Gombeens, spivs and bankers
CONOR McCabe’s work is a major attempt to understand the structural processes that led to the Irish state’s current loss of sovereignty and unmanageable public debt burden.
This is not a catchphrase heavy morality tale of populist economics, rather it places recent disastrous actions in their historical context, from the creation of the Free State in 1922 to the 2010 arrival of the IMF, in five highly readable chapters.
Each chapter uncovers a long history of economic mismanagement while also demolishing myths that have been used to cover the selfish activities of a small section of the population and, more recently, give rise to the blasé “we all partied” claims of the political class.
The first chapter, dealing with housing, exposes the policy decisions that gave rise to decades of Irish property inflation and the systematic skewing of ownership patterns towards private rather than public. In doing so, McCabe dismisses as a creation of politicians, developers and estate agents the myth of an “Irish property-owning gene” pushing people to paying over the odds for houses.
In chapters on agriculture, industry and finance, McCabe takes us through the machinations of an elite whose stifling conservatism led them to – despite protestations to the contrary – crave the maintenance of the state’s provincial economic status.
Through successive political administrations, state policy is revealed as constantly pandering to agricultural, speculative and financial elites that placed their ties to foreign interests, and accrued short-term benefits, above rational economic development.
In the final chapter, McCabe shows that the great “mistakes” of the blanket bank guarantee and NAMA, “a bailout of well-connected bankers, speculators and builders”, as merely the logical working out of the long-established political class’s priorities.
The biggest losers in all this? On page 45, McCabe delivers a biting critique of a state housing policy based on decades of government-created incentive schemes for speculative builders. This denied people local authority housing or mortgage lending and placed them with “no option but to turn to the publicly-subsided entrepreneurs for what is a basic human need.”
On page 137, McCabe neatly summarises the scam of the state renting properties from these same speculative builders: “…the government’s policy of funding speculation with tax breaks and absorbing speculation via office rent was in effect the wholesale transfer of wealth from the working population to builders, banks and speculators with the government as conduit.”
This work deserves to be read widely both as an essential text for understanding the background to our state’s economic ills and an antidote to those promoting the idea that Ireland need only get back to where it was prior to the mal-administration of Bertie Ahern’s stint as Taoiseach.
What his work clearly indicates is that the economy of the Irish state has always been dysfunctional, and those classes that have benefited from this dysfunction at the expense of the majority for generations are still in power. Scott Millar
I bumped into Brian Hanley in town yesterday and he told me about it so I went into Easons and bought The Village purely for that reason!
such a tart sometimes.
It was nice of Harry Browne to mention the talk and the book. It gives it a bit of coverage so I must thank him for that. and his point about the Irish Times as a local Dublin paper was spot on as well.