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[This review was originally published in the August 2012 edition of Socialist Voice.]

Brian Lucey, Charles Larkin & Constantin Gurdgiev (eds), What if Ireland Defaults? (Dublin: Orpen Press, 2012).

The machismo of restaurant chefs always makes me laugh. From the Hell’s Kitchen of Gordon Ramsay to the Kitchen Confidential of Anthony Bourdain it is hard not to be reminded that behind all the shouting and sweating and deep throat realism, these guys spend their afternoons making flower shapes out of tomatoes. They toss salad for a living. They’re about as tough as their home-blended mayonnaise.

Similarly, it’s hard to read public-sector economists going on about ‘getting real’ and facing up to the ‘tough issues’ without having a slight chuckle with oneself. What If Ireland Defaults?, a recently-published collection of essays, anecdotes and unsourced musings, is by no means the worst offender here, but nevertheless there are moments of unintended hilarity among the more solid, journeyman efforts.

It is, without doubt, a strange collection. There is no real coherence. The title itself is misleading and undoubtedly owes more to marketing than intention. Two of the articles are written by Constantin Gurdgiev who is also one of the editors – possibly indicating a certain panic over content deficiencies? Both articles fit the theme of the book, one arguing for debt restructuring in Ireland, the other providing a précis of the experience of Russia in the 1990s.

There is a useful synopsis of financial crisis theory from Joseph Stiglitz, Anzhela Knyazera and Diana Knyazeva. The experience of Iceland is given a fair reading by Elaine Byrne and Huginn F. Porsteinsson, while Peter Matthews makes a principled and honest case for debt restructuring that is firmly placed within the tradition of Catholic social teaching. There is a touch of the ordinary decent conservative about Peter Matthews, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense.

As for the rest…

Stephen Kinsella’s contribution is pedestrian to say the least. Despite the substantial body of academic research conducted over the past decade into Irish society by the likes of Hilary Tovey, Perry Share, Mary Corcoran, Kathleen Lynch, Colin Coulter, Tony Fahey and Brian Nolan – research that is readily available to Kinsella as a staff member of the University of Limerick – he ignores all of that and instead reaches for David McWilliams and the class-codology of The Pope’s Children. He finishes by speaking out of both sides of his mouth on whether Ireland should default or not.

The contribution by Karl Deeter of Irish Mortgage Brokers is so inane and devoid of anything resembling human intelligence that a paint-brush tied to the arse of a monkey would have produced a better result, certainly one with more beauty and colour. His contribution is so full of typos and grammatical errors that it’s hard to believe that the editors did anything more than cut and paste and check the word count. “The myriad of opinions boil down to a binary choice”, “that’s taking [sic] from first-hand experience.” He actually sums up his piece with the line, “time will tell.” Karl Deeter’s laptop is where clichés go to commit suicide.

Seamus Coffey, lecturer in economics in UCC, argues that it is “impossible to know what the final outcome of the NAMA process will be” and that “unless there is an almost complete collapse in asset values it is hard to see how [the NAMA] shortfall could be more than €5 billion.” Less than 18 per cent of NAMA loans are actually performing loans, while a substantial section of its assets relates to agricultural land that gained value purely through rezoning. For the rest of the article Coffey transports himself, and his analysis, into the future. If one were to remove all the supposes and assumes and ifs and probablys from Coffey’s analysis there would be nothing left but haikus. This is economics at its worst: creating a future out of assumptions and treating the conclusions as real. A professorship awaits Seamus Coffey among these flowered tomatoes.

The final word must rest, though, with Sean Barrett, senior lecturer in the Department of Economics, Trinity College Dublin, and a member of Seanad Éireann. Amongst all the faultines and problems – political, social, economic and cultural – which affected Ireland in the run-up to the 2008 crisis, what one stands out heads and shoulders above the rest? According to Barrett, “the practice of senior civil servants passing notes or whispered advice to ministers in parliament.”

This man is a senior lecturer in economics in TCD. Jaw-dropping stuff.

In the possible words of Karl Deeter, What if Ireland Defaults? boils down to a binary choice between a mixed bag and a curate’s egg. There are articles of workman-like standard between its covers, but one feels that as a whole the book will end up fuelling more dinner parties than debate.

However, only time will tell.

[Dr. Conor McCabe, historian and author of Sins of the Father: Tracing the Decisions That Shaped the Irish Economy (Dublin, 2011).]


2 Responses

  1. Seanán Kerr

    August 20, 2012 8:28 pm

    “Karl Deeter’s laptop is where clichés go to commit suicide” Might be my favourite line in an Irish review since…

    “One of the interviews, with Sean Hannity, a right-wing pundit on Fox, was cringe-inducingly obsequious, like watching Ryan Tubridy interview Jesus Christ.”

  2. Rita cahull

    January 31, 2013 2:23 am

    guarantee that Ireland will default with a huge bloom bang” that for sure on the Cards, this government will deliberately cause it to crunch down complete along with Germany and I know it won’t be far off when Ireland will be in be crisis by Bank bailouts and our Irish Culture Environment will cause allot of Horrible Deaths of High Cancer with Rabbite Ears Wind farm that he Signed up to with Britain will Kill Thousands of Irish People and they will all be done for murder, not our Debt of Banks, the European Debts and Not our Consent of Wind Farms, there was no open discussion to ask the People” it was Forced upon Them, another problem we have EU Steal our Irish forests and lands and gas and oil, the Forest Logging is Illegal under EU law” and also Foreign imports of meat and profiting huge from Irish Oil and Gas that would have bail out our Debts and Rid of Croke Park, troika and EU for Good, it would have printed Irish punts without getting any loans, and For the Gold that was Found in Co Wicklow” All Went Straight to Britain, Not the Irish People of Ireland, so Far Britain and EU have Profit from Ireland within one year 10 trillion Euros for Gold that was Found and Oil and Gas, we get nothing all imported to Foreign Nationalist and Some media who invest from Ireland and Government too, all these above mention would have bailed us out of Europe and still some left to keep Ireland Going, we lost out big time” all of these belong to the People of the Irish Tax payers in Ireland not only the Government but The Irish tax payers were robbed in all of this, not meeting to discuss with the People of Ireland and their Future, the fat greedy cats whipped the cream from the Cup of the Irish People, may god forgive the traitors who sold us out to the EU dogs of Blood Hounds.