I’ve never read a David McWilliams book. I’ve dipped into them for research purposes, but I’ve never sat down and actually read one from cover to cover – to read it in its own terms, as it’s meant to be.
Last week I was in Readers Paradise in Wexford and they were selling Follow the Money for €4 so I picked up a copy and spent the weekend working my way through it.
I got as far as page 191. More precisely, this sentence: ‘Miss Modified Motors certainly wouldn’t hang around with a lad who had shafted his own.’
Now. Maybe I’m being unfair. To paraphrase Will Self, maybe Follow the Money turns into Tolstoy on page 192. In that case, it’s my loss.
Up to that point, though, Follow the Money is on a par with anything written by Marc Coleman.
It is not better than Marc Coleman. It is not worse then Marc Coleman. It’s the same. That’s how bad it is.
At the start of the book McWilliams talks about Gorey and how its population increased by a ‘staggering 36 per cent’ from 2002 to 2006. He footnotes the claim, citing ‘census 2006′ as the reference.
The 2006 census runs to 13 volumes and thousands of pages. To say that ’36 per cent’ is in there somewhere is not a reference.
Now, all researchers, one time or another, mess up footnotes and references. It’s an occupational hazard. But, usually, its the wrong page that’s cited, or wrong table. The actual information is usually correct, but the reference itself is messed up.
However, when the reference is dug out, McWilliams has not just messed up the reference, but the actual information as well.
The CSO has put all the census reports, going back to 1926, on-line. And for the census reports from 2002 to 2006, they’re also available as excel files.
Here’s the link to the census report for town populations, and here’s the return for Gorey, 2002 to 2006.
No mention of 36 per cent.
Similarly, we get this with regard to Irish debt – that ‘Irish people got into debt 15 times faster than the average European’.
First of all, I don’t know what that means.
Is McWilliams saying that Irish people speak faster and write quicker than Europeans? That Irish people, instead of saying, ‘Can I apply for a car loan please?’, they shout ‘canihaveacarlonplease!’, scribble some shit on a page, piss out the door and are up to the dealership while our European counterparts are just about putting their proof of identity back into their pockets?
Unfortunately, I can’t find out, because the reference is to McWilliams himself. Rather like the computer in Zoolander, the answers are in David McWilliams.
The footnotes, though, pale into insignificance when compared with the attitude, analysis and conclusions which are presented to the reader. ‘Out in our new suburbs, a new generation – the Juggling Generation – is sinking under the weight of huge debts, negative equity and the trauma of failure’ writes McWilliams.
This is a mere four years since McWilliams opened up The Pope’s Children with the line: ‘Ireland has arrived.’
In that book he talked of little else but the new generations and the profound changes Ireland had undergone in the previous 25 years. Now, 48 months later we have a new generation. Not even The Borg could regenerate that quickly.
The same year as The Pope’s Children, David McWilliams wrote the text for a book entitled Saints and Sinners: Top Marketers Analyze Their Prospects in the New Ireland. The final chapter looked to what Ireland would be like in 2029. ‘The two biggest industries will be the “wellness” industry,’ he said, ‘which is likely to have overtaken the health industry, and the sex industry, all connected by instantaneous communications.’ He finished by stating that ‘credit will be abundant.’
He drops that optimism pretty sharp in Follow the Money:
They bought into the dream that they could juggle all the balls in the air, the new houses, the new jobs and the new children. They believed that the price of houses would continue rising. Why wouldn’t they? Every politician and businessman in the country told them it could only go one way. The media saturated them with seductive images of a brave new world where they could just hop on the Irish bus to success. All you needed to do was gather the deposit and you would be whisked away to an advertiser’s dream world of better stuff, better friends, better kitchens, better careers, better sex. The entire prospect was held together with the most fragile gossamer assumption that credit would always be available and the banks would keep churning it out. ‘ (p.9)
So, ‘the entire prospect was held together with the most fragile gossamer assumption that credit would always be available and the banks would keep churning it out.’ What, like writing in 2005 that credit would be abundant in the future? That a wellness and sex industry would overtake the health industry? Those types of gossamer assumptions?
McWilliams ends The Pope’s Children with a chapter on The New Elite, whom he called ‘the most educated Irish tribe ever’. ‘They have done very well in the past ten years,’ he said. ‘They have driven the economy and, more importantly, the image of this island. They are like nothing which has gone before. The HiCos [a mixture of Hibernian and Cosmopolitan] are the aristocracy of the Pope’s Children.’ This New Elite drank macchiatos and talked about ‘the simple beauty of the Cape Clear people’. They sipped smoothies before climbing Croagh Patrick, and insisted on local cheeses and real sausages, and watched the Lions in New Zealand. ‘Old certainties have been challenged,’ said McWilliams. ‘We can pick and choose what suits us. The overwhelmingly suffocating inferiority complex – the handmaiden of economic under-achievement – has lifted.’ He ended by telling us that the HiCo nomads – the emigrants, the top of the elite of the Pope’s Children – have returned to Ireland ‘with their own ideas of how things should be done and how the country should be run.’
Just to go back to that line again from Follow the Money: ‘The media saturated them with seductive images of a brave new world where they could just hop on the Irish bus to success.’
McWilliams was criticized for his initial support of the bank guarantee, and chapter two of Follow the Money deals with his role in its creation – specifically the night Brian Lenihan came to his house and ate garlic and patted a dog. ‘He kicked off by saying if his officials knew he was here in my house, there’d be war’ said McWilliams. And in case we missed it, McWilliams tells us this again: ‘I walked him out to his car and he reiterated the fact that his officials would explode if they knew he was there.’ And why would they do that? ‘They thought I was a maverick’ said McWilliams. ‘I took it as a compliment.’
And what did the maverick have to say?
I argued because the Irish banks’ funding had become so unstable, if we didn’t guarantee the funding as well as the deposits, the banks would come crashing down and you would have had to come up the money immediately for people’s deposits. The whole point of the guarantee is that you want to avoid paying out right away…. I told [the minister] I thought we were in the vortex or at least might end up there. He simply had to guarantee everything for a limited period to make sure that an illiquid dilemma didn’t lead to an insolvency catastrophe
Certainly this stance was reflected in his comments at the time. On 21 September 2008 McWilliams outlined four options facing the Irish government, in an article published in the Sunday Business Post:
The fourth option is the most attractive one, but it hasn’t been tried anywhere and would demand a leap of faith from the authorities. Remember what we said before: the two critical elements are time and confidence. The single most persuasive route to take would be for the Irish government to guarantee all deposits in Irish banks. Yesterday’s announcement of a €100,000 deposit guarantee only goes half the way.
In contrast, a full guarantee would have meant full protection for all creditors, all our own deposits and those of the foreign institutions who have lent to the Irish banks. The government could do this for a limited period – let’s say two years.
Straight away all uncertainty would disappear. The deposits, of which there are close to €300 billion, would become sovereign. Peoples’ fears would be assuaged and, if done properly, it would not cost a penny.
The Irish government would be using its well-earned reputation as a sovereign entity, not its hard-earned cash, to solve this crisis. People will not bet against it. This would guarantee the deposit side of the banks’ balance sheets, where there is no problem but uncertainty. Therefore, we would solve the confidence side of the dilemma.
Furthermore, with the return of confidence, the banks would have time to sort out their asset problems. These loans on property will never be paid back in full, and the banks will need to negotiate with debtors.
McWilliams repeats this argument in Follow the Money. ‘I argued that over the two years of the guarantee, the true extent of the bad debts would become apparent as would the depth of the recession, and, armed with this knowledge, [the minister] could then choose which banks to save, or not, in an orderly fashion.’
At both points, in his articles in September 2008 and in his 2009 book, McWilliams completely misses the problem with guaranteeing ‘everything’.
The problem was that while the expected income from the property loans had collapsed – because of the commercial and residential property crash, coupled with the deepening recession in the economy – the money owed by banks to investors in bank debt was guaranteed. The gap between the money the banks could salvage from its loan portfolio on one hand, and the money the banks owed to its external creditors on the other, was now the responsibility of the Irish taxpayer.
This was McWilliams’ solution, the breathing space necessary to enable us to see just how fucked we really were. ‘I expected our most delinquent banks would eventually go to the wall’ writes McWilliams, ‘with the Irish State acting as broker, not principal, in negotiations between the bankrupt banks and their creditors. How wrong could I have been?
Well, given that the blanket guarantee got the creditors more or less off the hook as well as the banks, the answer to that is: very.
…no country experienced the financial madness that we did and no country is in the same mess that we are… Think about Portugal, Greece, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and France – all these countries could, like Ireland, have used the euro as an excuse to borrow from the richer countries, mainly Germany. But they didn’t.’ (p.31)
God, am I only at page 31?
I’m going to leave this, but first a couple of quotes. This one relates to McWilliams’ opinion of life in the new towns outside Dublin:
Scores of abandoned kids hurtle around like freckly extras from Slumdog Millionaires, as hungover parents try to keep a semblance of control, doing penance for their night on the tiles.’ (p.50)
I mean, what a cock. What a fucking South Dublin, Blackrock College, pampered fucking middle class cock. Freckly extras from Slumdog Millionare? What a prick.
Then there’s this, where He assesses Seanie Fitzpatrick:
As far as he was concerned, they [the banking establishment] were the Dons, no matter what their religion, they were the rulers of a financial network, easily as closed off and hierarchical as the drugs trade cartels that bring cocaine from Central America to central Ranelagh. Seanie couldn’t join their club so he resolved to beat them.’ (p.132)
Not a particularly unusual quote, nothing particularly out of the ordinary, until you read the paragraph but one which preceded it:
Then he [Fitzpatrick] came closer, right up to me, squeezed my arm and practically hissed between his teeth, ‘no fucking Protestant is going to take my bank. no fucking Protestant is coming near us. Those establishment fuckers and the Bank of Ireland have been running our country before we came along and those fuckers are not going to being me down. none of them are ever going to look down on us again. We are the outsiders and this is our moment and those fuckers don’t own us any more.’
Oh right. So. No matter what their religion.
There is more, of course. His Alan Partridge take on the Irish Famine, for example:
The people chose to forget the huge potato shock of 1821 when the crop had previously failed. They didn’t learn their lesson or change their ways. . They just assumed it was a freak event and wouldn’t happen again. They got another warning in the early 1840s but ignored it.’ (p.57)
Or this bit, again relating to Seanie Fitzpatrick:
He looked slighter than I remembered him from previous meetings. At a certain stage he appeared to stare far away into the distance as if trying to come to terms with the enormity of what had happened to him. Holding his glasses in his hand up to his temple, he fixed on a spot in the distance. What was going through his mind?’ (p.127)
Well, presumably the enormity of what had happened to him, David.
As I said, maybe on page 192 it turns into Tolstoy, I don’t know. If anyone got to the end, maybe they can tell me.
I think I need something loud after that.
Latest posts by Conor McCabe (see all)
- Padriac White and the Establishment of the IFSC - April 8, 2013
- Video: Selma James- Defending Caring and Welfare in Careless Times - March 14, 2013
- Prof. Terrence McDonough on the Irish Promissory Note Deal – Galway 12 Feb 2013 - February 13, 2013
- Selections from Finance Dublin Magazine, 1988 - February 11, 2013
- Ireland & the Shadow Banking System: Audio & Slides from 18th Oct 12 Dublin Talk - October 22, 2012