Articles

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Article Archives

David has been running this website for over 18 years and there are plenty of articles covering some of the most turbulent times in the world economy.

Below is a year by year list of Davids’s articles.

ARCHIVES 2016

The public sector strikes are really about housing

Make no mistake about it: the series of public sector strikes that we have experienced — and are about to see more of — are entirely linked to housing. The fact that middle-ranking public sector workers can’t, or at least don’t feel that they can, afford to live in...

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Why Italy is the next country to fall to Trumpism

The Bangladeshi selfie-stick hawkers are doing a brisk trade outside the Colosseum. Local chain-smoking lads dressed as gladiators prey on vulnerable tourists, while portly priests on their annual visit to Catholicism's corporate HQ take time out from soul-searching....

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Will Trump ride to Europe’s rescue?

Could Donald Trump be the saviour of Europe? He might be. The papers are full of people telling us how much they hate Trump and lamenting that the US is now a racist swamp where the vilest of sentiments have suddenly been given currency. This is the predictable line,...

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ARCHIVES 2015

Ireland is backing itself

On the fifth anniversary of the troika’s arrival, let’s be clear on what has actually helped us recover Six years after its inaugural outing, the atmosphere at the Global Irish Economic Forum on Friday in Dublin Castle couldn’t have been more different. Back then,...

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Time to think the unthinkable

If, after four years of printing money, the system isn’t working, what next? Could oil prices go to $4 a barrel? It seems way off-beam, but last weekend at Kilkenomics, Nassim Taleb, he of The Black Swan fame, suggested in a fascinating discussion about the economics...

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ARCHIVES 2014

Don’t let the dreaded ‘Ned Kelly’ take over

Like many fortysomething Irish men, I try to live a reasonably healthy life in between the pints, the Twixes and a car dashboard littered with sandwich wrappers, milky takeaway coffee cups and more than the odd crumpled up, badly-hidden bag of Tayto. Let’s just say...

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We love EU, we love EU not

You can feel the wealth everywhere in central London. The place has changed dramatically from the city I lived in during the 1990s. Back then it was almost sleepy: huge, yes; manageable, hardly; but excessively wealthy, no. Fifteen years ago, rich and poor lived cheek...

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Kilkenomics reveals the equity in our heritage

Who would have thought that an economics and comedy festival would sell out in Kilkenny? Certainly five years ago when the idea was first mooted, the notion that the festival would get stronger and stronger appeared to be fanciful – but it has. Kilkenomics in now...

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ARCHIVES 2013

What’s to be done about tax?

Last Thursday at the bar of Na Fianna GAA club in Glasnevin, I chatted to two Irish entrepreneurs who have a successful software company about the unintended negative consequences Ireland's multinational tax policy has on their business. They maintained that because...

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Linking hospital boss benefits to sale of Mars Bars makes me sick

A bonus is supposed to be an incentive for an employee to be more productive. In the case of a hospital chief executive, presumably a bonus should be related to running a better hospital.  You’d think that has to be linked to patient care – both in terms of its...

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ARCHIVES 2012

What’s to be done about tax?

Last Thursday at the bar of Na Fianna GAA club in Glasnevin, I chatted to two Irish entrepreneurs who have a successful software company about the unintended negative consequences Ireland's multinational tax policy has on their business. They maintained that because...

read more

Linking hospital boss benefits to sale of Mars Bars makes me sick

A bonus is supposed to be an incentive for an employee to be more productive. In the case of a hospital chief executive, presumably a bonus should be related to running a better hospital.  You’d think that has to be linked to patient care – both in terms of its...

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ARCHIVES 2011

Why Government could learn a lot from the world of business

One of the many great things about teaching an economics course is that you get as many ideas from your students as you give them. The other night, one of my students, who is returning to economics out of general interest but who has a wealth of experience in turning...

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IN PRAISE OF A MAN WHO DARED TO DREAM

In all walks of life, individuals make a difference and, in small countries, some individuals can make a big difference. One of those people in Ireland was Hugh O'Regan who sadly passed away - tragically, far too young - last week. Visionaries can change businesses -...

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Pat Kenny & Pascal Donohue – RTE Radio 1

Had a great discussion with Pascal Donohue and Pat Kenny - in light of this week's events in Greece - about what Ireland could do, if only we got out of the good room. Hope you enjoy. Discussion with Pascal Donohue TD and Pat Kenny on RTE Radio...

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Greece is the word if you want to know where we go from here

Greece has defaulted again, and the financial markets have shrugged their shoulders. The euro remained unchanged versus the dollar. The Greek stock market even rallied. What does this tell us? It tells us that, as this column has argued again and again, the markets...

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Welcome to two-tier Ireland

Last week provided a very interesting picture about what is actually happening, not just to the Irish economy, but to the broader European economy, and how the various policy responses over the past few years are affecting us all. The picture is not a particularly...

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ARCHIVES 2010

Pouring more cash down banking black hole is theft

So the Government finally gave up the charade last weekend and asked for help from the IMF and EU. Following a week when everyone, save certain government ministers, seemed to know what was coming, it came as a great relief to the markets when Finance Minister Brian...

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There is a way out of this

Travelling on the 11am Aircoach from Cork to Dublin, wi-fi working fine, hurtling down a new motorway, it’s difficult to imagine that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is already here. At a certain level, the place seems almost prosperous. Granted, over the past...

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David on the Pat Kenny Show

David’s interview on the Pat Kenny show. Pat played an interview with David from jan 2009 in which David outlined then what is happening now.

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ECB bailout is the only card we have left to play

On Monday morning, on High Street in Kilkenny, I popped into a cafe to grab a coffee before leaving the Marble City following a wonderful weekend of economics, comedy and common sense at the Kilkenomics festival (www.kilkenomics.com). Just as I was paying, the man who...

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Nationwide Tour of ‘Outsiders’

27 November 2010 - 16 December 2010 ABBEY THEATRE PRESENTS NATIONWIDE TOUR OF ‘OUTSIDERS’ November 2010 — The Abbey Theatre is delighted to present OUTSIDERS by leading economist and commentator David McWilliams on a nationwide tour this November and December. The...

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ARCHIVES 2009

Ghettoisation of the nation

Last Friday’s 9.55am train from Limerick pulled out on time, hurtling towards the ‘Junction’. As we sped past the waterlogged land on a beautiful morning, commuters on the train were going about their business as normal, reading about the treacherous Thierry Henry in...

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State should start printing money to rescue economy

Did you know that our country’s housing wealth has shrunk at a rate of €142.8m per day since the peak of the boom in 2007? This is a catastrophic figure because housing wealth was one of the key drivers of spending, and domestic spending is what kept the dole queues so low in the boom years.

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Bank policies leaving us deflated

Is the world heading for deflation or inflation? If you talk to serious investors and long-term followers of economic trends, this is the big question. As in the boom – when the major conundrum was whether we could continue borrowing and spending – the experts are divided again.

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Forget the past – we must take control of our future

Sometimes we can be an extremely vindictive society. In times of trouble, there’s often a dreadful clamour for vengeance. As a general rule, it seems sensible to avoid those who seek recrimination and punishment for those who made mistakes; although righteous indignation may satisfy a visceral yearning, vengeance and outrage don’t move things on one bit.

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ARCHIVES 2008

Time to face up to reality

As the banks move to sort out their bad debts, it’s imperative that the state also tries to alleviate negative equity problem facing young workers.

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Leviathan: Moral Money: The Future of Capitalism

8 PM ’til LATE WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 10TH THE BUTTON FACTORY, TEMPLE BAR, DUBLIN At Next Wednesday's edition of the hugely popular political cabaret show, the Red Adair of Irish economics, David McWilliams, will probe a panel including Ryanair CEO, Michael O'Leary,...

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Act now, minister, or we will all live to regret it

We are now reaching the endgame. Few are in denial any more. The situation is dire and we need real leadership to get us out of this mess. Businesses across the country are going to the wall, unemployment is going through the roof and people who have been trading for years say this is much worse than the 1980s.

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Banks can’t hide from this crisis

Every evening, there is a little ritual in our house. Our young children, having been settled by their mother, demand dad tells them a story ‘‘from your head’’ before bed. This lark involves all classes of adventures, heroes and implausible tales starring themselves as central characters.

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ARCHIVES 2007

August’s child is full of grace and may even play for Ireland

The month in which your child is born can determine how successful he or she is in later life.

The other day, watching an under-sixes soccer match, as the children ran around after the ball like a swarm of demented bees and a poor coach kept telling them to ‘‘keep their shape’’, I wondered what made a good footballer. Was it talent, practice or both?

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Our winter of discontent tells us boomtown is bust

Are we about to enter a winter of discontent? History would suggest that we are. The reason is simple. The end of an economic cycle tends to be characterised by industrial unrest as the workers and company owners try to grab as big a share as possible of the declining spoils.

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Banking crisis set to worsen

We may not feel it in our pockets yet, but the US sub-prime crisis is coming to a bank near you.

The New York winter uniform of stifling high turtlenecks, outlandish earmuffs and quilted jackets is back. So too are the hundreds of Irish shoppers who will spend more than half a billion dollars in the city before Christmas. The city is bracing itself for the big spending season – but all is not well.

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Hire a babysitter and hit town to save the economy

With stock markets all over the world tumbling and Irish banks being targeted, the big question is, why do economies go into recession? Why do apparently sound economies turn down? Why is our economy heading south with tax revenues falling and housing prices slumping? Why did Japan go pear-shaped? Did it not produce the finest consumer goods in the world? How come the Asian Tigers — outlandishly praised as late as 1997 by the IMF — experience a meltdown in 1998? Why did Californian land prices plummet in the late 1980s and why is the stock market now worried about a recession in the US?

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ARCHIVES 2006

The Pope’s children of today are the ‘kidults’ of tomorrow

Have you noticed the size of kitchens these days? In the past, kitchens were bog standard affairs. Today, they are huge, cavernous spaces where you could land a Blackhawk helicopter. Walk into any estate in urban or rural Ireland and you will see builders’ vans, cement mixing machines and Polish lads in overalls fitting double glazing to outsized windows in these monster-kitchens. Irish families are getting smaller, but our kitchens are getting bigger. When we were kids, “an island” was a piece of land projected up from the sea, like the “Isle of Man”. Today “an island” is the essential centrepiece of the latest status symbol – your kitchen.

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Friedman the free thinker

It’s probably a bit sad if your hero is a five-foot-three Jewish intellectual with a weakness for hard sums, statistics and argument.

But for many economists, Milton Friedman – who passed away aged 94 last Thursday – was the real deal. The reason he was so important is less to do with the accuracy of his theories or their universal applicability than because he stood up and argued for economics and science at a time when it was deeply unfashionable.

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Would you like to dance?

I heard Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet on the radio yesterday and it all came flooding back. Few of you know what it is like to be a redheaded teenager at a disco. Spandau Ballet’s “True” was the slow-set number of choice in my youth and simply hearing Hadley’s voice was enough to give me the creeps.

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Central Bank tries to stem tide

In the 10th century, the King of England, Ethelred the Unready, faced a crisis. Danish longships threatened rape and pillage all along the east coast of England.

Sensing that his armies would be routed, Ethelred conjured up a scheme: instead of facing the enemy head on, he would persuade the tide not to come in, thereby stopping the invaders before they even set foot on land.

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Why America now wants to save Saddam from hanging

The other night on ‘Questions and Answers’ on RTE, the audience – in a show of hands – decreed that Saddam was a bad man but not bad enough to hang.

This is the mainstream view in this country. The subtext is that if Ireland were the occupier, we would lock him up for life, but those blood-thirsty Americans will hang him simply for electoral advantage.

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ARCHIVES 2005

Spar Generation strikes back

Walk into any Spar today and you will see them.

They are buying breakfast rolls, working behind the hot food counter or just picking up 20 Blue after work. They are Ireland’s dynamo – the Spar Generation. These are the people who will keep the entire edifice together.

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Financial markets blind to worldwide risk

An old transvestite’s story of Berlin in the 20th century does not generally spark thoughts of economics, finance and risk.

Yet the other night, watching the dazzling one-man performance of I Am My Own Wife at the Gaiety, I was struck by how much today’s financial markets could learn from a bit of early 20th century history.

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The idea of Public Private Partnership

The idea of “appropriate” owners is a strange one. Can one owner of an asset be more appropriate than another? Surely not. All owners, if they take the commercial risk, weigh up the alternatives and plunge in are “appropriate”. However, the news on Friday that the Minister for Education plans to use the public private partnership (PPP) route to finance schools, does raise a few crucial issues mainly around the “appropriateness” of new owners.

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From text to Skype, we are all part of the mobile revolution

Gordana’s lifeline is a pre-paid mobile phone. It is the one thing she trusts.

It is her link with the outside world, her banking system, it allows her to map her route into Ireland and it is the only way of circumventing the endemic corruption that blights her homeland.

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A strong Germany is bad for Ireland

If you want to understand the next leader of Europe’s most powerful and important nation, get your hands on a copy of Stasiland by Ann Funder.

This brilliant book deals with the emotional scars left on the entire East German population by the Stasi – the state secret police.

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ARCHIVES 2004

The revolution will be Tesco-ised

What is the cheapest petrol station in Ireland? Texaco, Esso, Maxol or Statoil? What shop was the biggest seller of computers in the past six weeks in the country?

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Pay to your grave

`Dear Mr McWilliams, it has come to our attention that you bought your house in 1957 for €1,000.

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ARCHIVES 2003

ARCHIVES 2002

Herd instinct will save stockmarket

China will have the greyest population in the world, the population of Argentina will be five times greater than that of Germany, while eastern Europe will be entirely denuded of Slavs.

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ARCHIVES 2001

‘Zero ideology’ the American way

The “zero tolerance” king has been playing a blinder. Even Democrats in New York would tick Rudi Giuliani’s name on the ballot if he were to run for a third time. However, he is debarred constitutionally. But his creed of “zero tolerance” has yet again become the calling card of the USA. This column discussed long before September 11 the US attitude of “zero tolerance” of economic pain. Now this attitude is more evident than ever.

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Corrupt ruling elites have been disastrous for Arab economies

An extraordinary aspect of old Jerusalem is the number of different religions and sects vying for position within the walled city. Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Anglicans, Greek Orthodox, Copts, Armenian Orthodox are all there, claiming the divine city as their own.

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Islam closely tied to slavery both yesterday and today

In 1859 Samuel Wilberforce, whose father led the successful campaign for the abolition of slavery in Britain, revealed his own odd personal philosophy when he told an audience in Cambridge that “England can never be clear of the guilt of her long continued slave trade till Africa is free, civilised and Christian.”

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Investors own the Third World

In 1977, the American comedienne Bette Midler demanded that she be paid $600,000 for a European tour in South African gold krugerrands. Back then, gold was presumed to be the only hedge against both inflation and a falling dollar.

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Welcome to the Irish economic fantasy world of Bostlin

A lucky group of former public sector workers (many of whom fortuitously took up guaranteed positions in the Post & Telegraphs back in the 1970s and 1980s rather than, for example, Irish Lights or Bord na Mona) this week appear to be intent on dictating to shareholders (who own the company) at what price Eircom should be sold.

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ARCHIVES 2000

National identity and the process of globalisation

The voters in Denmark and the rioters in Prague have arguably set the key political agenda for the next 10 years by asking the crucial geo-political question.

Is it possible for a country to preserve its own political and economic identity and still play an active role in the process of globalisation? And, if these two aspirations are found to be mutually exclusive, what next?

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Polygamy is the game to play

Our relationship with Europe is like Dubrovnik’s with the Turks.

To stroll around the old walled city of Dubrovnik on the Croatian coast is to savour one of Europe’s gems. Now part of the unsophisticated (although rapidly recovering) Croatian economy, everything in this city suggests that in the Middle Ages this place was coining in it.

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Why can’t we be more like Belgium?

The Belgians have a lot to teach us, and not just about strong beer and frites. We need more rented homes fast: why not float a few municipal bonds to pay for the land and the development?Continuing on this week’s strong astronomical theme, did you know that the only two man-made structures that can be clearly seen from the moon are the Great Wall of China and the Belgian motorway system?

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The old ways are alive and well in Russia

The Bolsheviks pioneered `Total Propaganda’ or the `Art of the Big Lie’. Lenin distinguished between the high-powered, ideological propagandist who devised the strategy and the low-level agitator who put it into action. Thus agitprop or professional deceit was, and many argue still remains, at the heart of the Russian state.

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