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On this morning’s Marian Finucane radio programme * a discussion began about the culpability of former Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, for Ireland’s economic mess. From former minister, Mary O’Rourke, came the familiar routine of “we all had a party, so no one is at fault” and then Eddie Hobbs offered the view that the ordinary person couldn’t be expected to understand an economic bubble and that those he calls “gatekeepers” failed to warn the general public.**

Eddie is wrong. Anyone with normal intelligence, a basic education and a little interest in their surroundings could see that – whatever about the wider world – Ireland was headed for a fall. Failing to see this required enormous stupidity or wilful blindness. It was a topic of discussion among ordinary people, many of whom could see that the property boom was a scam, bound to end. These ordinary people held on to their savings and/or didn’t borrow to buy property.

Eddie is right, however, to blame “gatekeepers” for failing. The term usually refers to media workers but Eddie included public service economists. Two points need to be made. Firstly, the distinction is correctly drawn here between people who are paid to think, write, speak up and manage and the rest who are merely expected to do these things. It is the difference between citizens and those whom society expects to do a particular job because they are paid for it. Who are these people? Clearly, elected politicians, advisers, civil servants, economics professionals, journalists, producers and researchers are included but so too are public commentators, lecturers, teachers and managers – particularly managers in banking and finance.

Secondly, nothing whatsoever has been done about this failure. Let’s be blunt: If an electrician or plumber failed to perform to the point of wrecking the house, they’d hardly be let continue. (Well, in view of the dangerous buildings now coming to light, that may be a topic in itself.) In the case of those paid to think, write and speak up … Nothing! They are all still there. They did not do what they were paid to do and they are all still there. They are known to be useless and they are all still there.

They didn’t fail to perform some difficult task. There are many failures trying to find cover in the fabrication that Ireland’s economic crash came as a surprise. It bears repeating that only a complete fool could have confused a building boom with a productive economy and only the wilfully blind could have failed to see the bricks and mortar evidence accumulating across the country. (That some did see the problem but remained silent is a different kind of failure. ***)

It is simply implausible to suggest that some kind of recovery could be achieved while so many of those paid to think and to manage are demonstrably unable or unwilling to do their jobs.
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* http://www.rte.ie/radio/radioplayer/rteradioweb.html#!rii=9%3A10146436%3A70%3A12%2D05%2D2013%3A
** At about 11.00 mins. into the programme.
*** https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/time-for-a-clear-out-who-misled-and-who-remained-silent-as-a-completely-irish-made-fiasco-developed/

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4 Comments

  1. Colum, I agree with most of what you say but I do think that the citizens cannot be totally absolved from their part in the economic disaster. Who voted in Fianna Fail and Bertie Ahern time after time? the ordinary citizens. And why did they vote them in? Because Finna Fail was dishing out money left right and centre. Frankly, I felt ashamed of the ordinary citizens of Ireland when they persisted in their foolishness. I am not in any way diminishing the contempt I have for the appalling greed and stupidity of those who should have been the gatekeepers and protectors of the state but I don’t think you can attribute virtue to everyone else who was not a gatekeeper.
    It must also be said, in the interests of balance, that there were many people who did not join the mindless pursuit of money and possessions, despite Mary O’Rourke’s ridiculous assertion.

  2. Dermot, I agree. However, I think it important to distinguish between those paid to do something and the rest of us. The problem for Ireland is that we are continuing to rely on those who are clearly not able or who lack the integrity to do their jobs.
    I do not share the view that we were all mesmerised or that we all partied. Rather I take the view that there were legions of fools among those tricked out of their money. I’ve a lot of sympathy for young people who wanted to start a home and were panicked by constant reference to the “property ladder”. However, adults who invested in what was clearly a bubble should not be considered as people who fell victim to some unpredictable calamity. They should be told – especially when they appear in media – that they behaved stupidly and that they have no excuse. Mind you, they’ll still have to be somehow baled out for the common good.

  3. I have a similar point to Dermot’s. Is blaming the “gatekeepers” such as civil servants , in particular, not to let ideology off the hook?

  4. Joanna, It might be argued that “blaming” ideology is a way of letting people off the hook just as “culture” is used as a cover for wrongdoing. However, in this particular instance ideology simply doesn’t feature. The failure of these people didn’t serve right wing thinking; failure is down to either crass stupidity or lack of integrity.
    https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/from-the-cardinal-to-the-chancers-its-time-to-make-integrity-important/


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] In a republic the media provide citizens with challenging viewpoints and citizens are expected to think, speak and come to judgement. This did not happen because we tolerate poor performance and lack of personal integrity particularly among our professional elite – journalists, academics, teachers, managers etc. The crisis was certainly caused by political policy and ideology but it was also caused by very many people failing to do what they were paid to do and thereby letting down their fellow citizens. Those people are still in place: https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/they-are-known-to-be-useless-and-they-are-all-still-t… […]

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