Sunday 28 May 2017

Parties have to get real -- they can't guarantee even one job

GOVERNMENTS can do many things, from declaring war to building hospitals, but there are limits to what they can do and what they should even try to do. Governments can't make you happy and they can't make you a long-term, sustainable job either.

Of course, governments can create jobs -- jobs for the boys or jobs for thousands of people fortunate enough to qualify for this or that programme -- but they cannot somehow magic vast numbers of jobs out of thin air, which is why all the parties are being remarkably cynical by promising to do just that.

Oh, I know they have costed plans and dreams of green tech jobs and cloud computing jobs and internship jobs and all manner of other kinds of jobs, but I just don't believe any of it.

It is really hard to think of a country anywhere that has succeeded in making work for large sections of society. Most make-work schemes are nothing more than giant ponzi schemes which eat up scarce government resources to make a government look good for a few years. The communist states were particularly good at make-work schemes, but beggared their countries in the process.

The idea that the market knows best has taken a justified battering in the past two years, but there is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. When it comes to the jobs market, employers really do know better than the government how many people their companies need to employ.

Despite this self-evident truth, we have seen parties such as Fine Gael (which, as the traditional party of business, really should know better) tell us last week that it will lean on IDA-funded companies to accept thousands of interns as part of that party's ambitious (or simply impossible) target of creating 100,000 jobs over the lifetime of the next government.

This is not to say that 100,000 jobs cannot be created in the years ahead. It is quite possible employment will be created on this scale -- but the creating will come from local and foreign companies.

If the next government really wants to create jobs, it should dedicate itself to allowing the conditions for business to flourish. The jobs will follow. The next government must ensure that the tax system, rates, employment law, the courts and all the other aspects of commercial life make sense.

To be fair, we do have a pro-active regime. Most of our legislation is fairly sensible and we have less red tape than many other countries. What we do lack is judicial oversight along with transparent planning laws and transparency within the system. The commercial court works well, but needs to be expanded so it can cope far more quickly with the ill-effects of the recession.

We also need methods to ensure the prompt payment of bills and the like. Both the private and public sectors have terrible records when it comes to payment.

There is a good case to be made for commercial courts in all our cities with commercially-minded or trained judges and, in an ideal world, no recourse to the Supreme Court, which is playing an increasingly malign role in our business life and becoming a court of appeal rather than a constitutional court in many cases.

The State must also begin to plan and tell business about its plans years before the changes happen. The outgoing Government has often been arbitrary when it comes to business and inclined to spring surprises for fear of tackling interest groups.

We need governments that are able to announce that in five years energy laws will change, while in 10 years the rules governing tax deductions will be altered.

The American constitution does not, as many suppose, guarantee a right to happiness -- it guarantees the right to the pursuit of happiness. The next government should do something similar -- it cannot guarantee a single, long-term job, let alone 100,000, but it can guarantee individuals and companies the right to pursue jobs and job creation.

Irish Independent

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