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20 September 2007 Edition

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TV Review : Punk economist's dire warnings

Eastern promise with few guarantees

TV review
Ireland’s Generation Game,
RTÉ One, 9.30pm Mondays

DAVID McWILLIAMS is that rare thing – a punk and an economist. He doesn’t hold to popular opinion and feels perfectly comfortable when he’s going against the zeitgeist grain. His latest deconstruction of the 26 Counties’ economic boom, under the book and series title Ireland’s Generation Game, will strike a lot of chords along the M50 and its choking tributaries. McWilliams’s bug-bear is as it has always been: cheap credit fuelling over-inflation in a property boom that is primed to eat not just itself but everything around it. 
And it’s hard to disagree.
There was a credible comparison to Uruguay, who as little as a hundred years ago was the 11th richest nation in the world, a position that was thrown away by fatally short-sighted  fiscal policies.
Naturally McWilliams will be readily accused by those who stand to lose the least that he is merely a pessimist who has buried his head in the sand and refuses to acknowledge that the economy is still growing.  But McWilliams has the ability to look at macro economics from a worm’s eye view, relating the economic realities to the relevance of everyday lifestyles.
It is his view that the younger 25-45 generation have been utterly shafted by the property boom, the poor planning and long commutes and the severe lack of childcare facilities. This is also the generation which will have the most to lose by misreading the signs which Brian Cowen claims are merely speed bumps on the road ahead.  
McWilliams’s dire warnings concerning the flight of jobs and capital to China are perfectly reasonable. The synopsis may be slightly over simplistic – the Chinese make and sell all kinds of manufactured goods to the West, the Western countries need to pay for these goods and do so by borrowing the money from the Chinese, who in turn have an ample surplus of funds as a result of paying its workforce an average of $60 per month  – but the crux of his argument is sound. Short of a revolution in China, Irish workers will have to compete with the benchmark of Chinese wages while paying Western prices for services and goods.
It is not the job of our commentators to scare the bejaysus out of mortgage holders and workers by creating pie-in-the sky economics, but nor is it their job to throw their lot in with the accepted government line. 
Even if this punk economist were somewhat wide of the mark, he should at least be applauded for informing those who continue to gorge themselves on cheap credit that jobs, just like capital, are fluid commodities and that the subsequent benefits of a ‘colossal national overdraft’ will be fleeting.
If there is a future for capitalism under the current model, we will need to see the problems coming down the track, not next year or in ten years, but in 30 years’ time. And in this regard the Chinese are already decades ahead of us.


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