A Plague of Economists – Ireland from Collapse to Renewed Hubris

The one good thing the last six years has brought is that we no longer have to suffer from bond salesmen in the media, pontificating and solemnly suggesting that everything is just fine, even though buttons are bursting all around us and the economy turns into Mr Creosote.

Just a wafer thin bank guarantee …

The bad thing is that the university economists have replaced them, scattering sackcloth and ashes and making the Minister for Hardship sound like Tommy Tiernan.

More than most, we in Ireland seem to have a lot of them on the telly, on the radio , in the papers, a bit like having epidemiologists on the telly during the Black Death, if they had telly, or epidemiologists, and to be honest with you, the analogy is closer than I realised when I started making this limp joke.   It is a plague, isn’t it?  We’re living through an economic plague and the economists are, perhaps, one symptom (or maybe a cause) of it.

If you exclude David McWilliams, most commentary now is from university economists, which of course is not necessarily a bad thing.  Probably the mouthiest of them is Brian Lucey, who donates an occasional pearl of wisdom to this site, but he’d be in close competition with The Count (and not in a Charlie Flanagan sense) Gurdgiev, the Dark Prince of economic gloom on the telly.

It’s funny, but not in a funny way.  Not so long ago, how many economists did we know?  I’m guessing roughly none.

Not one.   Not a sausage.

Given a choice between listening to practitioners of the Dismal Science and following the World Grass-Growing Championships.most of us were in there cheering for Fescue.

But nowadays, now that the sky has actually fallen, everyone wants to be on the side of Chicken Licken and we all know them.   The smart young lad from Limerick, the chap from Cork, the gobby Kerryman, the ubiquitous mellifluous one from DCU, Dr Doom from Moscow.  Others like the jolly one from UCD, the glumly-accurate expert in the Black Death who saw parallels with the Irish economy.  The baldy one from Trinity.

They mostly seem to reside in the newspapers and magazines now, not on Drivetime, Vincent Browne or Newstalk, and in some ways I suppose that’s a good thing.   After all, they are public servants, albeit in the superior, condescending way that Sir Humphrey is a public servant, so we may as well get some public service from them.

Like all academics, they have a number of things to do. They’re supposed to teach, to publish research, to pitch into fundraising and admin.  And, as professors, they’re supposed to profess.  To try to explain what exactly is going on.

So what are they doing?

University libraries are great places. With a very little effort and a half-decent excuse, members of the public can usually get into them. Nowadays 95% of what they do is on line and there’s a great database called Scopus, from Elsevier, the massive rent-extracting machine that controls a whack of the world’s scientific journals and charges eye-watering amounts to read content.  Into the library, onto the database, plugging in some names and hey presto. What the talking heads have been doing is revealed.

Since the Great Plague of 2008, you’d imagine all these professors would have been churning out professorial papers in gigantic abundance, wouldn’t you?

Admittedly, quantity doesn’t equal quality, and I suppose that one good piece is worth a hundred useless ones but a first step in getting a good piece is to get any piece, and these guys are paid to do research, which presumably includes publishing it.

So here we go.

Nonsense published since the Great Plague, by the mediaconomists.

In order of output.

Brian Lucey 52
Stephen Kinsella 19
Karl Whelan 13
Morgan Kelly 9
Constantin Gurdgiev 4
Seamus Coffey 0
Tony Foley 0

Naturally, this doesn’t mean they published anything that made sense, but still, we have to start somewhere.

5 thoughts on “A Plague of Economists – Ireland from Collapse to Renewed Hubris

  1. I have been reading Paul Krugman’s ‘End this Depression – Now’, which was published in 2012 (I am a very slow reader) and was astonished at the extent to which academic economics has been politicised, research being produced to support ideology.

    Are there grounds to suspect publication, or otherwise, is determined by whether findings are congenial to particular viewpoints?

  2. I wouldn’t have much interest myself in reading economic journals, where the terms of reference I wouldn’t be familiar with.

    I’d have a gander at Mr. Gurdgiev’s analysis and charts on occasion, but you’d end up bogged down in terms of referencing terms to understand the trends of the charts -for example looking at how GDP is calculated and then how it’s distorted and inaccurate due to multinational accounting practices.
    Also how GDP per capita is not an accurate indicator of individual wealth.. it fails to factor income equality.

    I’d be slow to call any study of economics a science.
    It seems like a pseudo science to me, that’s overly complicated, when it needn’t be.
    It seems to me, we need to focus on what type of society do we want long term? One focused on the best quality of life for people, distribution of wealth, affordable housing etc. Not fancy analysis and charts.

    E.g. on housing for instance, we need to ask what NAMA are doing –

    Although we don’t hear much about it, Nama has a mandate to “contribute to the social and economic development of the State”.
    The uncomfortable truth is that those who will benefit most from Government housing policy, and Nama in particular, are international wealthy investors and banks, developers and landlords – and not the ordinary Irish people who have paid dearly for the write-downs on development loans transferred to Nama.

    The reality is that Nama is playing a significant role in worsening the housing crisis through its sale of assets to real estate investment trusts (REITs). The Government encouraged the setting-up of Irish-based REITs in 2012 through generous tax breaks

    Put simply, we’ve funded Nama, who are in turn selling Irish properties to foreign ‘vulture funds’, who’ll control rents, and let properties sit idle if required to jump up rents..

    It seems the social aim of Nama has been forgotten. We bloody funded it ffs.

  3. One other thing, I recall reading a post from Brian Lucey a while back on how we can’t have nice things because we don’t pay enough tax here.
    That really is a myth.

    This report from IBEC is fairly easy to follow –

    In response to some serious misinformation that has entered the Irish budget debate, Ibec today published ‘Debunking Irish income tax myths’. The new report finds that Ireland has one of the punitive income tax regimes in the EU, and says over half of taxpayers would benefit from a cut to the 52% marginal tax rate. The report is based on comprehensive new analysis of Revenue and international tax statistics.

    Ibec Head of Policy and Chief Economist Fergal O’Brien said: “The Irish income tax regime is amongst the most punitive in Europe. The marginal tax rate, which is now an eye watering 52%, is a barrier to investment and job creation. It is also a serious disincentive to working, taking a promotion or doing overtime.

    In terms of the disincentive to doing overtime, this is relation to taxation measures whereby you pay USC at what they reference in that report as absolute entry points, meaning it’s not pro-rata’d.
    The PDF is at the bottom of that article and worth a read.

  4. Economists generally do little to nothing but sometimes, as above, their ejaculations make headlines and sell newspapers.

  5. hehe Journeymans. Doesn’t seem like proper work at all does it?

    Watched this on Euro News the other night, if anyone might be interested –


    It was what I was getting at above, in terms of not just increasing/measuring GDP as gauging how well off people generally are in a country (which GDP doesn’t IMO), but having policies that contribute positively to peoples’ lives.

    What makes people happy?
    Measuring human happiness is increasingly becoming a pursuit of economists, who use a range of research tools to gauge and quantify popular contentment at a national level. A common factor is money, but that’s far from the whole story, as we find out in this edition of Real Economy.

    A bit touchy feely for some economists maybe..but, tis good IMO.

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