Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pre-budget speculation

Next Wednesday is Budget Day, and the Government finances have never been in greater surplus. Everyone is expecting a generous pre-election budget, despite the protestations of fiscal rectitude emanating from the Taoiseach and his cabinet.

Today’s (Sunday) papers are full of front-page speculation on what rabbits will be pulled out of Minister Cowan’s hat. Income tax rates, stamp-duty, welfare and pension increases, mortgage interest relief etc are all speculated on.

RTE radio’s hour-long This Week programme devoted serious time to it, with their own George Lee and the Independent’s Business Editor Brendan Keenan pressed to speculate on what the main budget measures will be.

I’ve no doubt that we’ll have media speculation overload for the next 3 days, followed by media analysis overload for the following week

What I can’t understand is, other than filling media space, what function is fulfilled or benefit delivered from pre-budget speculation when the actual outcome will be known with absolute certainty in a couple of days time?

This is standard procedure for the media circus in the lead up to publication of judicial decisions, budget measures, the content of James Baker's Iraq Study Group etc.. Talking heads keeping each other in business (and appearance fees) but ultimately engaged in a pointless exercise, unless there is some likelihood that they will in fact influence the outcome. Which is rarely, if ever, the case.

Footnote: A couple of hours after posting this, I got a call from RTE's Questions & Answers wondering if I'd like to be in the audience on Monday night when one of the main topics under discussion would be the upcoming Budget. They thought I might be interested, based on the content of a couple of letters published. Needless to say, I declined the invitation but couldn't help smiling about the irony of it.

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