US Treasury Meets Bloggers

Last week the US Treasury invited a number of economics bloggers to meet senior officials. See here, here and here. I note this partially to pass on some interesting accounts of these meetings and partially to point out that, in my humble opinion, pigs would be observed circling Dublin airport before such a meeting would occur at our Department of Finance.

77 replies on “US Treasury Meets Bloggers”

In France, the venerate intellectuals. Jean Paul Sartre got a full State funeral. In the US, being clever is applauded.
One reason the Irish banks got into trouble is, for the most part, under-educated people ran them. Check out how many bank executives of the current and recently departed generation (a) left school to go to university (b) left school to work for a bank.
You would be surprised at how recent was the Banking/Trade Union agreement that quietly barred the recruitment of graduates into irish banks.
It is a strand of thinking that runs through the Irish establishment. Being clever is to be frowned upon. Smart people are always regarded with suspicion, often derided. Public life is anti-intellectual.
Ask one of those under educated bank executives why they joined the bank and, without exception, they will say it was that or the civil service.

Those US bloggers are a remarkable bunch of clever people. Marginal Revolution, just one of the sites represented at those Treasury meetings is a joy – if only for the surprising links to other sites that are provided twice daily.

A good while back I used to go the US Treasury for meetings (not as a blogger!). I recall meeting officials who had done their PhDs under the likes of James Tobin. How many people do we have in the DoF of that calibre?


“In the US, being clever is applauded. One reason the Irish banks got into trouble is, for the most part, under-educated people ran them.”

OK, so how did the US banks get into trouble? And the UK banks? And the Swedish and Finnish banks? And the banks of a score of other countries.? What part of the word ‘global’ don’t you understand?

And, you shouldn’t confuse ‘intellectual’ with ‘intelligent’. Sartre espoused a discredited left-wing socialist/communist view of society and (according to Wikipedia I know, I know, its not always a reliable source) Sartre declared Che Guevara to be “not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age” and the “era’s most perfect man.” Give me a break, that’s like something only Vincent Browne in this country could come up with. And, please God, we’ll never start giving intellectuals Sate funerals, otherwise the country will be shutting down for a week when Fintan O’Toole dies.

Many thanks for highlighting this. It seems to be a reflection of the attachment in the US to develop a “market in ideas”. It also, perhaps, reflects the constitutional support for freedom of expression, which, perhaps, is constrained by the libel laws in these islands. John FitzGerald, when defending the economics profession from accusations of tardiness in highlighting the unfolding banking crisis in Ireland in his paper to the DEW at Kenmare, attached this laconic footnote:
“There was also the danger of legal action if too trenchant views were expressed on the stability of an individual bank.”

I’m not sure to what extent recent legislation in Ireland has relaxed constaints in this area, but I suspect that it hasn’t (though I would be pleased to be informed if I am wrong) and the current campaign in Britain (arising from the Simon Singh v chiropractors case) to reform libel law may have some relevance in Ireland.

However, removing costraints on supply is not sufficient; the demand for ideas and engagement is deficient – as I recall Colm McCarthy pointed out on this site some months back.

And to address this we are into the areas of political and institutional reform which, inevitably, takes us away from pure economics and, perhaps, off-site. This is understandable, but unfortunate, as imo this would be a fruitful area for discussion.

As I said, we really really don’t like anything that smacks of cleverness do we? The only nation in the world that uses ‘smart’ as a term of abuse and ‘cute hoor’ as a term of afection. Which would you rather be called John?

@ Chris

we dont hate cleverness, we just hate outspokeness. We’re a very conservative country at heart, and we seem to have a fear of change ingrained in our psyche. This can be seen clearly in the fact that despite having a government in power for over a decade, and despite going through a very severe recession, our Opposition parties are bereft of any ‘different’ ideas and have a manifesto essentially 95% similar to the current ruling party. The one party that tried to shake things up over the last 20 years was the PD’s, and we rather shamefully sent them packing at the last election. The glee at the return to the normal order can still be seen on an almost daily basis in the letters column of the Irish Times.

By the by, Lenihan was apparently big enough to go to McWilliams’ house late one evening last year to look for advise, so (a) he doesn’t seem to dislike cleverness in other people and (b) McWilliams decided to tell all and sundry about what took place that night. It might explain some of the reticence shown by him in conducting similar meetings in the future.

There is a deeper point to all of this. If we ever hope to regain a balance of trade in the global system again, then we need to find ways to establish competitiveness in our operations in the west. This is very much to do with bottom up responsibility and motivation.

There is some called ‘quick and easy Kaizen’ which is taught by a guy called Norman Bodek. I have been rattling on about this fellow quite a bit recently at the Irish economy, but here seems like a good place to mention Norman again. If you move to minute 12.00 in this podcast:

Norman describes a situation in a glass window manufacturing plant, where an operative wheels around the finished glass windows but at a certain place in the floor there is a bump. Every so often of course, a window breaks going over this bump in the floor. That window has to be re-made which leads to waste of time and productivity. No one in the entire management structure of the company can figure out a solution to the bump in the floor.

Of course, Norman is cleverly using the bump in the floor as a larger metaphor for organisation and problem solving. How many of us in Ireland today, do encounter the bump-in-the-floor type of difficulties in our daily work? Unless we in the west can get together cooperatively and manage ourselves well, we will continue to be the ‘consumers’ of the world. While others become the producers.

@eoin bond
Your point about Lenihan visiting McWilliams is a good one. But I wonder if it doesn’t reinforce what i am saying: the Minister for Finance sought advice from a clever man but sought to do it in a most clandestine way. What was he scared of? Surely the right way is to arrange a meeting either on or off the record? If he was scared of doing this through his officials then maybe it tells us something about them.
When I worked in the City of London it was commonplace for some analysts to be occasionally asked into the UK Treasury and other areas of government for off the record meetings. I had lunch with a City economist last week who had just come from such a meeting with the Chancellor (no, he didn’t tell me anything).
It all goes back to Karl Whelan’s point: there is no culture of seeking expert opinion. We don’t seem to have the self-confidence to listen to dissenting voices, digest, politely disagree (or whatever) and move on. It’s either a vacuum or a row.

I would try to refine the above slightly. Maybe it isn’t about the seeking of an expert opinion. But rather, management should not expect to come up with all the answers by themselves. Instead, it should be the job of management to enable people to discover the expertise within themselves. To realise their own creative potential.

Now if David McWilliams was preaching some philosophy along those lines, I think he would be preaching something very useful indeed.

I’d caution against overgeneralising the differences between the US and Ireland on attitudes to smartness. After all, one of the major US parties spends much of its time not applauding smart people but excoriating them as pointy-headed elitists (Sarah Palin’s upcoming book tour will again highlight this). Tim Geithner is ultra smart (disclosure – he was once my boss) but that (together with his Wall Street ties from his time at the NY Fed) seems to make many people suspicious of him.

One of the reasons I always enjoy Larry Fish when he talks – the couple of online video lectures I have watched – is his people centric focus. He involves people, he pulls people into the picture and wants to understand where they are coming from.

Thinking back now at the various bosses I have had, the best were very strong in that capability. It wasn’t something they had to force themselves to do either, like some tacky program or initiative. It was simply how they went about things.

The danger in over-reliance on the notion of the ‘expert’, is it allows a dozen other people to sit back and say, well, Karl Whelan knows everything. We don’t have to try. That would be the worst outcome of all, if you think about it.

This bothers me intensely about David McWilliam’s broadcasts on TV. McWilliams seems to lay out the answers in such a clear and comprehensive fashion, that people really don’t have to try very hard for themselves to think. A clear indication to me, that McWilliams is tapping into that kind of ‘lazy solution seeking’ audience, the wrong audience, is the fact that they will not even buy McWilliam’s latest book.

Sure McWilliams was never more popular amongst a certain segment. But that same segement of his support are simply the type who are too lazy to bother to read. They want it all in the 30.00 minute video. Around the world in 30.00 minutes, which is basically the format of his programs.

“Tim Geithner is ultra smart (disclosure – he was once my boss) but that (together with his Wall Street ties from his time at the NY Fed) seems to make many people suspicious of him.”

I remember I purchased Alan Greenspan’s novel, The Age of Turbulence a while back. I hadn’t really got a clue who Greenspan was, what job he did or what made him important in the grand scheme of it all. All I knew, was that Roger Lowenstein had referred to Greenspan quite often in his books on the technological bubble of the nineties. That was good enough for me, so I read Alan Greenspan’s autobiography. What better way to inform myself of who Greenspan is? God bless my innocense I suppose, is all you can say.

I mentioned to a few friends what I was reading and instantly I was bombarded by accusations that he was evil, I was moving to the dark side and I would have to be – what is it religious men have to do to get rid of evil spirits in people? I was told I should not be ‘consuming’ that kind of material. Strange.

I got that same reaction once before, when I mentioned to the same person I had read Milton’s Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. I said it was a good read and even recommended it. I think they made the sign of the cross like I was a vampire in their midst or something. I guess, not coming from an economics background myself, I am too innocent to realise I should not read these books.

Now a favourite hobby of mine, is finding more of these evil books and suggesting to my friends that they are good to read. I suppose, it is an evil sort of pleasure to take, but life is short. What struck me, is how well informed many people are about Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman without having read any books.

The point is, you can follow the populist view of economics. It is out there, in easily digest-able, video presentation format. You can watch it or listen to it, whenever you want these days from the Internet. Using the Internet it is possible to go for the micro-wave-able piazza version. We can’t fault someone for going after that market I suppose, it is definitely out there.

David McWilliams did claim in an newspaper article very recently, that his impulse was to bring economics down to the level of ordinary people. I read the interview in the newspaper and I thought to myself, this McWilliams fellow sounds like a thoroughly decent sort of chap. But then you listen to someone like Norman Bodek (I must get one of his books next) and Bodek offers a different way of bringing it down to peoples’ level.

It calls it quick and easy Kaizen. Helping people to be more creative. This is very positive and very potent. It is not simply about spoon feeding ordinary folk some clap trap version of global economics, so they can rest easy and not worry themselves too much. Like a 30.00 minutes economics sedative for the conscious.

There are a number of good points here. The problems Ireland has are not unique to Ireland except, I believe, in one respect. We have a lot of very senior people in the public and private sector who aren’t qualified or experienced enough in any serious sense and so lack the skills to take a broader / deeper / more rounded / more responsible view of the challenges they face. For this and other reasons they tend to be ineffective.

Take Brendan Drumm. He’s a medical consultant, right? Thinking that this qualifies him to run the HSE is like thinking that an ace fighter pilot is qualified to run the RAF. In fact being a consultant probably decreases the chances of his being able to actually do the job because the opportunity cost of becoming a consultant is that you don’t learn to manage organisations. The kind of person you’d get to run the health system would be someone who’s a senior COO in HP or Microsoft or in some reformed health system in another country.

It simply never occurs to anyone – even Drumm’s critics – that he is simply not qualified or experienced enough to do the job.

Of course that’s without getting into the politicization (sorry – er – I mean strong public interest element) of health system.

We’re not anti-intellectual in Ireland. We’re just not intellectual.

We like ‘characters’ – harmless toothless geezers who supposedly have a fool’s wisdom in a literary sense and about whom we feel sentimental. We don’t like eccentrics – the way the Brits do – people who challenge the status quo – Tony Benn for example.

your point about lack of university education does not stand up to scrutiny. Many of our former CEOs were university graduates, they just did not start at 18. Rather through force of circumstance they went into the bank at 18, worked behing the counter then got the ticket for university. From there they secured primary degrees, post grad qualifications etc. They were by any yardstick clever people, yet they blew up their institutions. What conclusion do you draw from that? Would it be better to hire stupid people for senior jobs?

Some of the bloggers have been fairly vituperative so they shouldn’t be too surprised if they are not on Brian Lenihan’s Christmas card list. I am guessing that there were DoF people at all the Crisis conferences & that some read this blog, so don’t worry lads, they know what you think.

It is certainly true that there is much less engagement with the academic community compared to most countries. There is also much much less internal expertise, certainly on the economics side. It would not surprise me if the government of Uganda had more economists than our own (& quite good ones too). And if you think it is bad vis-a-vis macro policy, I can assure you that it is no better with micro’ policy. Some of this relates to a point that Dan O’Brien raised recently: we inherited our civil service traditions from the Brits. They moved on, we haven’t.

Ironically a key figure in the development of economics expertise in the UK civil service was an Irishman, Norman Glass, now sadly deceased.

Good post Paul.

I had a very interesting conversation with someone not too long ago. Someone who was well aware of what happened in Ireland over the ages. Between the time when the religious orders used to run the medical institutions around Ireland. That in turn was replaced by another layer, the health boards, who were staffed by people not nearly as ‘qualified’ or as committed to standards as the religious orders had been. Of course, the religious nun orders had worked almost for free, in terms of their labour at least.

But the new health boards and new hospitals were announced with great fanfare by local politicians and we were made to believe all these small regional hopsitals were ‘best in the world’. Only recently have we come to the realisation, that standards are nowhere near as good as we thought. In fact, that medical care was probably far superior back in the days of religious orders. Then the HSE comes into this picture at the very end.

I can’t remember much more about the discussion, except there was a whole geo-political, infrastructural, nation-wide evolution from excellence to mediocrity to basic rubbish, that happened over the course of about a century. Which has ended up going from very in-expensive (in the sense we availed of services through religious orders which were world class and we didn’t pay for as such) to a system which has never recovered to past standards, but costs multiples of times more to provide.

How did I get into this discussion?

I remember it was the time of the debate about the Seanad and its future. I commented innocently that old photographs of the clergy getting together to have their meetings and discussions always showed these huge big tables with priests sitting around them. The fact being that the religious orders were a huge organisation. This must have had an impact on how the early Irish state formed, and how De Valera would have conceived of the Irish constitution and how the houses of the Oireachtas should function.

Basically, we were coming from a time in Ireland, where the entire system from top to bottom was administered and run by a church bureaucracy – which if you look at the buildings and meeting rooms they seemed to require – there must have been a lot of business run out of those institutions indeed. Before a time of teleconference technology, email etc, etc.

@ Paul MacDonnell,

The simple summary of the above long post would be, that Ireland did not or never has had a tradition of running things for itself, as the experts were the clergy and the nuns in everything. That took the burden completely off of the state in terms of developing its own capabilities.

More recently, we have seen how the state has no capabilities in finances either, except for the NTMA set up 15 years ago. Gurdgiev is very critical always in his assessment of Irish state institutions also. He would have a certain external perspective to benefit from. Myself, being much too young to remember the power of the church in Ireland, can only draw upon those photographs of those meetings of the church hierarchy in the olden days. It has the appearance of ‘business’ about it, like a get together of some large corporation nowadays, like Google etc, to discuss future strategy.

The old clerical system or infrastructure had the advantage too, that the system was short-circuited by local Dail rep’s looking to build small tiny hospitals all over the countryside to win votes.

Kevin Denny:

“Some of this relates to a point that Dan O’Brien raised recently: we inherited our civil service traditions from the Brits. They moved on, we haven’t.”

Yes, but as I tried to describe above, for instance in health, there was this huge vacuum created when the church exited the stage and the running/management of our systems.

Should read above:

The old clerical system or infrastructure had the advantage too, that the system was [NOT] short-circuited by local Dail rep’s looking to build small tiny hospitals all over the countryside to win votes.

@ Chris Johns
“When I worked in the City of London it was commonplace for some analysts to be occasionally asked into the UK Treasury and other areas of government for off the record meetings. I had lunch with a City economist last week who had just come from such a meeting with the Chancellor (no, he didn’t tell me anything).”

The inescapble conclusion from all this is that we should a) invite the English back to run our affairs as they made such a great job of ruuning the place the first time and b) alone of all others, the UK banks have survived unscathed from the crisis.

Brian: Yup but that vacuum might have been an opportunity to do things really better. Of course there have been major reforms in health, like the HSE for instance!

@ Kevin Denny,

I wish I understood this subject a lot better. The person I spoke with who seemed to understand the trajectory a lot better, had spent almost half a century in some branch of the civil service. I have never stuck my head inside that side of the economy once.

@Property Gal
No, the inescapable conclusion (apart from you being narked on a sunday – have money on oz to win?) is that in the UK the academics and external analysts are seen as having occasional use as sounding boards. Attending the odd crisis conference and then roundly ignoring all advice (sure, if they were any good they would be in/woudnt have left DoF) is NOT a substitute

@Property Gal
So it is obvious that consulting experts is a bad idea? Yet again, somebody else makes my point about us taking every opportunity to worship with the cult of the mediocre.
The point about university education has obviously gone straight over your head: its as about the choices that a cadre of people made at 18: school or civil service. Does not the poverty of ambition strike you as odd? Or at least potentially interesting in what it might say about those individuals? Other cultures se education as a way forward.

Sorry, in that last post i should not have said ‘school or civil service’. It should have read ‘banks or civil service’

@ chris,
no problem with consulting experts. Brian Lenihan did the right thing in seeking DMcW out and god knows who else in order to get another perspective on the crisis. However, if you are going to consult widely you better talk to clever people. Given the state of the UK banks, there is no evidence that HMG consulted experts. It seems to me that they just brought in the chaps for a good lunch and some port and cigars.

The pint about university made by “simpleton” did not go over my head. Our “elite” in the banks and the CS were educated in the 1960s and 1970s in an era before free third level education. Many were from small farms or lower middle class backgrounds. The opportunity set was more limited
than today. So they had to get the job in the bank or the CS and then get through university on scolarship or at night. Simpleton seems to be of the view that somebody with a”night degree” is somehow less educated than somebody with a jesuit education going into uni at 18 on daddy’s money.

I do not think, Ireland is any more anti intellectual than most other democracies. Clinton, Blair, Reagan, Bush etc all spent great time cultivating an image of amiable amateurs when in fact they were very clever. You do not get ahead by talking down to people.

@ Brian,
agreed. When conducting a bank rescue plan consult widely even if you claim not to be.

@Brian O’Hanlon It was pointed out to me some years ago that female religious orders – Nuns – tended to be more meritocratic. In other words if Nuns were running an educational establishment or hospital then they usually deployed the cleverest, most capable people in the key jobs. From the little I have seen and heard about this I suspect that it’s true. The only institutions in Ireland where I’ve ever had a sense of world-class can-do attitude are the hospitals and educational institutions run by nuns. They had the same virtues that people like Toyota are famous for – attention to detail, pride in their work and utter self-confidence.

@Chris Johns

I haven’t paid much attention to the posts on the question of ‘consulting experts’ but in many ways the problem in Ireland is not that we don’t consult experts or even that we lack access to ‘expertise’ – as if the only thing the government lacked as it drove the economy off a cliff with benchmarking etc….was the right ‘advice’. In fact the culture of consulting ‘experts’ is quite strong in Ireland. Accenture have been paid many, many, tens of millions to not develop IT systems that should have cost a fraction of what’s been spent – see Michael Hennigan of Finfacts on this subject – all this in the name of ‘consulting expertise’.

The problem with ‘consulting experts’ is that you get a division of labour. We need to ‘consult experts’ but as Machiavelli said ‘It takes a wise prince to hire a wise adviser’.


good point about ‘poverty of ambition’. I wonder does that mean at a certain stage in peoples’ lives they were asked to cut out something, eliminate it? That does sounds very wrong but perhaps all too real. This author Matthew May might interest you. He has some other suggestions to make. Something taken away, subtracted in order to produce something which is not less, but has more impact, is more elegant.

He notes that companies and governments at the moment are in the process of cutting things out. But that is perhaps the wrong approach. He talks about the iPhone for one, where things were taken away which lead to something more powerful. Based on his experience at Toyota, he talks about taking stuff away to create more elegance. He has written a blog here:

When I say ‘you get a division of labour’ I mean to say that you have incompetent managers hiring ‘experts’ because they are too stupid / afraid to make a decision. Before any decisions were ever approached the state was hiring Pricewaterhousecoopers…..yawn……to rubber stamp decisions they knew they had to take but would be open to challenge for taking.

The experts were not only useless but actually damaging in this regard. We don’t need experts. We need a-political management with authority courage and enough ability to be educated consumers of any ‘expertise’ they need to hire in.

@ P Mc Donnell,
You have hit the nail on the head. What does a govt depatment do when faced with a problem. i) Hive it off to a review group with all the SPs on it, ii) commission a worthy consultancy to come up with a report iii) leak the findings of the report selectively iv) engage in years long discussion on the report iv) do nothing v) occasionally refer to the report as pointing the way forward. Look at the Dauphin Martin from Cork, a minister for nearly 20 years in half a dozen depts and a record of about 150 review groups and no decisions other than the smoking bad.

As the real Boss might say -“150 reports and nothing done”

@Paul OD
hiring consulting firms and consulting experts are not often the same thing. e have a great tradition of hiring loads of consulting reports. We dont have a great tradition of consulting experts.
Frinstance – i suggested on radio a year ago that getting 5-10 of the prominent academic based critics of the governments then banking plans, putting them in a room with coffee and donuts for a couple of days, and asking for a plan would have been a useful exercise. That could have been done for peanuts (cue the joke…) and would at the least have given a benchmark opinion. But no, fellas from New York must inherently be better and more independent…..

@Property Gal
Don’t know about 60s 70s Ireland but I know lot about another small Celtic country. Working class Wales from that period (there is no Welsh middle class, we are all rather homogneously poor):there was only one way out and that was to go to University. The banks and the civil service only recruited graduates (into the fast track streams anyway).
Don’t knock it just because it is British. They made as much of a mess of things as anyone but they do have banks that are in good shape (Barclays and HSBC to name 2). In fact it really was only 2 major banks (RBOS and HBOS) that screwed things up (plus a few, but not all, smaller building societies). Post the crisis, HMG has stumbled but got on with it. And finally arrived at set of policies that have gained a bit of traction. LLoyds/HBOS is even paying the government’s money back. We may have all started from the same place and the Irish government’s response may or may not have been just as brilliant as the British but it has been slower, much slower.
Why was it every single Irish institution? With not a single CDO or dodgy derivative (the downfall of RBOS and HBOS)? Just home-grown lending.
I don’t think anyone is suggesting a single cause of all this. But it is interesting to look at some common factors: perhaps, as you say, the people running the financial system did all come from poor farms. Doesn’t that look odd to you? Perhaps its me, and I just have an elitist mind-set. But I do think that there is a case for asking the question about the quality of the people who have been running our institutions.

Not suggesting for a second that consulting experts is a sufficient condition. And I wouldn’t count management conultants as experts in this sense. But I don’t see how you solve difficult technical problems without technical expertise. You can take your broken down car to a second rate garage. Or a good one. The result will be different in each case.

You would have come up with a better solution – but to the wrong problem.
For you the issue was restoring a healthy banking system at minimal cost. For them the issue was falling property prices, falling bank share prices and potential foreign ownership of our banks, to be restored by borrowing up to €54 Bn. These will also be the benchmarks for NAMA’s “success”.

@ Chris

“the Minister for Finance sought advice from a clever man but sought to do it in a most clandestine way”

I don’t think i’d call it clandestine. That would infer some type of deception. I think he just wanted to seek some private advise which wouldnt garner any negative headlines at a time of immense crisis and uncertainty (for both himself and the economy – “Minister of Finance doesnt know what he’s doing”). This private meeting was then used against him to sell a book. Like i said, its not exactly something which is going to encourage him to repeat the process. Maybe, like you suggest, he should have created a more formal forum for this meeting, but i think we can forgive him this given that he was trying to go outside the more standard convention of only consulting in-house within the DoF.

@Brian Lucey. Your point is well made and fully taken. The spirit and the original point made by KW above is one of a market place of ideas. And I agree your idea sounds like a very good and very cost-effective way of bringing reality to bear.

The impression of Lenihan arriving out at DMcWilliams’ place in Dalkey is like the Emperor consulting the Oracle at Delphi or a 14th century prince visiting a holy hermit. It’s a confessional thing. Weird really. But it really stems from the fact that Brian Lenihan – lovely man, wish him the best and better than most / all of the rest – not only knows nothing about economics but has never shown any intellectual curiosity about what economics is all about. I mean why would he go and visit McWilliams? The reality is that it was probably a shallow gesture. Brian Lenihan wanted to do the appropriate thing. And that means visiting a telegenic economist because – you see – if he’s famous then he’s the person to consult. The reliability of McWilliams in Brian Lenihan’s eyes stems from the fact that he’s well known and not for what he knows.

You need a basic level of competence to consult economists with any hope of getting a good result. The starting point is admitting that you, the Minister, don’t know all that much. 99% of good government is common sense. A religious order of nuns with zero training in economics would run the Irish economy better than all those stupid men with all their economic advisers (what did ever happen to Colin Hunt?) and all their consultant reports….

@ Simpleton

“LLoyds/HBOS is even paying the government’s money back”

Huh? Isn’t the government about to take part in the UK’s largest ever rights issue for them? You’re confusing “paying the government’s money back” with “not taking part on the governments asset protection scheme”.

McWilliams is telegenic certainly. But I haven’t obtained a huge benefit from his TV shows to be honest. The newspaper articles and blog seem very good indeed.

But for me, where McWilliams really comes into his own is on radio. I think he commands that space like it was his own.

I heard minister for Energy Eamon Ryan speak in Trinity college about sustainability earlier in the year. He commanded that lecture theatre full of people, like he owned it. I mean, he really did nail that performance. I am not so sure about Ryan on tele or on radio however.

In fairness, Prime Time did consult with Morgan Kelly several times. But Morgan’s medium is not television. Television is a very difficult medium to do well. Colm McCarthy seems to be able to cope with it admirably. But I would say, he is unusual amongst economists in that respect.

I was making some points to Iulia along these lines here:

Including my own disasterous foray into primetime national radio.

@ Brian Lucey This business of consulting expert ‘foreigners’ is interesting. It’s true that Irish senior management – especially in the public sector – are remarkably resilient to innovation of any kind. Because the Irish are a nation of cargo-cultists they see all good things as coming from abroad. After all the 12.5% corporate tax rate is cargo-cult financial arbitrage. We must encourage ‘inward investment’ and meanwhile tax and screw domestic businesses to death with a system designed to penalise their lower economies-of-scale.

The reason why we ‘consult experts’ – is to emulate competence – not because we are competent.

If ever i were to become Taoiseach I’d print up thousands of little cards and at an appropriate point in every interaction with anyone – other politician, civil servant, business people, unions, public etc…etc…. I’d produce it and hand it to them. On one side it would say


and on the other side it would say


@ Paul,

I feel you are being a bit harsh to Brian Lenihan. No one knows whether he has any intellectual interest in economics. Who knws but he might read Malthus and Smith before retirning at night. As regards his contact with McW, he did the right thing. He clearly suspected that the DOFwas not the oracle and went off the reservation to seek better advice. He should have conducted the meet in the house of a trusted FF supporter in the Boro-a bit like flying Adams and McGuiness to Cheyne Walk in 1973. He is not at fault for the fact that Dave sold his story to the red tops

@Eoin Bond
Fair cop. Lloyds is wriggling rather than getting out. But the broader thrust of my argument still holds: with the exception of the uber problem child RBOS, there appears to be a plan for the others with a beginning, middle and end. We may disgree with what they are doing, almost on a case by case basis, but they are getting on with it. Can we say the same?

I wonder is Country & Western / Irish Music responsible for our problems. It imposes a US Continental-size conceptual landscape onto little Ireland.

So ‘….by the time I make Oklahoma she’ll be….’ becomes

‘…I’m 40 miles from Mullingar, Wexford’s too far and I’m flat broke
I spent 3 nights at Murphy’s Bar as all my dreams just went up in smoke…’

Hence you used to have ‘South Eastern Health Board’ and the ‘West Midlands Region’ which to most Americans conjour up places you fly to in a few hours and not – as in Ireland – drive through in 20 minutes.

@jl you may be right. I don’t want to diss Lenihan for no reason. But if he’s supposed to be as bright and ‘educated’ as they say – and a purely legal qualification doesn’t – on it’s own – count as ‘educated’ then you’d think he’d have the self-confidence to get McWilliams into his office and get his point of view. I mean why does he have to go sneaking out of his office to see McW – without permission???!!!!

Why is national fiscal Armageddon less terrifying than your officials being a bit sniffy??

This is an economics website, not a health website. So, I’m not going to go into detail or to try and start a debate on the subject. However, some of the posters have made virulent attacks on Brendan Drumm and claimed that he was totally unqualified to run the health service.

So, just for the record.

An organisation in Sweden produces an analysis of all health services in Europe annually and ranks them. Its called the European Health Consumer Index. In 2004, before Brendan Drumm took over the HSE, the Irish health service was ranked 29th best in Europe. It has since moved up in the rankings each year. And in their most recent report, published a few weeks ago, the Irish health service was ranked 13th best in Europe and ahead of the British health service (NHS) for the first time. The Swedish organisation, which produces the rankings, specifically attributed the improvement to the work of the HSE since 2004.

@By the way David McWilliams is mostly quite sound. He has some ideas that I disagree with – such as tapping into the ‘Irish diaspora’. Nice idea I suppose…but as i said to him some time ago ‘David – the words ‘public’ and ‘spending’ don’t occur in any of your books in that order’. But a very sound guy.


‘ the Irish health service was ranked 13th best in Europe and ahead of the British health service (NHS) for the first time. ‘

I confess to outright disbelief at this statement. But even it it’s true the question isn’t where we are in the rankings – the question is what value for money do we get.

If A) we are overpaying hospital consultants by tens of millions per year and

B) Brendan Drumm has no curiosity / let alone serious determination to address this then

C) It begs the questions I am raising.

Wow- not only is the economy ok but the health system too! Thanks!

(youre sure you live in the same country as us? Just checking….)

Maybe we are all missing the point. Of course it would make sense to consult with a wide variety of economists from across the spectrum to facilitate a solution to our current difficulties.

But you are assuming they are looking for solutions and not some sort of political cover up so that a lot of asses are protected or at least fully paid before total collapse.

One thing David Mc Williams definitely was right about was that the people responsible for the problem should not be entrusted with the job of solving the problem as they are too close to the mistakes to be objective about the methods needed to remedy it.

There is no doubt that they read the excellent and incisive blogs on this site. There is also no doubt that some of the ideas on this site would go some way to easing our problems so maybe the way forward is with a cleanout of Govt and higher echelons of civil service.


On reflection, I do not think we are as anti intellectual as you think. In this country our nobel laureates, WB Yates, Heaney are venerated (maybe not by Dunphy. We glory in Wilde, Shaw, Casey and even Wm. Shakespeare (from Meath dont u know). At our firesides, we read JB Keane, Flan OBrien etc. That is a lot of intellectual firepower.

Maybe if we have a short coming we don’t think much of macro economists and financial gurus. Is that a problem?

@ Paul McD

i used to really like DMcW, but the whole “Ireland out of the Euro” thing was downright dangerous in my view. A small, open and massive deficit running economy leaving a stable currency union in the middle of the biggest credit and funding crisis of the last 80 years? Really? It smacked of ‘headline grabbing’ rather than ‘firmly held belief’.

His behaviour over the last few weeks (the book revelations, him hosting the Panel) seems to suggest that he’s decided on a career change from economic punditry to more general media work. Fair play n all that, but its maybe going to change how people perceive his opinions going forward.

@ MB

“But you are assuming they are looking for solutions and not some sort of political cover up”

Are you referring to Lenihan/McW there? It was DMcW who told everyone about the meeting, not Lenihan, and this is more than a year after it took place. Hardly a “political cover up” if no one actually knows about it.

@Brian Lucey

You seem to be under the impression that I myself have produced the health service rankings. Emphatically not! In this instance, I am merely the messenger. I am simply reporting what the Swedish healthcare consultants, Health Consumer Powerhouse, published in their most recent survey. As you have obviously never heard of them, I’m kindly providing you with a link below. If you disagree with their findings, write to them, rather than objecting to me posting here what they found. If you can convince them of your expertise on the subject, I’m sure they’ll take your views into account in next year’s report.

@ JL
Ah, the land of Saints & Scholars. But how much of our intellectual heritage impinges on the body politic? Where are our Enarques, our Oxbridge elite, our Ivy League Alumni? Is there an elite running things as in those countries or a confederacy of dunces? I can just fel you you, and propertyGal, reaching for the keyboard about to celebrate the absence of elitism in our affairs. That’s my point. Stick to the Parish Pump and continue to be sustained by your priests and poets.

Interesting exchanges. Listen, the real predicament we face is we’re broke and something, anything, needs to be done … … but what exactly??

Busywork is always useful, whether it actually addresses the predicament or something else is irrelevant – to those making the most moves! But not to the contrary types. Logic and rationality will not work – you do not convince with logic – sentiment always trumps!! So forget the experts at this time.

The financial situation is dire, and will remain so as long as the massive debts remain and the means to repay them is not at hand, nor is it likely to be – outside of significant monetary inflation. The unfortunate taxpayer will, slowly, become aware of their predicament and the outcome may be socially and politically unpredictable.

B Peter

Err….im more deeply involved in battling an aspect of the health service than I ever wanted to be, so yeah, im quite well tuned into the various issues. Please dont assume that I do or dont know things John. You know what they say about assuming….
Optimisim is fine – pollyanna is perhaps less useful.

@ Eoin

No I am referring to our govt our DoF our regulators and Banks.

All of whom have a vested interest in not admitting fully the depth of our plight hence the preference for managing( or mismanaging ) our Banking crisis rather than real attempts to solve it.

All of the above would have to own up to serious mistakes if not serious misconduct if they were to seek outside advice.

Nothing can move forward until they have been removed. Until then no outside academic advice will be sought nor taken.

Our budgetary requirements are a different matter entirely as it is obvious considering the arrival of some big players from the OECD last week that the EU has played a big part in the construction of our next buget.


I like that point, it more or less gives an overview of where we are at, and where we should be aiming to go.

One more point, I will add about McWilliams, based on this familiarity with certain media. I think that McWilliams was somewhat beyond his comfort zone in doing the Farmleigh thing. I believe that McWilliams knows himself it wasn’t quite his ideal format. He requires a slightly different set of skills, and perhaps deeper knowledge of industry to mix it with the head of Intel Ireland, never mind a past head of Intel global corporation. I don’t think that McWilliams has that industry sense in spades. I don’t believe that himself and Jack Welsh are cut from the same cloth either. I think that industry leaders have a certain ruthlessness about them in getting things done and dealing with colleagues fairly but firmly.

But the thing is, Ireland in 2009 has been good to economists in general. Colm McCarthy in particular might reflect on his accomplishments and feel satisfied he managed to portray a good media image of economics as a profession. That is something it lacked for a long time. Other economics contributors here have laid fundamental groundwork that will last and will stand to the profession in terms of raising its image. Colm McCarthy will not last forever. I am sure there are several capable people of coming forth in the future.

To see my point, you should contrast the achievements of Irish economists in the last year with that of young elected Dail representatives. I know the names of more (still young) economists now than I do young Irish Dail politicians. How must the young elected members of political parties feel? They got even less exposure than economists did. I don’t know exactly what the proceedure is for a young politician in terms of doing interviews etc. I would welcome a movement in the future, whereby young economists and young politicians could gain more experience in working with the media and being involved in national debates. That would be something positive to see.

Lest I forget to mention it. 2009 also saw the television debating debut of the great Michael O’Leary of Ryanair. But O’Leary wasn’t his usual confident and undefatigable self on live television. He really struggled with the medium and was looking for some sense of direction. Just thought I would mention it. Even the most skilled and experienced don’t always find it easy going on television. Ganley gave O’Leary more than a good battle. O’Leary needed all of those points he worked so hard to score prior to going into the ring, to even things up.

@ Simpleton,
Where are our Oxbridge elite? Both our Minister for Finance and the FG spokesman on Finance are Oxbridge alumni. They might not thank me for poining this out.
Are the G20 economies run by a intellectually powerful technocratic elite or a confederation of dunces? that is an interesting question. My sense is that you think the answer is possibly yes. In my opinion the question is still open.
Would you hold up Gordon Brown or Silvio Berlusconi as the epitome of good goverance?

Reading the blog reports, the US meeting was more of a public relations exercise than a search for ideas or assistance. I don’t think it could count as the US Treasury picking the brains of the bloggers.

After a catastrophe like we have had you would expect either drastic reform or opposition demands for drastic reform.
Instead FG seem to think that removing FF will transform the country instantly – so no need to talk about a revolution or go further and outline it.
Yes, I know they have ideas but they’re not very radical and the civil service and cost constraints will junk most of them.
Why won’t the civil service talk to academics?
Because they never have before and because they don’t want to admit they were warned.
The politicians – they would hate someone cribbing about how they use the giant credit cards that are their departmental budgets.
Imagine what you would have said about decentralisation?
Look what you said about NAMA!
Your contribution wasn’t welcomed with opening arms on that one:

I’m completely lost. The presumption in this thread is that civil servants and politicians in Ireland do not talk to academics.

That is simply not true, and I note that no one has offered any empirical evidence (apart from the Lenihan/McWilliams story — why would someone seek economic advise from a publicist?)

As I’ve argued before, the issue is not the quantity or the quality of academic advice. Rather, the Irish electoral system favours the election of populists over experts; and there is too much rotation in the civil service.

There is plenty of communication, though. And don’t forget that Ahearne, Clinch and Honohan are now “in the government” — that’s 2% of the population of academic economists, a fraction comparable to that in the USA.

@Richard Tol
With all due respect, if you are ‘completely lost’ there is not much point in trying to tell the rest of us where to go.
This thread has not been about academics talking to politicians. It’s about the abundant evidence that key policy decisions are being taken by well-meaning (one hopes) amateurs who may or may not have talked to lots of people but have not allowed their decisions to be informed by technocratic competence (from any source – academics, may I suggest, do not necessarily have a monopoly on competence).
This thread has mostly been about good decision making and the processes around same.


It would be good if this thread were “mostly been about good decision making and the processes around same”. My understanding (and I would be pleased to be corrected) is that the main features of economic policy are conceived by a relatively small number of senior officials in the DoF. The policies are fleshed out in exchanges between officials and Ministers’ special advisers – with the occasional input of an external adviser such as Peter Bacon or Alan Ahearne. Where necessary, the next step is engagement with the “social partners”. The appropriate spin on any policy announcements is developed in parallel. The Government’s budgetary strategy is being developed along these lines – and in a manner which effectively bypasses the Oireachtas. NAMA evolved in a similar manner (but without, in this one instance, the engagement of the “social partners”).

Richard Tol’s points about the type of public representative the electoral system produces and the development of core competences in the civil service are valid and relevant, but there is a requirement (1) for transparency. a “competition of ideas” and competence in the design of policy, (2) to empower and resource the Oireachtas to function effectively as a legislature that holds the executive to account and (3) for effective scrutiny of policy implementation.

The current institutional arrangements and process prevent these requirements being met and that is the case for thorough-going reform.

@Simpleton/Brian Lucey
I agree that decision making could be improved, but I don’t believe that there is a lack of communication between academia and policy making in Ireland — and that is what the majority of people on this thread seem to argue.

Kevin Denny said:
“Some of this relates to a point that Dan O’Brien raised recently: we inherited our civil service traditions from the Brits. They moved on, we haven’t.

Ironically a key figure in the development of economics expertise in the UK civil service was an Irishman, Norman Glass, now sadly deceased.”

This is the core point. We have a structural/organisational problem that our civil service lacks the necessary expertise to do its job. This affects just about all branches of the Civil Service and is has caused us major problems over a number of years.

The money wasted on ICT and ICT projects is one example. The communications debacle after Eircom was privatised is another example. The money wasted on Delloitte’s report on health and the PPARs scandal are more examples. The Dublin Bay sewage treatment plant may be another example.

Richard Tol’s comment about the crazy rotations system where senior officials with years of expertise in relation to an area are rotated to a totally different position is also valid.

We are suffering death by a thousand cuts. The problems in the DoF are but one manifestation of the structural problem of the deficit of expertise, knowledge and effective systems to manage knowledge within the Civil Service. [The plethora of Human Resources processes in the Civil Service are irrelevant to this problem as HR people do not know how to manage knowledge.]

1. Brian Stelter begins his article in the NYT: “The Treasury Department opened its doors to economic bloggers this month, and the meeting was productive in at least one respect: as John Jansen of the blog Across the Curve concluded, ‘After meeting them, I feel I cannot refer to them as Timothy Geithner and his minions’ anymore.”

This is one reason why I prefer being an outsider.

However, it must be acknowledged that this development would be strange if it was replicated in Ireland – – not just because the Department of Finance is a slave to Victorian tradition, but the slow adoption of the Internet in Ireland since the mid-1995s, confirms that business and journalism are also stuck in a conservative warp.

I had to laugh last week when Rupert Murdoch threatened to sue the BBC for “stealing” content from his newspapers.

Mainstream journalists generally tend to look down on online outlets while in the US, representatives from sites such as Politico, are increasingly seen on television. Of course journalists and columnists have no reluctance to use online sources for ideas that are invariably not credited for.

2. On bankers and policymakers, it should be kept in mind that given that recessions are rare and near depressions rarer, it is rational in organisations to go with the flow.

Most times in the money economy, it pays dividends to keep the trap shut and follow orders.

Benchmarking? Maybe it was a fraud but if anyone at a senior level in the public service, had made a public issue of it, who would have remembered or cared a damn about them, in the absence of a crash?

Nobody of course did dare tell any little emperors some home truths — and now they are all on their high salaries or superannuated on super-pensions.

What’s the price of being a sacrificial lamb?

So like much else in life, it’s not an issue of being smart or intelligent but the balance of self interest and common interest.

Bottom feeders also have their role in the capitalist economy and they may well be chameleons.

Of course, there is a difference between selling a subprime mortgage and a book and that’s where regulation in an accountable system, has an important role.

3. Years after its first publication in 1972, David Halberstam wrote that his favourite passage in his book, “The Best and the Brightest” was the one where V-P Lyndon Johnson, after his first Kennedy cabinet meeting, raved to his mentor, the speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, about all the president’s brilliant men. “You may be right, and they may be every bit as intelligent as you say,” Rayburn responded, “but I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.”

It helps when advisers have a mix of work experiences.

Colm McCarthy and Jim O’Leary spent years in the private sector, which must be useful now when they give advice as academics.

What struck me, particularly during the first Lisbon Treaty campaign when almost all the high earning Irish journalists argued for rejection, that possibly not one of them had ever been past a factory gate.

One has to have a pretty sheltered existence to believe that the EU would launch a resource war in Africa!

As to who is viewed as a credible “expert,” Paul MacDonnell rightly suggests that an individual has to spend time developing a “media personality” to be tagged by journalists as a “leading” economist and thereby noticed by the policymakers.

The alternative of being a good teacher and researcher may lead to the Nobel Prize some day, or maybe not!

Do I detectt he merest hint of a mind being changed? If so, you should be complimented. One of the litmus tests of a proper technocratic debate is the ability of participants to assimilate new information and, where necessary, change their views. One of the limus tests of a futile, emotional, tribal debate is the non-existence of anyone who ever changes sides, no matter what the evidence or strength of opposing view.
In all of the debates over current government policy, on NAMA or anything else, is there any evidence of anybody, on this blog or elsewhere, changing their views?
The cult of the expert is one that pre-supposes evidence-based policymaking. Most debates in most countries are tribal. But the important stuff can sometimes be sorted by people who know what they are doing. We possess no mechanisms to deal with the important stuff in a rational way.


I have felt this way about the civil service for a long time and have criticised their approach to ICT projects more than once. I welcome the initiative whereby one body will look at all ICT projects across the civil service. I would love to think that this is an initiative which politicians have lifted from the internet as Michael Hennigan thinks they may be wont to do!

I have changed my position on NAMA to being somewhat dissatisfied with risk sharing and proper incentivisation of the banks.

I think what is needed when dealing with fast changing and complex situations are people with considerable wisdom than just intellectual ability. Wise thinking or decision making skills are emphasised enough in our educational system and for the most part it is assumed that people will develop these skills over time.
Wisdom involves four specific skills:
– Good judgement in relation to complex social issues
– Strategic thinking
– Highly developed strategic thinking
– Strong moral sentiment.
How well would the major decisions made or about to be made by the government stack up against that criteria.

@Michael Hennigan
The senior civil servants are beholden to the minister.
Look what is happening to the head of the NTMA – nothing to do with what he said about NAMA of course. You will have read that in several newspapers this weekend. Protesting too much or a threat to other dissidents?
Roddy Molloy played the game and got the increased pension.
Loyalty is rewarded, no matter what you have done.
Dissent will be punished – no matter what the cause.
Have any senior civil servants resigned in protest in living memory?
Who was the last one to speak out like Sommers did?
Independent minded academics and business people are not wanted.
The civil service and the ministers are happy as things are.

Organisations like the ESRI and the 3 inside economists are like the RTE soccer panel. They have a tiny influence but overwhelmingly Trap does things his way. And once the crisis is over the economists will be eased out. They are probably being deftly managed as is.
This may work for the soccer team but after two economic crises and the colossal waste of the boom it is clearly not working for our political/administrative system.
I never remember Sir Humphrey bothering with economists.
But it wouldn’t surprise me that the Irish Civil Service is now more British than the British themselves.

@ Richard Tol,

I like the points you make above. Keep coming with that excellent input. It is very useful to read. I will hope to take a sabbatical from economic blogging and reading in the near future. I have some other things I would like to catch up such as Lean Design and Manufacture.

It is really great the discussion you have managed to foster here at the website. It has been a pleasure bouncing some of my daft ideas off the board here.

All the best, B.

@ Zhou,

“Richard Tol’s comment about the crazy rotations system where senior officials with years of expertise in relation to an area are rotated to a totally different position is also valid.”

Rotations are something that Norman Bodek talks sometimes about, in relation to functions that people perform on a production plant floor. The rotation system helps to relief boredom of repetitive exercises. It also helps to teach the workers of the plant how the entire job is done, as opposed to the Taylorist approach, where you de-skill the workforce entirely.

Basically, rotation is useful, if you are trying to move away from a Taylorist kind of approach, towards a more value added one. I worked in Dell in 2002/03 and boxed 100k laptop systems. It was highly Taylor-istic. It had almost nothing to do with Lean or Toyota, which Dell is often compared with. Hence, why it was so easy to move Dell out of Limerick. There was no value being added at Limerick.

That is overly harsh on Limerick. I merely use the emphasis to make the point, albeit, in an over-simplified way.

I hadn’t realised the ‘rotation’ was a feature adopted in the civil service in Ireland. We seem to be using methods such as rotation in the wrong places in Ireland, and not using it where it is needed most of all. BTW, I was fired from Dell for a number of reasons, but uppermost amongst them, was I wanted to learn how the entire production line worked and not just a single segment of it. My aspirations were not appreciated by HR one bit. This is the wrong way to encourage our workforce in Ireland I am certain of it now. But heck, those suits and ties in the companies we have in Ireland should have been sent off to Japan years ago, to learn a few basic lessons.

I wrote an article in the Sunday Tribune not too long ago. I found positive elements in the work culture at Liam Carroll’s company, by comparison to Dell. A pity though, Carroll’s company was killed with excess credit.

@ Michael Hennigan,

“You may be right, and they may be every bit as intelligent as you say,” Rayburn responded, “but I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.”

Never a true-er word spoken.

This is what I was trying to dig up in my article at the Sunday Tribune most of all. My own background in architecture led me to this conclusion about the profession very early on.

Per person, the brain power was astonishing. But I always feel suspicious that, that much brain power aimed specifically at something as menial and raw as physical building construction, could only spell disaster.

Some of the contributors here have commented about the spate of fancy local authority headquarters built around Ireland in the past couple of years. I would feel a lot better had the same amount of brainpower been aimed at building something like a sustainable land tax base for the local authorities, instead of glass showpiece headquarters that look like over-sized automobile show rooms.

Good article by Tom Dunne here:

But architects don’t feel it is their job to get involve at grass roots economics and politic level to do stuff like land taxation. More is the pity. The point above, about our political system electing populist candidates rather than experts was well made above.

I always rue the fact that in China or Japan an engineer or architect can rise to the level of president of a country. But here in Ireland they don’t care to have a say at all. Not one single blurt of any description from the architects during the entire NAMA debate. Says it all.

All the best, B.

“I’m completely lost. The presumption in this thread is that civil servants and politicians in Ireland do not talk to academics.”
Em, no. The presumption is that civil servants AND academics do not talk to practitioners. That is, that those in the business of particular businesses are not consulted, even informally, on things that affect that business.

As zhou is busy pointing out above, ICT is a particular problem. The corruptions at FAS, in particular, but generally speaking across government are a result of ICT incompetence. It is not something that is particular to governments, many companies are guilty of it too. Luckily for those companies, budgetary rectitude usually kills the projects off before they do too much damage. Government has no such inhibitions (hence PPARs).

Ireland has a reasonably strong indigenous ICT sector. It is one of the genuine modern indigenous sectors in the country. So what do the government do when they have a project? Talk to the international consultancy companies. Companies that fail time and again to deliver. If I had a dollar for every ten million dollar project I had to deliver for under a million dollars ‘cos the international consultancy companies wasted 9 million and produced nothing useful, I’d have 2 dollars…

So anyway, back to the topic. The significance of the US Treasury department meeting particular bloggers is that they are meeting experienced practitioners. Clearly people who have impressed treasury officials. It is a willingness to at least appear to be listening that is absent in Ireland. And it is a hostage to fortune. Nobody in the Treasury will be able to say “gee, we didn’t expect this” when a host of bloggers have told them so.

The immediate equivalent in Ireland would be Damien Mulley meeting Eamonn Ryan on broadband strategy (remember that Mr. Ryan? Before you became chief spokesman for NAMA, that was your job). Or maybe John Gormley meeting 2pack to talk about demographics and housing need…

“It is not something that is particular to governments, many companies are guilty of it too.”

Did you ever read Clayton Christensen’s books on Innovation and its funding within companies? Very interesting stuff.

His mantra is, if you are trying to innovate, be impatient for profit but patient for growth.

Unfortunately established companies used to operating in larger markets then to expect similarly impressive performance from younger innovative projects.

Often the small innovation project gets legs too fast and is pushed into the ‘big time’ by the established companies, and so they miss the whole point of the exercise to begin with.

Impatient for profit, patient for growth.

The established companies see the meagre profits of a small start up innovation within their own company and laugh at it. That will never challenge our mainstream business. Famous last words.

“Talk to the international consultancy companies. Companies that fail time and again to deliver. If I had a dollar for every ten million dollar project I had to deliver for under a million dollars ‘cos the international consultancy companies wasted 9 million and produced nothing useful, I’d have 2 dollars…”

Very interesting. Christensen would try to explain though, it is not that large international companies do it expressly on purpose. They end up doing it for a variety of reasons, which have a lot to do with how large successful companies operate. I guess governments are comfortable dealing with large successful international consultants, because they kind of match up size wise.

However, what Christensen is trying to explain in his books, is how a large institution can work with a smaller one, in a way that is productive for both.

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