The Chief Economist with Ulster Bank has retired. He was interviewed this morning on Newstalk and spoke of the role of the economist in public life, emphasising the difficulty of making predictions. He pointed out that most Irish economists predicted a “soft landing” as the property boom ended. The interviewer didn’t refer to the more serious issue. The record of public figures – not just economists – should be judged not on whether they predicted a “soft landing” or a “crash” but on whether they spent years screaming warnings about the flight itself and its daft altitude.
Any sensible, prudent person could see that quite ordinary people as well as property developers and builders were being lured into reckless investment, usually financed by borrowing, by relentless public argument and propaganda carried by uncritical media. We had years of favourable comment: it was a “no-brainer”; everyone should have a “property portfolio”. Of course all those who fell for this were foolish but that doesn’t exonerate those who encouraged, capitalised on or facilitated their foolishness.
Any contributor to public debate who did not over the years see the folly or who did see it and failed to speak out time and again, and those in the media who failed to find and give a platform to sensible contributors should never again be taken seriously.