus on the issue of inequality since the global financial crisis, to which the recent rise in political populism has been attributed, the IMF provides a timely chapter on “Understanding the downward trend in labour income shares”. It explores the reasons why the share of wages in GDP has declined markedly – in advanced, emerging and developing economies alike – in recent decades. Between the mid-1970s and its 2006 low, the labour share has declined from around 55% of GDP to around 50% in advanced economies, before recovering only slightly since the financial crisis, while income inequality has increased significantly over the same period.

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