We’re much better at producing particularly good contrarian voices than we are at listening to them.
The lone voice in the wind is to be laughed at, scorned or ignored – especially if we don’t like what they’re saying.
And when it comes to pointing out that the emperor has no clothes, there’s none so blind as those who do not wish to see.
For much of the last 15 years, the emperor had a permanent wardrobe malfunction.
The boom was flying, tax receipts were up and we were all getting filthy rich selling houses to each other. A soft landing was far off in the distance, we were told. Grand and soft, like flopping down on one of those king sized mattresses that we were all buying at the time.
Except there never was a soft landing, because there never was ever going to be – and if you had the benefit of some learning in the field of economics or you paid attention to the contrarian voices, you’d have known.
Over the past several weeks several senior people, including two former Taoisigh have given evidence to the banking enquiry.
They have expressed genuine contriteness about what happened to the country after they left office. But they also absolve themselves a little from the blame.
“Nobody saw it coming.”
“The consensus was clear, we were doing well. Nothing to worry about.”
And best of all, something Fianna Fail keep trotting out, “there was nothing an open economy like ours could do after the collapse of LehmanBrothers in the US”.
These are great lines – there’s a hint of plausibility about them, which many will find persuasive.
Except that it’s not true.
“When I hear the view that nobody saw this coming or that this was in some way a shock or we were taken by surprise, I do not believe that is the case. I think the Irish property and banking crashes were both incredibly predictable and absolutely preventable.”
They’re the words of the economist and commentator David McWilliams in his opening remarks to the Banking Enquiry at the end of last February.
“I probably spent the best part of a decade trying to warn as many people as possible on as many platforms as possible that our property market was going to crash and that when it did, our banking system would be in a situation where money would fly out of the system and lead to a banking crisis.
“I did this in hundreds of thousands of words in dozens of articles, two a week in the Irish Independent, the biggest selling newspaper in the country, and in The Sunday Business Post.
I made documentaries on TV3, which was watched by tens of thousands of people.
“I warned people at every juncture that our housing market was a credit bubble and credit bubbles burst and it is not a matter of if they burst, but when they burst.
“So these ideas were out there, disseminated widely, in the most accessible way.”
Admittedly, David is a great self publicist, and sometimes bloody hard to listen to.
But importantly and sadly, he’s not wrong.
- Conor McHugh
- First published in Leinster Leader edition dated July 28, 2015