Monday night saw the last episode of Rip off Republic. The first 2/3rds of the show were less about individual rip-offs and more about the general state of financial life in Ireland in 2005. The last third of the show then briefly touched on some individual problems.
To start with Eddie explained how indebted the people of Ireland. We now owe more than we earn as a nation. That's not national debt, that's personal debt. By the end of 2006 we will be the most indebted nation in the developed world and we are the 2nd most unequal society.
Eddie covered one of the problems faced by immigrants who come to Ireland looking for work. They are at risk of being exploited. There was a case of a immigrant paid €5 an hour to walk dogs instead of the minimum wage of €7.42. The reason for this? The employer said the he was still being trained in dog walking. Eddie made a bit of a joke about it by going onto the streets of Cork trying to hire a dog walker for €5 an hour and "interviewing" people. I didn't particularly like this part as it made light of a pretty serious issue, the exploitation of immigrants. But I suppose the whole series is about serious topics and maybe comedy highlighted the absurd nature of the situation.
Next came pensions and how difficult it is to accumulate a decent pension if you are working in the private sector. To get a pension of €40,000 a year you need to put around €1,000,000 into your pension fund. That is way beyond most people who on average make about €500 a week and once bills are living expenses are paid they are left with very little, especially if they have to pay unexpected bills. Another sketch followed with Eddie suffering a series of accidents and needing a doctor, a plumber, a mechanic, etc. Its frightening how quickly money can disappear and how standard the prices among people who are supposed to be in competition is.
He made just passing references to Credit Cards and Benefit in Kind. BIK I can live with, I understand that alot of people avoided tax in the past by getting company cars, or gifts and presents instead of direct cash. Credit Cards though deserved ALOT more attention than they got, in fact banks in general could have had a whole episode dedicated to them. The charges and interest rates they apply are grossly unfair and need regulation. However Eddie was again a little cautious and obviously didn't want to offend what would be a big client base of his.
Eddie ended the show by telling people that in the end they need to stop the Rip Off attitude. They need to help the competition authority by reporting un-competitive behaviour. I personally think that anti-competitive practices in Ireland today are one of the biggest problems we face. There is no such thing in Ireland as competition. Prices rarely go down due to competition, instead they tend to go up to the highest level charge not down to the lowest.
Apparently RTE are ready to make a second series, so they obviously don't expect the issues to go away any time soon. I would expect that they will find a repeat slot for the first series sometime soon, lots of people that I know missed the first two episodes and only started watching the show when the press got behind it.
Will the show change anything? Probably not. But you know, I think it has brought the issues to the fore in the publics mind. Next week most people will probably wander back to watching Lost and forget how annoyed they were on Monday evening. In the end we Irish get ripped off because we are too lazy to do anything about it. We shop in the nearest convenience market where everything is more expensive, instead of going up the road to the supermarket. We stay with our bank because they have always been our bank. We buy coffee at €3.70 a cup because its the fashionable place to be seen. We drink ourselves silly on expensive booze because that's what our mates are doing. We re-elect the same politicians because they get things done locally, even if they are screwing things up nationally. But for 5 weeks this summer the publics eyes were opened and maybe some of us will be a little more careful with our money in future even without realising it. In the end maybe we will have something to thank Eddie Hobbs for, though we will probably still be complaining about Rip Off Ireland in 5 years time.