March 13, 2014

It's time we tapped into potential of the diaspora's power

Posted in Behavioural Economics · 45 comments ·

A few years ago, a reviewer decided to do a hatchet job on a book I wrote. This book was written in mid-2006. It forecast explicitly that the Irish banks were dangerously over-lending, one of the main banks was a wildly speculative “hedge fund” and would come crashing down when the property bubble imploded.

It predicted the economy would crash in 2007 and out of the wreckage that would follow, the importance to the economy of the diaspora would be recognised and would help recovery.

At the time, the newspaper in which this review was published was buying an online estate agent,, for €50m-plus, filling its pages with property-porn and arguing editorially that we’d have a “soft landing”. The so-called “paper of record”.

The reviewer did not appear to have any understanding of “soft power”.

Soft power is the power to get others to do things for you by having friends in the right places, who act as your soft persuaders in the ears of people that you mightn’t know but who are exposed to your ideas through a third party. It is the power of networks. The diaspora is such a network.

This reviewer said my book’s central idea that the economy would crash and that the Irish State would reach out to the diaspora was “risible”. Risible is a harsh word.

Well who’s laughing now?

New ideas, which are against the mainstream, often seem to go through three phases. The first phase is the “open ridicule” phase.

The second phase is the “violent opposition” phase when new ideas are gaining traction and are therefore, a threat.

Then comes the final phase where everyone pretends they were on your side all the time!

With the banking collapse, the crisis in the economy – and the importance of the diaspora – we can safely say we are at the “everyone pretends they were on your side all the time phase”!

I am in New York the week before St Patrick’s Day and the city is getting ready for the biggest ethnic party of the calendar. You can’t help feeling the power of the diaspora here.

My interest in economics and the diaspora stems from some time I spent working in Tel Aviv. One of my Israeli colleagues noted that, wherever he went on business – whether New York, London or Sydney – it seemed to him that there were always two people left at the end of a deal, the Jew and Irishman.

Israel would be nothing without international Jewish support, how, he wondered, did the Irish use their global tribe. It was clear that we did not, in any organised way, use the great, untapped resource that is our diaspora.

There were deep, deep links but, as a State, we were half-hearted at best. The Israeli thought this was a missed opportunity which we might regret.

The diaspora want to be part of our story and we, the homeland of the tribe, should open up to them.

With so many prominent Irish people in positions of power around the world, this is quite an oversight. The Israelis got me thinking about how the economy – and business – works.

The commercial power of the diaspora is irrefutable. Of the 34 million Irish-Americans registered in the 2005 census, a third have bachelors’ degrees or higher.

That’s more than 11 million graduates.

More than 30 million Irish-Americans have a high school diploma. As 91pc of the total Irish-American population has completed secondary education, our American cousins are considerably better educated than us. Some 40pc of Irish-Americans are either professionals or work in management, and 72pc are homeowners.

Their average age is 37, but more than 10 million Irish-Americans are under 18. This is an extraordinary reservoir of talent. The 3.8 million Irish-Canadians, the 1.9 million Irish-Australians and the half-million Irish-Argentines have similar profiles in terms of education and income.

Understanding this was how the Global Irish Forum came into being. But we could go further.

It’s time to re-imagine the country as the guardian of the exiled Irish.

The diaspora Irish are our footprint around the world. And, for the home country, the Global Irish tribe is our biggest asset. Now, we Irish around the world have a great opportunity to re-imagine ourselves – where the island of Ireland is the Mothership and the global Irish Tribe is the Nation.

BY using Ireland as the dynamo, we could transform an emotional and ancestral yearning into a worldwide financial/ commercial/intellectual network. The time has come to see Ireland in the 21st Century as the cradle of a Global Nation. We should institute a “right of return” policy and extend citizenship to people of Irish descent, beyond the current cut-off point of two generations. We should also extend the vote to Irish citizens abroad.

There are two broad groups in the Tribe: the “homebirds” who have stayed and the “wanderers” who left.

The homebirds were traditional, the ‘wanderers’ were modern; we were atavistic, they were progressive; we were closed, they were open; we were a failure, they were a success; we were definitive, they were mercurial; we were rooted, they were free; we were rural, they were urban; we were narrow, they were broad; we were fixed, they were nomadic; we were protectionist, they were free-marketeers; and above all, we were exclusive, they were promiscuous.

They are our past and our future and both could be gelled together with one big political leap in the present on citizenship and the vote.

Don’t wait for the mainstream to go with you, they’ll always be behind “cribbing and moaning” not from the sideline but from the expensive front row seats.


David McWilliams writes daily on international economics and finance at

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    • GhostOfBankGuaranteePast

      Davis asks “Who’s laughing now?” Good question David.

      Maybe the hedge-fund managers in London!
      “I’d have paid good money to see the faces of hedge-fund managers in London yesterday morning when they suddenly became conscious that their strategy against Ireland was in tatters and they realised that they stood to lose the millions they gambled against the Irish system”

      “Near term, this government guarantee obliterates the sellers who do not have Ireland’s national interest at heart.”

      You’re well able to play the man and not the ball. The IT’s purchase of myhome was a boo-boo but nothing compared to the Bank Guarantee you championed:

      Over the course of the next few days, we are likely to see capital inflows into the Irish banking system as investors elsewhere seek the sanctity of a government bank guarantee as opposed to the uncertainty of a bank deposit, when it is clear that the banks are operating on the hoof.

      Longer term, we can expect foreign banks to move here, setting up offices in Ireland and creating a banking industry which will thrive. We have set the template. The upside greatly outweighs any possible downside. The system is the most important thing at this stage. A threat can now, with the right accompanying policies, be turned into an opportunity.

      In time, Brian Lenihan’s move yesterday will be seen as a masterstroke and a practical blueprint for the new financial architecture which will emerge from this global crisis.

      By keeping the banks liquid, the private sector will solve the problem of writing down bad loans, working with debtors to get the best deal and, most importantly, by doing all this in a controlled, not panicked fashion. When people are panicking, they tend to make the wrong decision

      • michaelcoughlan

        “By keeping the banks liquid, the private sector will solve the problem of writing down bad loans, working with debtors to get the best deal and, most importantly, by doing all this in a controlled, not panicked fashion. When people are panicking, they tend to make the wrong decision”

        Yeah but……………

        The government intervened and stopped the private sector operating capitalism and writing things down. Instead lenihan was forced by the ECB to repay the debts in full and complained bitterly he was betrayed something Chopra acknowledged on his retirement.

        McWilliams was guilty of political naivety rather than wrong analysis.

  1. Eireannach

    World of Warcraft?

  2. In The Beginning God Made Man ……and then Woman

    Then there were three sons in Paradise and two had to leave .One went up the Nile River and the History of The World was revealed through that journey . The other went West and when he reached the Senegal River could go no further .So later he took a boat to Ireland .

    See Below :

    The story of the journey son has been prepared in a Report I prepared and acknowledged by the President and Queen ….and his Excellency Andrew Mooney .

    This could explain why at the end of a contract all you have left is a Jew and an Irishman .

  3. Eireannach

    The American football in Croke Park is a bit of transatlantic connectivity, but given the number of Irish Americans, we could definitely put on more of a show to attract them, not for cheap pick-pocketing but to built bridges from Galway and Limerick to Boston, New York, New Jersey and Baltimore.

    Where are the government up to with that geneaology database? Using the latest technology to create an Irish genealogical database seems like the best possible idea to trace the Irish family tree – to show the diaspora in exact, definite terms how we are family.

    Being ‘Irish’ is never enough – what people from the Diaspora want, and we should give them, is a database that says ‘your Grandfather was from a small farmer from Charlestown and your mother was a weaver from Foxford’, or whatever. That’s what the Irish diaspora needs – those memories and dreams of home packaged and stamped for them. They want that story – it’s their story, and we need to bring it to life for them.

    • ex_pat_northerner

      Genealogy is great. Did you know that Ireland helped England win the world cup in 1966. Sir Alf Ramsay in his playing days at Southampton was helped greatly by Bill Rochford.
      Rochford, was the son of John Rochford and Annie Brennan both of Laois extraction. The Rochfords originated around the Modubeagh area of Laois and moved like many to the coal mines in England where pay and conditions were better round the 1900s.

    • Pat Flannery

      Eireannach, having been born on a small farm outside Charlestown and being a grandfather to boot (although my wife was not a weaver from Foxford) I would dearly love to be a part of such a government database (sadly it may be all I will be remembered for, just a line in a government database).

      I have spent a lot of time trying to help Irish-Americans “find their roots”. I have gotten to know the trail quite well. Unfortunately it always leads to the same place – nowhere.

      It is well known among genealogists everywhere that Ireland is a black hole. They will all tell you the same thing: “forget about it”. If you are part Irish forget about tracing an ancestor beyond the immigrant ship. All ships came from Cork, therefore most Irish-Americans think their grandmothers came from Cork, which they did – they boarded a ship there.

      As for church records: “forget about it”. The Catholic Church only began keeping records after “Emancipation” in 1828 and then only half-heartedly – they considered marriage and birth record-keeping as a detraction from the holy sacraments. And those records that do exist are now jealously guarded by the local Parish Priests for their “revenue value”.

      But there is light in the black hole: landlord estate records.

      I have tried to obtain the tenant records for the Dillon Estate that owned most of the Barony of Costello and whose agent, Charles Strickland, built the town of Charlestown. I was told to “forget about it”.

      Anybody in Ireland who wants to make a contribution towards our Diaspora Problem should press the Irish Government to release the landlords’ records. Those private records were not destroyed in the “Troubles” as is widely believed. They are being hoarded by the Irish Government, chiefly by the Land Commission.

      What are they afraid of? Our ancestors were tenant farmers. There are records. We should not “forget about it”.

  4. Octavio

    As someone who moved abroad and with a sibling who did the same many years before me I have seen that there are significant things that need to change for the full value of the diaspora to be realised.

    Anecdotally, the mail I read before opening the link to this article was a last-minute e-Invitation from the local Irish Embassy inviting me to a reception this evening with the Tánaiste. This in itself is a small DMcW’s-esque insight into the attention that Government and it’s organisations pay to the diaspora.

    I agree with David in that there are two broad groups, those who leave and those who stay. There is though another aspect to the homebirds group which results in a rather large societal barrier to capitalising on the diaspora factor. It would be too easy to say it’s good old Irish begrudgery, but there’s a certain cynicism from a large enough cohort of folk that resents those who leave, and especially if they’ve ‘chosen’ to leave. It’s OK for them to head to London, New York, Canada, Australia if they are forced to do so by the situation at home – that ‘excuse/reason’ is acceptable to many, but the fact that a move needs such justification in the first place means that it’s seen as negative in a very fundamental way.
    Having worked in a situation dealing with lots of american tourists in Ireland I have also seen enough lack of regard for those who proclaim their huge pride in being 50% Irish or whatever to know that Irish society still doesn’t get the compliment it’s being paid and the opportunity and value there within.

    So as much as I agree with the drastic need to try and formalise in some way the approach to the diaspora and how to leverage it’s latent potential for the country I can’t see it changing until society as a whole sees the light so that this eventually cascades into government thinking. I remain optimistic nonetheless!

  5. Dorothy Jones

    You sure as hell got the property crash right, but I never understand these diaspora articles. Why would anyone in their right mind come back? Had a jar last night with an ex who came back from US but is returning next month. Lots of friends are currently working abroad, as far away as Singapore, and only get to see their families and children occasionally. I’ve no idea why successful people would return to Ireland. It’s nice here but not exactly full of opportunity.

    • McGoo

      I have to agree. David missed out a third group, those who went abroad for a few years, came back during the boom to have a family, and now bitterly regret it. Even if they didn’t get caught in the property crash (and many did), they miss the better career opportunities, weather, tax levels and pubic services of the “real world”. Perhaps we should call them the “Stuck Here” group.

      • Colin

        Don’t mind all that, it’s the best small country in the world to do business.

        …and it’s the only place you can raise children.

        …and its the only place to get a good edumacation.

        …and its the only place where you feel safe in your home.

        ….and its the only place where justice prevails.

        ….and its the only place where you can get a proper pint of plain.

        …. and its the only place where you get a big turnout at a funeral.

        ….and its the only place you can get your TD to fix that pothole in the road outside your house.

        Now, repeat until you memorise it.

  6. bluegalway

    Would have to agree with Dorothy and Octavio above.
    And why is all the focus always on the diaspora in the USA – because they have money?
    Half the people who leave Ireland settle in Britain, and many, if not most, do very well, some exceptionally so.
    It would help if the Irish that stay, and this applies it seems to those that don’t have family who have emmigrated, don’t simply look on the diaspora as a cash cow, a joke, or something to be sneered at.
    Forgotten Irish indeed.

    • “bluegalway”: “why is all the focus always on the diaspora in the USA – because they have money? Half the people who leave Ireland settle in Britain, and many, if not most, do very well, some exceptionally so.”

      Anyone observing The Cheltenham Festival over the last few days would have seen what’s obvious and ‘hiding in plain sight’:

      “Britain proves to be the land of opportunity for Irish directors”

      Not sure if how the figures break down directors based on the island of Ireland/ recent emmigrants to the island of Britain/2nd gen,etc. Some of the children of navvies and nurses in the 50s have clearly risen to great heights. And also it appears the UK is a land of opportunity for Irish business women.

  7. JapanZone

    I did a quick check just out curiosity – what is at the .com domain for some common Irish surnames? The first names I came up with off the top of my head (I already own the .com domain for my own surname) were Murphy, O’Connell and Doyle. Amazingly only is even being used, and barely at that.

    I tried three more, again off the top of my head – Delany, Brennan and Mahon. The first is used only for redirecting to other domains, the second doesn’t seem to be registered, and the third is owned by an individual but totally undeveloped…

    I’m sensing a pattern here…

    There has to be a business model ripe for exploitation, er, development there.

    • Octavio

      I’d hate to be the shleeveen that uses your idea – so I reckon YOU should register a bunch of domains and try to commercialise the idea – go for it!

      • JapanZone

        I already have my hands full with my main online business (not related to my surname!), so I’m not about to take on that project. And I make no claim to ownership of the idea, I’m sure it’s occurred to others. I’m just surprised no one’s run with it, especially with all the Gathering hype last year.

        But if the GIN or other body came up with a grant/incentive scheme for people to develop these sites so that I could hire/pay someone to do mine for me, I’d seriously consider taking it up. Not to run as a business because my surname is fairly uncommon so it’d hardly be viable.

        As I write this, it occurs to me that I might see if I can come up with a way for my kids to develop something, there’d be a lot of learning in it.

    • JapanZone

      By the way, I write as a former member of the diaspora who, after 27 years in the UK and Japan, felt the time might be right to return. Less than two years on, I’m starting to see with a new perspective the many and various things about this country that annoy, anger or sadden my (Japanese) wife. And as a result I’m starting to feel that old familiar itch in my feet…

      But in contrast to some of the opinions above, I still hang on to a sense of hope in what I think David is really driving at here – not necessarily expecting people to give up the lives they have built overseas but the possibility of creating a better Ireland if the long list of the diaspora’s positive characteristics can be “re-invested” in the country.

      • Octavio

        I completely agree with the untapped asset idea from David too, and your hope that that there might be some joined up thinking. I felt like an ambassador for the country when I lived there and even more so now. My Irishness is my passport in Business life here in France and I truely appreciate it – as I would imagine most others do too.
        I do my bit to re-invest in the country as best I can but the country and my fellow countrymen shouldn’t rely on the hangovers of Catholic guilt or an individual’s crusade for this to happen. ‘The Gathering’ was at least an ackowledgement in some way that the nettle needs to be grasped. It could also be seen as an extension of that same ould guilt trip mentality to make folk feel bad about not getting back. I’m not quite sure, but I’d like to think it’s more the former than the latter.

        Being Irish is like being married – it’s for better or for worse, ’till death do us part!

        • JapanZone

          While I’ve long since shaken off Catholicism, that aspect of my early development remains part of who I am, for better AND for worse. It informs my identity, but so do books I’ve read, films I’ve watched, people I’ve met, and the half of my life that I’ve spent living overseas.

          Being Irish is not something I would or could ever shake off. It’s at the core of my identity. But it was probably only when I became a father and had to start choosing names, applying for dual passports, and so on that I really thought about it and started to actively embrace it.

          But the Ireland I see around me is not what I want for my kids. I see too much settling for second best. We can do a lot better. Tapping into the potential of the diaspora (and I don’t mean financially) on the one hand, and the energy and new perspectives of the immigrant population on the other seem like obvious ways to help this country…develop? Evolve?

          To that end, I’ve started discussions with an Australian friend here about the possibility of starting an international/culture centre in our town. It may be pie in the sky and come to nothing but it feels like an idea worth exploring.

    • Someone already nabbed mine:

      The Mooney Vision: “Mooney is among that rare breed of legendary machines that creates lifelong devotion among those who experience it…When you fly a Mooney, you are flying the pure expression and embodiment of flight’s passion.”

  8. ps200306

    Agree with Dorothy et al. above. The first generation diaspora carry with them a sense of having been failed by the Irish state, some of them not once, but twice in succession since the latest fiasco. These are our disillusioned ambassadors to the wider, older diaspora. What right do we even have to call on our emigrants for support or assistance — is our aim merely to “shake them down for a few dollars” as Gabriel Byrne put it?

    Many years ago I worked for an American multinational being courted by the Irish state. The Yanks appreciated being wined and dined at a shindig in Dublin Castle, and I’m quite sure the raven-haired harpist playing ballads in the corner went down well, but I winced at the fawning address by a government minister, who made self-deprecating digs on our behalf about our entrenched parochialism and subservience to church and societal structure.

    I mean, who gives a crap? The Yanks may get a bit dewy eyed about soft-focus portrayals of the “old country”, but they are first and foremost Americans — the genius of America is to permit the retention of emblems of foreign culture while instilling a definitively American ethos and loyalty in its citizens. By all means, let us exploit the connections we have, but our dealings will have to be as from one grown-up citizen of the world to another, not based on childish sentimentality. Right now, I’d say we might want to start with a frank apology to those we have failed.

    On a final note, I don’t think the comparison with Jewishness is apt. The modern Jewish state is the apotheosis of Jewish national fervour. It is not the state from which the diaspora left all those centuries ago — it is the one which has made it possible for them to return. In that sense, many see it as a triumph and something to be prized. Try polling our recent emigrants to see if they feel the same about Ireland.

    • The final paragraph of your comment is exactly what I was about to formulate.

      I’d also add that many outside the State do not think anything fundamental has changed in terms of governance or business ethics so would be wary of relocating business/retirement funds/plans. The crisis of 2008 was an opportunity to sort out some fundamental issues but, to many, it’s been missed.

      The Gathering tourist thing is fine, but for UK based folk, Ireland’s still very expensive compared to the Gaelic areas of Scotland where you can wear a Celtic t-shirt and jig about to The Rubberbandits “Up The Ra!” doing the pissed-up plastic paddy stuff for half the price. Just like many Shire-Irish will be doing tonight in Cheltenham and in Brum this weekend. Irish culture has gone global, at least in terms of the mutant Man U/tattoo/Diageo Guinness/betting/Love/Hate rapper-feral types. No need to visit Ireland, it’s all over the place. Mind you, Ireland is a beautiful place. Here’s a lovely video which features James Vincent McMorrow singing “Higher Love”. That’s a Steve Winwood song. Steve’s a funk soul Peaky Blinder Brummie Boy like me, so odd choice.Maybe he’s got Irish roots. Elements of FG/Lab propaganda but still lovely montage.

      “St Patrick’s Day 2014 #IrelandInspires” is an animated postcard showcasing Ireland’s strengths and highlighting the qualities that make this country a great place to be. If you’re proud to be Irish make sure you share this video! #IrelandInspires

      It will be played for audiences gathering at Irish Embassy events across the globe this St Patrick’s Day (17 March 2014) and is tailored to appeal to visitors, investors and those attracted to the type of energy, creativity and potential which this nation can offer.”

      • ps200306

        I don’t know if Stevie Winwood’s Irish, but I saw him play twice in Dublin and he certainly warmed to the place. According to his Wikipedia entry he also has a brother called Muff, which is a name I haven’t seen too often outside the fine eponymous Donegal town.

  9. DC

    Something from Gonzalo Lira here – Tribes or Gangs ? – You Decide.

    “Here’s another excerpt from “A Secret History of The American Crash”: From Chapter 5, “The End of ‘Chimerica’”, here’s the testimony of “Roland”, the head of a private equity firm, and “Tom”, a caretaker at the abandoned Port of Los Angeles.

    The interviews were carried out in the summer of 2020, both men looking back at what happened in late 2014, early 2015:

    Interview recorded June 28, 2020: Roland* is a 47 year-old former Wall Street bond trader who currently heads a major private equity firm. He is over six feet tall, slim, handsome in a Northern European sort of way, with short white-blonde hair and a crisp diction that speaks of education and privilege.
    He is a wealthy, powerful man.
    “I’m not powerful for who I am, much less for the money I have,” he tells the interviewer. “My power, my privilege and my security come from how I am connected to the One Percent–which is not the ruling class, but rather a ruling class; one of several.
    “How necessary I am, how useful I am to the One Percent ensures that I remain a member of the One Percent, and thus remain protected. I’m . . . a useful cog in a vital machine. A key member of a street gang. I’ve worked at all the [Wall Street] firms, I even did a stint at the Fed [Federal Reserve], and everyone in finance likes me. Even the ones who think I’m an asshole think I’m one of the gang–and this is crucial: I belong to my gang. And since my gang is powerful, I am powerful.
    “You see we’re all gangs, here in America.
    Some gangs are powerless; like the zippits [i.e., mobile indigent], like the Whiskey Tangos [i.e., “white-trash”], like most of the rabble in the FC [Flyover Country]. Some gangs are powerful, like the One Percent, like the Cathedral [the informal name for the American intelligentsia], like the Beltway Bandits [large government contractors], like the military, like the government higher-ups. Some gangs vanished when America started to fade, like the feminists, like the Jews. Some gangs became much more powerful as America crashed, like the police, like the military, like the Mormons, like the One Percent.
    “Each of these gangs takes care of its members, just as we members give it our allegiance to our gang. All of these gangs live in the debris of a once-great nation, competing and coöperating with one another for the scraps that remain,” he says. “We’re here in Manhattan–and Manhattan is the IZ of the One Percent, make no mistake about that! But it’s also the IZ of the Cathedral, with whom we work closely; we’re allies: We give the Cathedral money, the Cathedral gives us propaganda. Manhattan is no different than other places: Out in Utah you have the Mormons’ IZ, an IZ based on religion; in Southern California, you have Asian IZ’s of every hue and nationality; in Montana, the White Supremacist IZ. Here in Manhattan, our IZ is based on money and propaganda, while down in D.C., it’s based on political power, and over in San Francisco it’s based on tech power.”
    The interviewer asks him about life among the One Percent.
    “Here in Manhattan? In the bosom of the oligarchy? Life’s pretty good. You got your restaurants, you got your personal assistants, you got your expensive hookers, you got your bespoke tailoring, you got your Broadway shows. Life is good–excellent. My salary is being paid for in americans–the most useless piece-of-shit currency ever devised, second only to the old-dollar–but my bonus? Well, we know better now don’t we: It’s being paid in commodities options, deliverable commodities options, we One Percenters are slowly-but-surely bringing back the gold standard by way of our bonuses, not because we give a rat’s ass about currency stability, but because we want the money that we get to actually be worth something.”
    The interviewer asks him about the Stealth Run on Treasury bonds, and Roland laughs openly.

    When Black September hit–remember in late 2014? When everybody was getting out of the stock market and into Treasuries? Remember how the yield curve inverted–but the whole curve began to rise?
    That should have been a fucking clue as to what was going on.
    That the T-bond yield curve inverted made sense: Longer paper [i.e., Treasury bonds with longer maturities] became more attractive as a safe-haven play [to investors], so its price went up, sending its yield down–long-term yields going lower than short-term yields.
    Right there, you knew a recession or depression was on its way. I mean it’s a classic sign: Six of the seven times the Treasury bond yield curve inverted over the forty years between 1970 and 2010, the bond market was anticipating a major recession by a few months.
    When the yield curve inverted during Black September, everybody sat up and took notice–everyone understood what was coming.
    But the weird thing was, the yield curve inverted–short term yields were substantially higher than longer term yields–but the whole curve started to rise.
    That freaked–the fuck–out of everybody.
    Exactly, that’s exactly right: An inverted yield curve goes down–it flattens, is the term of art–because people are buying those bonds. And they were–I saw them buy them, I myself was one of those buyers, looking for a safe haven for the money I was managing.
    But with all this buying, the whole curve began to rise, not fall like it should have. The 30-year [Treasury bond yield] should’ve been in the 1.5% to 2% range in the middle of Black September–not scraping 5.5%! And by Christmas [of 2014], it was as at 8% [yields]!
    Which at the time made absolutely no fucking sense–at all.
    Everybody started panicking–the Federal Reserve most of all. They had spent the last six years [2008–2014] making sure Treasury bond prices stayed up, yields stayed down–that was the whole point of Quantitative Easing.
    But 30-years? Scraping 8%? Fuuuuuck!! The Federal Reserve was going ape-shit, they were [makes air-quotes with his fingers] “expanding their balance sheet” by fucking two-hundred-fifty billion dollars–a month!! Yeah! That’s right! Putting it all on the line–but Treasuries still kept falling in price and rising in yields!
    What we didn’t know then, what we know now, was that when the yield curve inverted [during Black September], the Chinese took it as a sign: Get out of Treasuries–now.
    I mean to them it made sense: They were sitting on $1.3 trillion worth of Treasuries–okay, that means nothing now, let me rephrase–they were sitting on Treasuries worth the equivalent of almost 10% of American GDP [Gross Domestic Product], almost a quarter of the total foreign holdings of Treasuries.
    So they started selling [American Treasury bonds], and using the dollars they got to buy commodities. That’s why the yield curve was rising, even as it remained inverted–and then it steeped out and went parabolic: The [yield of the] 30-year [Treasury bond] hit 15% in March of ‘15.
    The Chinese weren’t stupid, they saw the oil shock that resulted from the attack on Iran–and then the war with Iran, America going on to invade Iraq again–they [the Chinese] saw the price of oil quadruple. And they saw how the oil spike drove every other commodity up, and made dollar inflation shoot like a Roman candle.
    What were the Chinese thinking, I’ll tell you what they were thinking: Get out of dollars and get into hard commodities. Notice:Not “Get into a different currency, rotate out of dollars into some other pissy little kind of paper money”–no. The Chinese were all like, “Fuck the euro, fuck the yen, fuck currencies–rotate out of the dollar and get into something tangible.”
    What did that mean, practically, to the average American? It meant that they were being priced out of every commodity!
    Oil, natural gas, industrials, cotton, even food! They all went parabolic. When the Chinese decided–all at the same time–to get out of American government bonds of every stripe–Treasury bonds, notes, bills, Agency bonds, notes, bills, not to mention U.S. corporate bonds–oh yeah, they dropped American corporate bonds like they were radioactive dog-turds–the Chinese took all that cash and bought commodities.
    Oh we did the same: When I saw how much money the Fed was printing [in order to shore up the prices of Treasury bonds], I ordered my traders to dump every single mother-fucking Treasury and Agency bond–all of it–and go into commodities too.
    When you get into a situation like that–the whole market going one way–you don’t fight it, shit, that’d be like fighting the wave of a tsunami: Stupid. Stupid and pointless. And suicidal. Chinese are selling Treasuries? Which is making Europeans sell Treasuries? My competitors selling Treasuries? Hell yes, count me in: I’m selling Treasuries, Goddammit! And maybe I’ll buy back into U.S. Government debt at some point in the future–but for now, right now? Fuck American debt, I’m going commodities–all in.
    So not only oil but copper, steel, iron, coke all shot up in price, as did wheat, corn, sugar, soybeans, cotton, everything, even the rare-earths [elements] used in electronics and computers, not to mention gold, silver, platinum.
    It all shot the moon!
    And all these prices hit American consumers like a knee to the balls. That’s how American consumers were priced out of everything–even food.
    And food prices, at the end of the day, were what broke the dollar.
    Oh, you mean countries that sold commodities? They got these dollars–and they tried to get out of ‘em too! But how? How? How do you get out of dollars? Chinese are selling Treasuries to get dollars to buy commodities. Commodity sellers–the Middle East, Russia, Australia, Latin America–they get dollars from the Chinese for their wheat, copper, oil, whatever–do these commodity sellers buy Treasuries with all these dollars they’re piling up? Buy Treasuries and Agency debt as a place to park all those mountains of dollars?
    No!!! No! No, what they do is, they buy other commodities! Commodities they don’t produce–so Russia is taking its dollar windfall from its oil and buying wheat futures, Chile is taking its copper-dollars and buying oil and natural gas, Argentina is selling its wheat futures and buying oil futures–or else they’re buying other currencies, any currencies, rubles, euros, yuans, yens, anything except the dollar.
    It becomes a game of musical chairs: Who’s gonna be the fucking idiot dumb enough to be left standing with American dollars? See? So everyone’s spinning-spinning-spinning their dollars! Trying to get out-out-out of dollars and into anything but dollars.
    Fact is, Australia of all people is the only one stuck with American dollars–the Aussies produce all the commodities they need, and they’re dumb enough to comply with the U.S. Government request not to get out of greenbacks; loyalty is so overrated, but they do it: The Australians hold on to all those U.S. dollars. So ironically they get hurt as they start piling up the greenbacks that are becoming more and more worthless each and every day.
    Poor Aussies. They got fucked.
    What Gold Rush? Oh you mean the Redemption Crisis–at the time it was happening we called it “the Redemption Crisis”, it was only after the fact that some academics started calling it the Gold Rush.
    The Redemption Crisis, well what it was was confirmation of Warren Buffett’s famous saying: Only when the tide pulls out do you find out who’s been swimming naked.
    All these commodity brokerage houses, especially the retail precious metals firms, they were all playing a Ponzi scheme–or more properly a game of musical chairs, another one: They did not have all the gold they had sold to their retail customers. So when all of a sudden the music stopped and all those small fry wanted their gold and silver coins, guess what? Sorry, no gold, you poor dumb bastards. I heard some of those brokers got shot by angry customers: Couldn’t have happened to nicer fellas.
    When people talk about the Redemption Crisis, they talk about retail investors who lost their little gold nest egg or whatever–fuck those people, they matter not at all–what mattered about the Redemption Crisis was, same as with the bankruptcy of [Jon] Corzine’s outfit, MF Global [in 2011], what mattered was, agro producers went bust: Farmers, wheat, dairy, soy, they all had accounts that were frozen with [commodity brokerage] firms that went bust, and these farmers operated on a very-very thin margin. They could not afford to lose their hedge-money, they could not afford to lose their accounts, or have them tied up while the regulators sorted out the mess.
    Those people–farmers: Those people going bust meant their land would be fallow. Fallow land means less food for sale. Less of something means? Exactly: Price rise. The Redemption Crisis in [January-February of] 2015 hit the U.S. Food markets six to twelve months later–which was why you had food riots later in 2015 and crazed zippits plundering the country during 2016: No food. And the little that there was? Sky-high prices.
    Sky-high food prices? More and more inflation.
    What? Yes exactly: This was a run on Treasury bonds, which mutated between Black September and March 2015–when the Chinese stopped accepting dollars for their goods–into a run on the dollar: The dollar, the reserve currency of international trade–the dollar, the currency now no one wants.
    No, this was not a panic. A panic is when everybody gets nervous about something that’s fundamentally sound, that’s fundamentally solvent. The Crash of 1987–that was a panic. But this isn’t a panic, this is a run: This is the collective realization that the whole system is insolvent. This was a run on the currency, this was a run on the stock markets, this was a run on the bond markets, this was a run on the entire financial edifice of global trade.
    This is what it looked like. This is what it felt like. This is what it was. ‘Cause America was overextended. So America went broke.


    Interview recorded August 17, 2020: The Port of Los Angeles and its immediate neighbor, the Port of Long Beach, were the two largest ports in the United States.

    Today, the two ports are derelict. Steel containers sit rusting on the enormous piers, randomly strewn about, their bright fading colors melding into one another. Abandoned ships at anchor, both lashed to the piers or anchored at sea, slowly move to and fro like hulking steel ghosts. Tears of rust run down every porthole of these dead ships, and a couple of them for no apparent reason have become the toilet for the seagulls, their decks and fo’c’s’les splattered with countless bird droppings, bleached white by the sun.
    The hulking cranes that relentlessly used to move the steel containers around the port like so many children’s building blocks are quiet, immobile, weeds growing through the tracks of the cranes, rust dripping down their sides.
    A random tree has sprouted up in the middle of what was once the container depot. Somehow, through a crack in the thick concrete–thick enough to withstand the weight of a half-dozen fully-loaded twenty-foot containers stacked one on top of the other–this tree has managed to break through and grow strong, cracking the concrete apart with its roots and trunk.
    “Life will find a way,” says my guide through this desolation, Tom*. He’s a sturdy man, 5’7”, thick and powerful. He has a two-day growth of beard, his bristles a uniform iron-gray, his sun-browned face beneath his hard-hat a mass of craggy folds. He’s a smiling man, easy to talk to and get along with.
    “Oh I started working here back in the mid-‘80’s,” he says casually. “Right out of high-school, I did. Graduated from San Pedro High, just a few miles from here. Born and raised right here, will probably die here.”
    He surveys the empty, dead port, once one of the largest in the world. “Yep, yessir, it sure has changed,” he says.

    When the trading stopped, you knew it. See these two ports here, LA and LB–Long Beach–these two ports accounted for a third of the imports coming into America. Cars and food, electronic gadgets of every sort, and toys, my goodness, toys of every shape and dimension came through here. I seen manifests three inches thick, and every single item on that manifest was a toy. And not just one toy–ten thousand of one toy, twenty thousand of another, and so on.
    Of course you didn’t see any of them, except the cars. Nope, all those products coming in were locked up in their steel containers. All I seen were the manifests, and the appropriate containers. The cranes moved them around all day, nonstop: Pulling the containers out of the ships, stacking them here where the tree is and done yonder, then stacking them onto big eighteen wheelers [heavy trucks], then off they goes to wherever it is they’re supposed to go across the country.
    See this port here, LA, and Long Beach too, they were bursting at the seams. We processed eight million containers in 2014. Over twenty-thousand per day, every day, day and night, Sundays too, nonstop.
    Then one day in the late-winter of ‘15, it all sort of did stop, you see. Around March or so, there just weren’t any more ships coming in.
    I’ve never been one to pay attention to the news, or to keep myself informed. The kind of life I lead, well I supposed I didn’t much care about people. All I cared about see was m’books and m’movies on the computer. Set myself up a nice job here, helping to move the containers about. Then go home to a nice TV dinner and read m’self something nice, a Louise L’Amour [author of paperback Westerns] say, or something chilling by Stephen King [author of paperback horror novels], or else watch a movie I’d downloaded onto the computer. I’d hooked up my Mac Mini [a type of computer] to a big ol’ 55” flat-screen [television set] that filled the whole wall. My house ain’t not two miles from here, in San Pedro. Rented it all m’life, since high-school. Just passing m’days and working here at the port.
    Never expected what happened in ‘15. The ships were slowing down by the end of ‘14. Got to be that some days we were barely clearing ten thousand containers a day. Sometimes not even seven thousand. [Tom hawks and spits and wipes his mouth with a bandanna.] Come the new year, 2015, that trickle just slowed and slowed down some more until then it just finally stopped.
    Was eerie, I’ll say so. The Port here’s seven thousand acres, usually a-bustling. But then come that March, and then April, and not a sound. That clanging bang of steel on steel, of a container unit getting stacked here or there. It all you see came to a stop, and all us dockworkers had nothing to do but sit in the sun and wonder what was going on.
    Then there was the returns. Returns we called ‘em, not “returns”–“returns”. The returns were ships coming back from far away, China, Japan I suppose. They come back with goods from America, a lot of them food, all of them spoiled. They say they got to where they were s’pposed to go, but they wouldn’t pay ‘em in dollars at the exchange rate: They’d only pay ‘em the FOB [Freight On Board], in dollars. But the hyper-I was getting so bad back here in the States that a lot of the sellers tried to raise the prices of their goods when they got to the foreign port they were going to. They’d told the sellers, “Pay me the 1,000 yen or whatever you agreed when we signed the contract, not the dollars at the time of the contract.” But the foreigners, they got wise: They’d pay in dollars at the exchange rate on arrival. Ships had left the Port [of Los Angeles] with the dollar at ¥47, but when they got there, a buck was worth ¥18. The American exporters asked for yen, but the Japanese said no, we’ll pay in dollars as per the contract, at the FOB price. So the American exporters, they haggled and haggled, but in the end . . .
    The returns of food had been spoiled while the exporters haggled. Yokohama, they told all the returns that they’d pay only in dollars–but at the new exchange rate. Just to stick it in.
    The returns came back, and those ships you see out there, derelict in all but name? There they are, the returns. A lot of these exporters figured it was more expensive to deal with their ships and rotten cargo than to just leave ‘em there and ignore ‘em.
    2016? Why that was the ghost year. Not a soul come by these haunts. I’m surprised that the zippits didn’t come ‘round here. They blasted through every other place around LA this side of The Wall. Then again there was nothing to steal, ‘cept containers.
    The DHS [Department of Homeland Security] came looking for containers after DOPA-Norm [the Domestic Pacification and Normalization Act of January 2017]. They took them containers, all of ‘em, I do not know where.
    In ‘17 we had a little bit o’ movement. Not here, over on LB [Port of Long Beach]. See every day that a port like this is inactive, every day lets the salt-air corrode all that’s here. A port’s like a living organism, it’s got to shed its cells and replenish ‘em. That’s what I used to do, what all the workers here used to do. It wasn’t just moving steel boxes around. It was maintaining this here port. Paintin’ where paint had to go, strippin’ away the rust, greasin’ the railings of the cranes and whatnot. Keepin’ this port alive, every day, little by little, bit by bit.
    When we stopped . . . well: I don’t expect this here port will ever operate again. Too much rust, too much disuse.
    Yeah that’s about right. Come 2018 or so, the Port o’ Long Beach started up again. Took ‘em a while to crank it up to go. They’re doing alright, moving I think something like two thousand containers a day. All of it outbound, though. Oh it’s almost all food; food and oil and coal, commodities you know. But precious little comes in. The foreigners, they don’t take americans. They don’t trust our money no more, no matter what it is we call it.”

  10. David, an interesting return to this idea. I’ve read with interest some of the comments here and there is nothing that I particularly disagree with, there or in the article. Its important it seems to distinguish between the recent departed, and those who are 2nd, 3rd or further removed generations of the diaspora, they have quite diverging opinions and experiences of Ireland and clearly its the latter group that is the target of your interest.

    As much as there may be a latent potential to the benefit of Ireland (from both groups), there is certainly an appetite for doing more than just tapping the diaspora for a few quid, as Gabriel Byrne puts it.

    So lets say we manage to, say, double the amount of jobs created by FDI, to just south of 300,000, with a commensurate increase in taxable income. A few more companies benefiting from low taxation, a few more people employed as a result. All good so far. How is this connected to improving the standard of living for all Irish people? (Is that an objective worth talking about here, or do we just assume trickle-down economics will take care of that?) Or do we go for a Chuck Feeney type model, seeking benefactors that have the finances and the clout to pursue specific personal projects to improve the country? Or how about the official Ireland route? The IDA or EI approach have had successes but given the type of significant change this idea represents, how long before that gets torpedoed by infighting and clientelism within the public sector baronies?

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree 100% with everything in the article, Israel and all, but I think that’s maybe half the story. Two questions I would ask are 1: Whats it for? By that I mean what kind of country to build with this? and 2: How do we prevent the institutions of the state and the political system from making a bollocks of it while keeping them on side (or at least not opposing it)?

  11. Adelaide

    Whenever I returned to Ireland from business trips abroad I always wondered why Ireland is so far behind being a first class country? At one point I contemplated moving to Germany or Belgium. The reason I stayed is in my opinion the reason why we don’t have a first class country. The personality of the people. Brain lateralization may have no scientific basis but from my experience we Irish people are so definitely right-brained: dynamically creative but hopelessly dysfunctional. The Germans (why not etc) on the other hand on the whole are left-brained: dull but functional, hence their first class country where every strata is run professionally. We on the other hand have no standards and run everything shoddily.
    But do I want to spend the rest of my life conversing with Germans on a daily basis? I want a spark, yes, Ireland is so half-arsed about everything, but the Irish people have a spark which you really notice lacking in other nationalities. I would have missed it more than I would have appreciated the professionalism of Germany or Belgium.
    As Morgan Kelly said the other day, “Yes, that could have happened in Ireland, were the Irish people so utterly unlike themselves, but they are who they are, so of course it didn’t happen.”
    Perhaps the phrase ‘We are where we are’ should more accurately be ‘We are who we are’, in regard to things within our control over the course of our history, not external factors, just us. The consequences of being a right-brained people.

    • Dorothy Jones

      Bam! You are so, so right! I worked on construction for the German Foreign Office for the guts of 5 years. The phrase ‘Nearly did my head in’ doesn’t come into it. If people knew the half of it. The year in Hamburg last year was a nightmare even though I spent 10 years in Berlin 1990-2000. These days I work for an Irish Client, Consultants and Contractor liaising with their German counterparts. The contrast could not be stronger. The Irish teams are really organised and efficient. And although I travel a lot, it’s great to be back and based here.

    • ps200306

      Ditto. I worked with international groups of young people on a couple of occasions. The Irish used to have to apologise regularly for their over-the-top conversation and bad language, but the other nationalities really warmed to them anyway. (Note: these were aid/outreach environments, not drinking/pub-culture ones, where the Irish can be expected to make a show of themselves). I remarked to an American friend living in Ireland once that Americans are “loud”. She snorted: “have you ever been in an Irish pub?”

  12. Adelaide

    The Irish have a spark? Next time you are bored waiting at an international airport, play a game among yourselves like we do, for a small wager, you scan the airport observing those in conversation and pick out those you reckon are Irish. Then walk pass them to hear their accent. Invariably those who are the most animated in conversation are Irish, it never fails to amaze us. Another giveaway is that they’re not as ‘well presented in their attire’ as the other travellers. This trick for spotting the Irish has also gotten us out of a few sticky situations abroad.

  13. Bamboo

    Sounds like a good plan, David.
    However, my view is simple. I came to Ireland in the 1990 and there was such a negative feeling about being in Ireland. With the world cup and Riverdance it flared up immensely and the feel good feeling was even better when the concept of the Celtic tiger was invented and accepted as true by the Irish. The mood turned sour again during the years leading up to 2008. Up till then, young professionals who wanted to simply live in decent accommodation didn’t see any other option then to buy a house and/or move abroad. These young professionals simply couldn’t understand why property was so ludicrously expensive for what they can get.
    Once abroad they are happy with their move and most likely they have found a partner for life.

    Those who left many years ago and did well outside Ireland will most likely want to keep their own status quo. They have their own circle of friends, family and most importantly their business and work environment. For them, Ireland is just a sweet distant memory and they would love to go to Ireland but only for a holiday. That’s all.

    Those who left in the last ten years are probably enjoying life abroad so much that they don’t have any plans whatsoever to return home.

    I moved out of Ireland last year and so far so good. I can’t see Ireland offering me much so I’ll stay put. I am sorry to say this because after so many years in Ireland I feel I very Irish myself and I hope that the people stop being so negative about Ireland.

    The Diaspora concept may work but it would not be on a nation Irish base. Being Irish will be like a brand or a culture but not a national pride.

    Like the Chinese feeling more Chinese than ever outside China, Like the Indians outside India, Like the south Americans, etc, etc. The Irish really feel their Irishness outside Ireland but none would like to go back home.

  14. paddythepig

    ‘We were rural, they were urban’ ??

    That merits a virtual shoulder, that’ll put you flat on your orse David!

    • Hi Paddy, but its actiually true. The emigration of Irish people to US and UK cities was one of the greatest movement of deeply rural people to an urban landscape ever. Have you ever wonder why Irish Americans unlike Germans and Swedes didn’t become farmers in the greatest farming bonanza the world has verey witnessed??


      • paddythepig

        Hi David,

        The construction of your sentence associates being rural with being protectionist, closed, rooted, atavistic, narrow … failures.

        Am sure you didn’t mean it that way based on your comment, but that’s how it reads.

        Just struck me it’s the kind of thing that gives country lads a chip on their shoulder when lining out against the dubs in Croker, or even the kick around down in ballyvourney.


  15. Pat Flannery

    Proud to share this:

    My beautiful hometown in America, San Diego, is listed by Forbes as the best city to start a business. Maybe we can export some of our magic to Ireland.

  16. Watching the carry on in The Queen’s Hotel in Cheltenham last night I found myself musing about growing up in the Irish Disapora’s inebriated gambling culture and how there’s a really clear link between the goings on at the racecourse and what used to go in in Irish bank boardrooms. The corporate Prawn Cocktail set, after networking whilst quaffing champagne during the day’s races, move on to the drunken lap-dancing/hooker stuff at nights for their tragic mid-life crisis. Stag/hen party redux, ridiculous stuff. This weekend’s mayhem will be more of the same. From Cheltenham to Brum’s ” world’s 3rd biggest St Paddy’s parade” then back to Dublin for the national holiday on Monday, the hard-core are back in party mode as far as I can see. Good luck to them! Poor Pat Rabitte draws the short straw of Birmingham and London for the jollification jaunts:

    ” they now enter the “silly” season with the exodus to places far and wide for St. Patrick’s Day. Poor old Pat Rabbitte did not do too well; he only got Birmingham and London…..there are far better places than Birmingham and London. Mind you, there are also a few worse.”

    There certainly are worse places. Poor old Dear Leader Enda and Minister James Reilly will have to face down the troublesome Gay Agenda in NYC & Boston which will be amusing to watch. Let’s hope Panti doesn’t turn up to trans-Atlantically troll the Taoiseach over Bill Donahue types banning ‘teh ghayz’ from the parades. And it’s a bitchy snide attack on Mr Rabbitte! After all the whole point of “St Patrick’s Day” seems to be to act as a global advertisement for British multinaltional drinks conglomerate Diageo. Guinness adverts using The Pyramids and motley other historical detritus, rivulets of vomit and stocious drunks in Montpelier’s grandeur? I’m not sure if that’s as good a free P.R deal as it initially seems. Time to sober up on every level. Time for a teetotal Pledge Pin St Patrick’s Day. Yeah, right….

    “Geography Is Not Destiny” At least not for the trans-national emmigrant fugees or the 3rd/4th gen “Irish Americans”. Why isn’t it “American Irish”? Isn’t that the dominant part of the hybrid? You’d never hear “Irish British” and you’d certainly never hear “Anglo-Irish” as an identity signifier now. LOLOLOL! The ‘diaspora’ concept is interesting as a ‘virtual identity’ that transcends geographic location but many link it to a fairly obvious “Ireland Inc” framework/network for the various sleveen FF/FG scam merchants. As well as Israel, there’s also another ‘disapora’ which is that of the British Empire and it’s post-colonial “Commonwealth” legacies of legal and financial instruments, many of which were kept intact by the Irish State. Watching the Pastorious trial it’s odd to see a jury-free trial, presumably from the Dutch-Boer colonial system? The Italian legal system seems pretty screwed up as well with the ‘double jeopardy’ Amanda Knox trial. It would be interesting to map how Ireland used it’s British legal and contract inheritance as a basic template for business ethics and probity, but it might give you a head-ache. And I’ve got a bit of a hangover as it is, which is why I’m typing this stuff to distract me till the painkillers kick in and the daylight world resumes.

  17. BirdCourter

    David could not agree more. I’ll add two personal tuppenceworths to this very important topic:

    1. Getting things done here is harder than other places. In 2013 I offered the Government ‘Shamrocks of Success’ with no strings attached. We got endorsed by Chris O’Dowd, Hector and a few other people of note including one or two ‘younger’ and perhaps more open-minded councillors .

    Idea was centred on The Gathering and would have actually generated cash and we would be conferring the likes of Brian O’ Driscoll, Katie Taylor, Seamus Heaney and more with their very own Shamrock of Success in Dublin. I desired the central aisle in O’Connell Street but was totally open on location.

    Long story short I am parking the idea there for anyone who wants to work with me on it but frankly I got tired of encountering too many obstacles and non-engaging conservative civil-war types. I am too busy with my day job which brings me to point number two. My day job is as Head of EMEA Marketing for the largest legal trainer in the world. Yes this little office in Dublin got bought by the largest legal trainer in the United States which trains 85% of all Ivy League Legal Alumni and 85% of all Fortune 1000 IN-House Senior Legal Counsel including the likes of Hilary Clinton, Bill, Michelle Obama and a few. We also train some of the best and brightest Irish legal talent and in truth many leave because we arm them with New York and Californian Bar qualifications. Incidentally we have Diaspora all over the globe including Israel:)

    In my own limited experience David, I find the best people tend to leave here (like you yourself did), or certainly leave to up-skill, re-skill and de-skill abroad and if we’re lucky, they come back despite arguably better recognition and opportunities afar.As a nation we should do everything possible to make them feel welcomed, connected, embraced and appreciated. Any paddywhackery or plastic remarks should be treated with absolute disdain.

  18. BirdCourter

    PS: Have plenty other big ideas and am happy to work with anyone. One is in education, the other is in finance and the arts.

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