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That Eddie Hobbes Feeling

8.16.2005

Talking to a friend of mine today regarding Ireland's latest people's champion, Eddie Hobbes, he reckons that his new show 'Rip-Off Republic' could bring down the government. While such rhetoric may be overblown, it would be certainly misguided to dismiss out of hand the Hobbes effect. His show is causing waves all over the place. I think The Last Word led with a piece inspired by last nights episode on fun and booze.
The show loosely based around winding people up about how much money they throw away when they purchase goods in Ireland. It is not this not so shocking fact that offers the show its potency, although the ire which it seems to be releasing in us ordinary folk is fascinating, it is instead the venom which he pours on the government. Lifting names almost verbatim from the phoenix, Hobbes has coined his own lexicon of government official's; Big Mac, Michael McDowell, Minister for Fun, John o Donoghue. etc.
Hobbes looks like out populisting the populist minister for justice. This is a good and a bad thing. For those of us concerned at the manner in which this government has constructed a superficially low-tax economy while maintaining some of the highest prices in Europe, a cheer must be given for the man Hobbes. His pointed and often simple critique of the government is that at all times it has facilitated vested interests in ripping us off. If one includes tax and especially double taxation as vested interests, as some in the blogosphere might, one has just about the kernel of his argument together. By and large the diagnosis is ok.
There is a large and often justified feeling that we in Ireland are being ripped off by anyone who subscribes to the ideals of profit. However the deep discomfort that will be felt by most progressives in this country is the simplicity with which a populist message can become a witch hunt. Hobbes experiment in media influence in the political process may be one of the kick off points in populist led democracy in this country. If it is to become a fixture in our political discourse this is a good thing. Hobbes' programme is doing more to get people discussing competition and prices than any government ad campaign. Surely the government want him onside, I know I would.
However the difficulty of conducting a debate through the television is that many of the important and often complex points get passed over. Pricing and competition in beer is one thing, issues such as taxation and the moral responsibility to redistribute wealth is something that Hobbes glosses over to demonise the government for being unable to tax properly.
Hobbes' show is an experiment in popular democracy by TV, from our own living rooms we make a statement by simply watching the show, government is held over a barrel by robust language and harsh criticism. Yet the show left major impressions of being little more than a rant.
We need to become aware of the role of tax and of profiteering in our current 'market system'. The benefit of Hobbes is he opened a can of worms and pushed the boat out in terms of attitudes to politicians. His show is a good model of accountability in Irish politics, it seems that lots of aggressive talk is and embarrassment is the best way to secure accountability.
Im still addicted, bombastic Eddie is a cackle to watch, in broader political terms progressives should consider the benefit of popular shows to publicise some of the most unequal aspect of Irish society. We should also be alert to the potential for a populist circle to develop where the call is not for sensible legislation and regulation but simply lowering taxes. The state needs to finance its meager attempt to fulfill its responsibilities and tax is the plank in such a process.
Still, power to the people is the unpredictable side of democracy that so scares democratic states into repression and oligarchy.
RR

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  1. Anonymous Mark Waters | 9:27 a.m. |  

    Regarding taxation, one point the programme got across was that the low income tax rate is more than compensated for by the high taxes on goods and services.

    This imbalance reduces the value of taxation as a means of redistributing wealth. The poor may more taxes relative to their income than the rich.

  2. Blogger Cian | 1:03 p.m. |  

    Correct enough, the problem that i see with the style of populist talk on the show is that instead of exploring the complex issue at the heart of our 'low tax' economy, the show encourages all or most blame to be placed on taxation. Thus we are not saying put the tax back on income and off goods and services, merely scrap tax that makes stuff expensive.
    Correct about how distorting the current use of tax is on the income of the low paid. Its a pity the show didnt feel the need to engage with tax in any meaningful way.
    RR

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