David McWilliams

Directed by Conall Morrison.

The Peacock Theatre
16 June-3 July
Previews 9-15 June

OUTSIDERS is a characteristically vivid, humorous and uncompromising account of what is going on in Ireland. In a unique theatre piece, McWilliams offers a narrative of the recent collusion between the insiders of the Irish political system and the financial sector.

McWilliams believes Ireland’s political and social divide is not so much about rich and poor, young and old, urban and rural, but about Insiders and Outsiders. The Insiders – found in every village, town and city – are those with a stake in our country who believe that today’s status quo must be preserved at all costs. The Outsiders – who might live next door – are those who realise that the status quo is part of the problem.

In Ireland every time there is a crisis, the Insiders get stronger, not weaker. Far from losing power and paying for the chaos they caused, they tighten their grip on the country. In contrast, the Outsiders are excluded and left to fend for themselves. That is what happened in the 1950s and the 1980s and it is happening again now. But there is an alternative. OUTSIDERS is about the alternative.

While the others cheered the boom, only one economist accurately predicted the collapse and mess we find ourselves in. He told you the truth then; he’s telling you the truth now.

Tickets: €14 – €22; 8pm, Saturday matinee 2.30pm

For more information please call the Abbey Box Office 01 87 87 2222

Abbey Theatre

69 replies on “Outsiders”

Is this set of performances by David McWilliams the reason the Gardai have recently been practising for widespread riots? Can just see it, the pumped-up citizenry streaming out out of the performance down Lower Abbey Street, down O’Connel Street, over the bridge, down Grafton Street and up Kildare Street to the gates of Leinster House, with McWilliams at the head in the role of Robespierre.

Keynes said in his Dublin lecture: “Words ought to be a little wild–for they are the assault of thoughts upon the unthinking.” He also warned about exemptions from criticism but acknowledged: “But we all hate criticism. Nothing but rooted principle will cause us willingly to expose ourselves to it.

A brass neck is seldom a loss in Ireland and there were more than economists who expected the bust. However, to claim to have been the only economist who “accurately”predicted the collapse is pushing the self-promotion/narcissism a tad.

My father used to say: self-praise is no praise.

As for David McWilliams in a role as the well-shod putative leader of the san-cullottes with contracts with 3 of the biggest media organisations, including a virtual State monopoly and family income from one of Europe’s highest earning law firms, that is also stretching it.

Who are the outsiders?

The unemployed; private sector workers with no pensions and some of the self-employed.

The rest of the population comprise insiders represented by vested interests; farmers making a bonanza from CAP, road-building and resistant to any changes in the crazy rezoning system; to doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and trade unions with officials’ pay linked with the public service.

Those without a vested interest to represent them are left with the daisy chain letter process of clientism.

So this revolution is in the theatre and will for example provide comfort food for security-proofed benchmarked civil servants with one of the world’s best pension schemes, seeking affirmation that the cause of their woes are gangster bankers and developers.

This is Ireland after all.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“While the others cheered the boom, only one economist accurately predicted the collapse and mess we find ourselves in.”

Only one economist? If that was really true (which it isn’t) then the government were prudent. Why listen to just one person, over hundreds of others?

I’m very skeptical of the phrase ‘vested interest’. Everyone has a ‘vested interest’. The unemployed have a ‘vested interest’ in the level of unemployment benefit. Builders have a ‘vested interest’ in building projects. This will never change. Whats the solution, banning freedom of association? Or just look for more transparency in government?

@ Rory O’Farrell

I have no problem with freedom of association.

I am referring to groups that hold power in the political/economic process.

e.g medical consultants: 1951 or 2010?

Consider the relative power of a tractorcade through Dublin compared with a taxi protest.

Public sector reform and trade unions.

If you believe the unemployed are a vested interest with power, maybe you should try it sometime.

Of course there is always a self interest but the problem arises in a weak governance system where there is not a a reasonable balance with the common interest.

The spectacle of every commentator writing books and then engaging in theatre events such as ‘four angry men’ and this latest play is getting so obviously ironic that it is scary. They preach the need for political reform and the unseating of those who play the system to ride the rest of the population…. but they charge people money to hear them talk. Do these people know which way is up at all?

They are, of course, insiders themselves who want to remain on the inside with all their political, social and media connections who won’t step outside their increasingly lucrative professions to practice what they preach. That’s fine. That’s the real world and everybody must confirm in some way. However, commercialising the preaching of ‘truth’, fairness and social reorganisation seems wrong to me.

With that said, I think DMcW is usually very entertaining, interesting and thought provoking. I don’t know if the other half will be interested though. Any estimates on the gender breakdown?

Yes Jesus Christ, Gandhi and Martin Luther King definitely missed a trick by not charging audiences a few bob. McWilliams has the common touch, knows which buttons to press and communicates a message clearly, though he seems a little shakey when robustly challenged. No chance of that with his forthcoming performances – he who wears the Madonna-on-stage headset is King! Plus he is a jobbing media pundit and writer – life to date I’ve probably spent €70 or so on his books and I’d consider them decent value. Good luck to him!

@ Michael Hennigan

The Catholic Church held politcal/economic power in the 1950s. Its far weaker now.

This ‘vested interest’ idea is nothing new. Its why we have representative democracy. We don’t need a revolution. Just more openness (through things like the freedom of information act) so we can monitor decision makers better.

It think putting unionised binmen in the same category of ‘insiders’ as bankers is a tad odd.

Who are the outsiders?

In addition to groups identified above, young people entering the workforce for the first time. They have an uneviable task. And a mountain of BS to confront when people like Bill Cullen suggest that the answer is to “knock on doors”.

I don’t mean to belittle individual effort, but aggregate demand will not be changed one jot by everyone getting on their bike (apart from agggregate demand for bikes that is).

@ Cormac,

If you get on your bike, cycle to the airport get on a Ryanair flight and sell your services overseas and repatriate the income back to the motherland, aggregate demand will go up.

This website is rapidly becoming a groupthink for depressives. I would guess the eternal optimists have more fun even though optimism may not be well founded.

The Abbey blurb reads differently

It is great to see a vulgarisation of economic ideas on stage, a challenging and inevitably controversial task.

And for someone really funny (I’ve seen him – he’s very good ) .. . http://www.standupeconomist.com and yes he really does have a Ph.D. in economics, but only gets part-time jobs for his studies.

@ Rory O’Farrell

Transparency is not generally an issue is this situation.

Even if there were televised meetings of negotiations it would not change the equation.

Would for example the IFA roadbuilding land deal have changed in 2001?

Your example of binmen is nitpicking; however studies have shown that the difference in wages and terms is much greater down the job scale compared with the private sector.

In terms of enforcing rights, the public sector worker is in a much better position than a private counterpart who can resort to statutory remedies but may risk never working again.

Obviously the power as a member of a trade union would not be the same as a developer during the bubble but it’s a hell of a lot more than not being in that situation.

Viewing insiders just as the cronies in the Galway tent and a small few more with the rest as victims, is nonsense.

As for the Catholic church and other forms of dictatorship, it is usually an implosion which is the trigger but how long is the long-run?

“Obviously the power as a member of a trade union would not be the same as a developer during the bubble but it’s a hell of a lot more than not being in that situation.”

I agree. That’s why i would advise people to join a trade union.

I saw David McWilliams in UCC a few months ago and it was an excellent night’s entertainment. And entertainment it was; not an economics lecture. I was reminded of David Feherty’s quote about how he always saw himself as a comedian, who just happened to be good at golf. (It must be said however than DMc is a much better economist than DF was a professional golfer!)
If I knew David personally, and I certainly don’t, I would advise him to cut down on the number of opinion articles he writes every week; Quality, not quantity, matters (think Morgan Kelly).
There are some people in this country, such as myself, who didn’t buy a house when prices reached crazy levels and have people such as David McWilliams to thank for that.
David, if you are reading: Thank you!

I think the McWilliams phenomenon is intriguing. He became and remains by far the most widely known (and respected) economist in the country – among the general public that is. Not by accident of course, or by virtue of his pronouncements, but because of his success as a deliberate self publicist. It is probably safer to apply inverted commas to the term economist in relation to McWilliams today in the sense that he is better described as a journalistic commentator with a background in economics. Or you might even call him by the title that society today reserves for those that really captivate their imagination – a ‘personality’.

It is not even true to say that his rise can be attributed to his calling the property bubble: he was already a popular figure before that. Though the property crash has really cemented his reputation on main street. I suppose his populist views and his carefully crafted image of being the cool, likeable, yet clever anti-establishment figure guaranteed his success anyway.

In the mind of the public I think he is now seen (wrongly of course) as a credible voice on economics, and while this might be easy to scorn, the fact of the matter is that the economics profression (or academia and professional experts in general) seem hopelessly unable (or unwilling) to tailor their message for the ordinary man or woman in the street.

The public is never going to register the variety of fields in economics, and the fact that many economists work in fields not related to finance, banking, or even macro economy. Fair enough. Yet, the economics commentariat – that is all those who gave expert opinion on the state of the economy down through the tiger, whether academic economists, financial journalists, or economics spokespersons for estate agents, banks or whatever – didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory by their pronouncements, blinded as they were by either group think, laziness, or interest in perpetuating a point of view.

Economist readers, please don’t recoil in indignation! Yes there were exceptions, but overall it seems to me that for one reason or another, your profression, here and elsewhere, either failed to see the iceberg, or saw it and failed to successfully inform crew and passengers. And that failure surely opened up massive opportunity for people like David McWilliams.

@ Rory O’Farrell I think the concept of vested interests is more than just a way of saying that people’s tendency to form groups and associations will naturally lead to collective expressions of what’s in the interest of these groups. Vested interest in political debate is one half of a power circuit. The other half is a state that’s willing to see the basic moral unit of society and, therefore, the basic atom of political / social /cultural engineering as the group and NOT the individual. In this view actual individuals are never more than sub-atomic particles which, for the purposes of the ghastly science of social partnership, are purely notional – even (And wasn’t Mrs. Thatcher Soooooo evil for saying that there was no such thing as Society?’) theoretical.

AS I’ve said here before social partnership is just the clearing house for vested interests.

It reminds me of when I was trying to raise money from a private company (OK it was an agri business so how naive was I) and the CEO asked me: ‘But Paul, what’s in it for you?’ I was unnerved. ‘Because I think it’s the right thing to do, I said’. He replied smiling: ‘But whats in it for Paul?’

The idea that the political / policy universe could contain anything other than material self interest was utterly alien to him. I might as well as tried to explain calculus to my cat.

You of a similar view. You don’t have a problem with vested interests because you are ‘adult’ and ‘realistic’ and so anyone who’s an outsider should join one. Whatever you don’t question the system.

When I say trying to raise money I forgot to say it was for the Open Republic Institute.

Anyway the truoble with vested interests and social partnership is that leads to group think and, therefore, unforced / and forced policy errors. That’s why(in the oily phrase of the ‘realists’ we are where are.

@ Tomaltacht

I consider that David McWilliams is to economics what Eamonn Dunphy is to soccer. He is a talented writer, with a good understanding of economics. However he’s not the Alex Ferguson of economics.

@ Paul MacDonnell

What I really dislike about the idea of ‘vested interests’ and ‘insiders’ is that its use in public discourse is so broad as to be meaningless. Lumping people into two groups is always a simplification. However what understanding of society and economics is gained by putting local authority binmen and bankers in the same category. What are they inside? What are outsiders outside? Were Aer Lingus staff insiders who became outsiders when Aer Lingus was privatised. Is Michael O’Leary an insider in Wallonia because of the state-subsidies in Charleroi, an outsider in Dublin (because of the issue with the hanger) and an insider in Kerry?

The issue seems to be power and wealth. The wealthy are powerful, others less so. Would it not make more sense to divide groups into the powerful and less powerful. For example Ryanair are outside IBEC, but they certainly have power over their employees. This could be countered by unionisation. But then the workers would be the ‘insiders’.

It appears to me that insider/outsider is simply a rhetorical device to try lump binmen in with bankers in the public’s imagination.

The more challenging question would be whether the average inertial FF voter is an insider.

Unionised binmen are certainly insiders. Dun Laoighaire Rathdown is currently selling off its waste business because like all
Public sector waste operations it is loss making. The tender sites a working day of 3.5 hours as a reason for selling the business.
All personell will be transfered to other depts even though those same deps (parks, roads, sanitary services) have been letting go all temporary or contract staff.
Relative to their private sector equivalents.
Michael O’Leary is a business leader despite being an outsider. The irish government has been trying to stop him all along to the benefit of aer lingus. But now who is employing more and who is letting people go.
Sure he has power but look what he has done with it (power that he earned, not given to him). Reduced fairs, more tourists, more open society, more jobs.

Ryanair provided huge benefits to the belgium economy just like IDA supported companies are helped here. They would have been in competition for those subsidies but won because they made the best offer.
As for power over there employees, they are free to leave. My employer has power over me in that they can fire me at any time if I don’t perform. But if I don’t like my pay and conditions I am free to leave. How does ryanair have any power over its employees other than to give them the choice to remain in employment. Its a choice many of us are grateful to have.

@ sam
If Ryanair’s workforce unionises will they suddenly become ‘insiders’, and have Aer Lingus staff become ‘outsiders’ since privatisation.

If a child has one ‘insider’ parent and one ‘outsider’ parent is the child an ‘insider’ or an ‘outsider’.

Was that ‘maverick’ Sarah Palin an ‘outsider’ despite being a governor? Was she an ‘insider’ in Alaska, but and ‘outsider’ in Washington?

Or to return to Ryanair, as they are inside the Irish market place are they now an ‘insider’ and Aer Arann an ‘outsider’.

Insider/outsider theory can be useful for specific applications, like insider trading. However, you have said nothing that invalidates my point that, when applied to society as a whole the labels ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ are so vague as to be useless.

At least HiCos and Decklanders referred to specific groups.

Fear not lads. An even bigger clown is fast appearing over the horizon. Dan O’Brien has ben appointed economics editor of the Irish Times. He who proclaimed in 2005 in 2005 that Bertie Ahern might succeed Kofi Annan because of his unique crisis management skills

I take you point that not everybody can be easily grouped into insider or outsider. For me it is apt in this country to describe groups involved in social partnership over the last few years.
These groups all hard their heads in the proverbial trough.
IBEC companies and unions in particular allowed wages to go way out of line.
Throughout the boom there was wide spread geniune abuse of workers working in peoples homes and businesses but there was only 20 labour inspectors for the whole country, yet the unions signed off on government labour policy. No reform has been even requested by unions on redundancy law or pensions because although harsh on lower paid outsiders are great for them. There is no sense of fairness or equality in their actions.

Excellent stuff. The insiders/outsiders thing (aka the distribution of power in society) is far from simple. The indiividual is not the collective, and there will always be a mixture of self interest and idealism. Each situation needs to be treated on its own merits, and stereotyping can be a hindrance to progress.

@ tull
We’ll take that as an Irish vote of congratulations to Dan.

@ joseph

EIU, I think. I suppose it will put a bid under D4 property prices.

Bottom line – he called it!
I’m happy to go with the Chinese view on things where they say Mao was 70% good and apply to DMcW.
I forgive him 30% self agrandisement and a little oversimplification – he gets it right more often than he gets it wrong

Hey all,

Independent of DWs personality, aren’t we a textbook case of Insider/Outside aka Mancur Olson who formulated the classic theory of insiders and elite by comparing Germany/Japan vs UK/France. Specifically:

1. There has been no real revolution in our political elite since 1921 – and arguably since the late 1800s = plus a strong low turnover civil service. No breaking and recasting of the people at the top. Not even the current crisis appears to be doing that.

2. We’ve had the “safety valve” of emigration that simply got rid of outsiders and potential dissidents.

3. We’re a relatively small country which means that powerful lobby groups can form and effectively police collusion (or rather the provision of a public good (or bad)) due to small numbers. (e.g. in America there’s 100s of 1000s of lawyers or estate agents and so no community). In Ireland, if you’re a barrister you can’t be anonymous.

And I thought, Tom Garvin’s book on why ireland was so poor for so long was utterly convincing in applying this model.

In terms of a definition of insiders, they’ve varied over time but I’d list the following:

a. All the professions- and as predicted – the smaller the numbers and the longer they’ve been around the more they are “insiders (e.g. amazingly few medical training slots in colleges and many allocated to foreigners who’ll disappear, my US friends were amazed when pharmacy or vetinary has the highest leaving cert points.

b. Certain public sector service providers where their unions got sufficient bargaining power due to either longevity or structural factors (e.g. school teachers – we’re the only country in the anglo-world that don’t submit them to the scrutiny of league tables/public metrics, transport unions).

c. _Large_ farmers – smaller farmers have disappeared and got a tiny share of the CAP. And everyone thinks the IFA is on their side.

d. The Church(es) (and our Anglo-Irish friends were also very good at quietly getting support for their priorities such as funding for an entire separate system of education and health, and of course in the US there’s no way the catholic church would have gotten bailed out over their lawsuit)

e. Publicans – again longevity as a lobby group. Mary Daly shows they were super-powerful in 19th century nationalist politics. Plus ca change.

f. The management teams of the banks (again longevity since the 1700s or mid-1800s. No new entrant really until Anglo came along)


a. The ultimate ones have been the Dublin working class.

Sorry – on the Dublin working class. I was amazed at the work that Mary Daly did on them in the 19th century. Basically, in 1914, they had the worst living conditions anywhere in Western Europe of any group (based on mortality, health, nutrition, housing, etc). Today, even though they form 15-20% of our population, they’re hugely under-represented at the upper-levels of our society. Other than Joe Duffy and Bertie Aherne, you rarely hear a Dub accent in our rarified world. I guess they’re just too large to effectively organize.

@ Tomaltach

This is incisive analysis!

@ All

What is striking post the bust is that the Irish public megaphone is still firmly in the grip of well-off individuals for whom unemployment and the non-sheltered tradable sectors of the economy are largely alien places.

In addition, most of those in Ireland who were responsible for making the economy so exposed to a global recession, already in retirement or when in retirement, can still earn more than most working public officials in Europe and the US.

In the US media, the human toll of unemployment and the expectation that many lost blue-collar jobs will not return, is getting a lot of attention. In Ireland there is no serious debate on jobs; Eamonn Gilmore’s big idea is another gabfest on the Constitution and Fine Gael enterprise spokesman Leo Vardaker has nothing to say on the flawed innovation report.

Do not doubt that the price for the obsession with property, will outlast the recession.

It was of course not easy to resist the lure and in that crazy year of 2006 – – even a soothsayer would become director and shareholder of a company with the principal objects being: “development and selling of real estate.”

@ sam

ICTU did look for pension reform. They asked for lots of things that they didn’t. They were also involved in improving laws surrounding domestic workers.

ICTU is a very broad organisation, and its membership is fairly evenly split between public and private sector workers. They do have an interest in ‘outsiders’ of their organisation. For example only about 16-20% of retail workers are organised, but the union movement have been campaigning for their wages, and successful in resisting cuts to sectoral minimum wages.

Also very few union members are on the minimum wage, but unions campaigned for its introduction. Also what is neglected is that it can be in an ‘insiders’ own interest to look after outsiders.

Finally market power has been largely ignored. Eg are Eircom an insider as they have a dominant market position, though not a whole lot of political power?

@ honorarium

Insiders – transport workers
Outsiders – Dublin working class

Where does that put Dublin Bus and Luas drivers?

@ honorarium

Interesting points!

When Fianna Fáil won power in the early 1930’s, it began an extensive programme of land acquisition and confiscation from its political enemies, via the Land Commission.

Terence Dooley in Land for the People; The land Question in Independent Ireland, 2004, UCD Dublin, wrote:“In October 1933, the new Fianna Fáil government introduced its own extensive and complicated act, which provided the catalyst for record acquisition division statistics 1934-5 and 1935-6 and was very much as Patrick Hogan contended, a ‘political act’ that pandered to the small farmer and labouring classes in an attempt to secure votes. After the terms of the act became known, there was a rather dramatic growth in the number of Fianna Fail cumainn from 1,265 in 1932 to 1,679 in 1933. This growth was partly the result of more organized and sustained efforts by Fianna Fáil organizers in the rural constituencies but it also owed much to the stimulus provided by the 1933 Act and the widely held belief that one would have to be a member of a cumann in order to benefit from division.”

There wasn’t even a Mugabe-style pretence of restricting the patronage to “landless peasants” or labourers as they would have been known as in Ireland.

Existing farmers in Galway and Mayo who were Fianna Fáil supporters, were given prime land and subsidised housing in West Dublin, Kildare and Meath.

Emer Ó Siochrú wrote in her 2004 paper, Land Value Tax : Unfinished business: “It is astonishing to see just how much of the early State’s revenue – 5.4% in the early 1930s – was used to placate land hunger in rural areas to the relative neglect of pressing urban problems. This rural focus extended to providing subsidised housing for farm migrants from the West to the more fertile midlands and the rural labourer. Rural areas got more than ten times the social housing investment of urban areas. Local authority housing tenants moreover, were given the right to buy their house from the outset – a right only offered to urban flat tenants this year of 2004.”


@ Michael Hennigan

So basically the ‘insiders’, who were large farmers were displaced by the small farmers when FF came to power. How is this evidence in favour of the insider/outsider idea.

From the OP “The Insiders … believe that today’s status quo must be preserved at all costs.”

The small farmers of 1933 did not want the status quo maintained. Yet when FF came to power did the small farmers become the ‘insiders’.

@ Rory O’Farrell

What’s rich? poor? the breadline?

From the blurb above: “In contrast, the Outsiders are excluded and left to fend for themselves.”

You try and work out what an insider is and come back if you have anything of substance to say.

You would apparently have been happy debating where the comma should go in the Nicene Creed!

@ Michael Hennigan

“You try and work out what an insider is and come back if you have anything of substance to say.”

Thats my whole point. The notion is so vague that I can’t define what an insider is.

Surely its the responsibility of those who support the theory to give the basic, consistent, definitions of who is inside and who is not. If you can’t even do that the whole theory is totally useless for economics (but it could still be entertaining). It has nothing of substance to say.

But I suppose I’m ‘outside’ the group of insider/outsider proponents, and so I must fend for myself.

(Regarding the Nicean Creed, as the original language was Greek, I go with the Orthodox church on that one).

We are fortunate in this country to have academic economists who are also excellent media communicators and performers.

Nevertheless many find people like David McWilliams, Nassim Taleb or Hugh Hendry much more convincing and engaging.

This is not anti-academic bias. It is because some market people (the intellectual ones) seem more likely to see clearly what is on front of their faces. Daily experience of making decisions under uncertainty has sharpened that particular skill.

Sorry guys, but this shows, and the public are sensitive to it.

@Michael Hennigan

You wrote:

When Fianna Fáil won power in the early 1930’s, it began an extensive programme of land acquisition and confiscation from its political enemies, via the Land Commission.

Terence Dooley in Land for the People; The land Question in Independent Ireland, 2004, UCD Dublin, wrote:“In October 1933, the new Fianna Fáil government introduced its own extensive and complicated act, which provided the catalyst for record acquisition division statistics 1934-5 and 1935-6 and was very much as Patrick Hogan contended, a ‘political act’ that pandered to the small farmer and labouring classes in an attempt to secure votes. After the terms of the act became known, there was a rather dramatic growth in the number of Fianna Fail cumainn from 1,265 in 1932 to 1,679 in 1933. This growth was partly the result of more organized and sustained efforts by Fianna Fáil organizers in the rural constituencies but it also owed much to the stimulus provided by the 1933 Act and the widely held belief that one would have to be a member of a cumann in order to benefit from division.”

There wasn’t even a Mugabe-style pretence of restricting the patronage to “landless peasants” or labourers as they would have been known as in Ireland.

As evidenced by this Seanad debate in 1934 the appointment of Eamon Mansfield as one of the land commissioners was a major catalyst in the process at this time.


If Terence Dooley and other commentators on the role of the Land Commission haven’t discussed in detail the role of Eamon Mansfield then their analysis is incomplete. He was a household name in Ireland at the time across all parties for his fairness and social conscience and worked across many sectors of Irish society in the nitty gritty details of promoting fairness. His ghost might come knocking on your door if you simply refer to this period as a Fianna Fail land confiscation exercise because this would have been anathema to him and he was quite a formidable character by all accounts.

Another debate on the wind-up of the Land Commission in the early 90’s recognised certain flaws but generally conceded the overall positive benefits and fairness in the process.


@ Rory O’Fearall

Re. overlap, of course members of groups will overlap. Interestingly, Mary Daly shows in the 19th century that native Dubliners were very under-represented among elite working class and lower middle class jobs and skewed heavily towards being casual unskilled labourers. For example, the DUT tramdrivers were dominated by men from Westmeath. For example, there were almost no native Dublin shop assistants or police officers. Consistently, the lower prestige the occupation or the more deprived the area – the more native Dubliners it had.

Now obviously given Dublins well-developed union tradition, some members have secured “insider” positions in, say, CIE or ESB.

There is a well -developed theory of how groups acquire and exercise political power to extract rents. Mancur Olson and Gordon Tulloch led the way and there’s a very rich literature with both falsifiable predictions and empirical tests.

The theory doesn’t say that insiders always win or won’t change. The case of small farmers under Fianna Fail being a point. You could say that they assembled a new coalition of insiders to displace the old.

Among the predictors of insider influence are:

1. Size (e.g. its easier to organise/police a smaller group because lobbying is a public good) Empirical research in the US, for example, has shown that the more concentrated an agricultural crop is in geography or growers the larger the subsidies it recieves.

2. Longevity – the longer its being around, the more political capital in terms of knowledge/relationships/”stock” of favours that it recieves. Olson argued that WW2 cleaned the slate in Germany by destroying a lot of these embedded culture.

Given this, from the current crisis, I would have predicted that:

a. The concentrated group of developers will be treated better by the political system than the larger group of indebted homeowners – TRUE

b. That the smaller group of elite civil servants would have recieved better treatment than their larger more disparate group further down the scale (e.g. passport counter clerks) – TRUE

c. That long-established and highly concentrated retail group of car dealers would receieve more favourable treatment/subsidy than more disparate groups of retailers hit hard (e.g. jewellry shops, convenience stores) – TRUE

d. That due to our high level/access to immigation, that outsiders will leave rather than cause a revolution (protest itself being a public good – TRUE

In terms of longevity, I think its no surprise that our oldest professions (barristers and doctors) are by far the most protected and earn the highest rents.

BTW the stability of our political elite – especially elected politicians is amazing.

QED Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan, the two most powerful men in the state.

I wonder if there is an economic (as opposed to cultural) explanation as to why Irish politics is so dominated by interlocking generations??

@ honorarium

A sound analysis.

The explanation as to why the Dublin working class were, and remain, at the bottom of the pile, is not solely economic. They did not fit in easily to our inward looking, paternalistic and theocratic post-colonial regime, and were seen as ‘suspect sub-citizens’, with ‘foreign’ (ie English habits). As nationalist and sectarian politics trumped class issues, they were placed in the role of the ultimate outsiders. The same process happened to the Belfast workers, but the political/religious divide introduced a different and bloody dynamic.

The failure to develop an industrial base in Dublin deprived the Dublin working class of its rightful industrial and craft inheritance. The role played by international capital, and by our banks, was negative in the extreme. Without industrial investment, trade union activity naturally tended to centre in public employment. State jobs were often the only jobs going.

Working people face a hard struggle to move upwards into our lower middle class, given the prejudice and stereotyping that greets anyone with the ‘wrong’ accent. Our professions are riddled with snobbery, to the detriment of productivity and service quality. It is notable that the term ‘middle class’ refers, in Germany and the US, to ordinary workers. The focus is mostly on productivity, and not social rank.

The social ladder is enormously harder to climb when you, your family and your neighbourhood facilities are under siege from dysfunctional, disorderly and criminal elements at the bottom of the pile. Young fellets will be young fellets, and sometimes it’s not one bit funny.

As a culchie, I have come to respect the talents, the decency and the wit of the ordinary Dubs. Long may yiz flourish folks. Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas about various forms of capital (financial capital is just one) are very useful is analysing ‘insider/outsider issues.

@ Michael Hennigan – Finfacts

Thanks for a fascinating post on FF and small farmers. An unexamined and very interesting facet of Irish life.

Where I come from, the local protestant farmers were convinced that the motive of the Land Commission was sectarian – to reverse the plantations – as no prods (even landless 2nd sons) ever seemed to get land from it. The context of FF supporters explains this better.

I wonder how large the impact was in real terms? Agriculture has continued to contract and small farmers have continued to disappear and have very small incomes. I remember (I was in Alan Matthews course at TCD long long ago) that something like 80% of CAP subsidies went to the top 20% of farmers in the 1970s. You also see huge disparities in things like third level participation rates for small vs large farmers. My point being that agriculture is not at all monolithic.

@ honorarium

I think Olsen’s theory is useful for how groups form, but not for society as a whole. I thinks its use is microeconomic and not macroeconomic. Suppose you have two groups, unions and employers, with conflicting aims. Who will win? What predictions about the future does the theory have? It seems that ‘insiders’ are defined after the event. In contrast to poverty/breadline/wealth there is no metric of ‘insiderness’.

“The Insiders – found in every village, town and city – are those with a stake in our country who believe that today’s status quo must be preserved at all costs.”

I think it is a very poor classification of society. The definition of insider seems to me to be the definition of Conservative.

(Also, passport office workers are very far from the élite of the civil service)

To clarify, I think ‘The Logic of Collective Action’ is useful, his other stuff not so.

I mean, its 220 years since the American Revolution, and 150 since their civil war, but they seem to do alright for themselves despite a huge number of lobby groups.

Any pension reform based on equality would mean a huge hit for public sector workers because their pension scheme for all would be completely unaffordable.
ICTU have not lobbied for this.

Look at the ratio of population to territory in Ireland. It is very favourable. Land is a very obvious form of wealth. Why has such a poor use of it occurred?

We have decided to have emigration as a core policy in times of economic difficulty. Population determines growth rates as demographic based surveys will show. Japan, Germany, Russia all are losing population due to birth rates. The Irish birth rate was the least negative in Europe. Once emigration makes a mockery of that, a lot of the educated will take their expensive educations abroad.

This is the result of a policy of exclusion, lasting centuries!

Eamon Mansfield is a bit of a paradox in the whole insider/outsider debate…

The story goes that his father drank the farm and that they were evicted in his early teens making him a rank outsider.

He then works in a forge, becomes a school teacher, and around the time of the Lockout goes on a two year unpaid strike and is one of the founders of the INTO. In the meantime he becomes an expert on Irish Land Law – not an easy task – and helps with drafting up various Land Acts and becomes an honest broker across a range of sectors in the early free state. Elected as a land commissioner in 1933 he was passionate about the rights of small farmers given his background and would have required the wisdom of Solomon on a daily basis in the process of undoing the effects of 800yrs of British Rule and a hugely divisive civil war.

In one sense with considerable executive powers he would have been an insider but he was highly apolitical in his role as top civil servants should be and a teetotaller so he would also have been an outsider and the fact he seems to be largely written out of history is testament to this.

Many other great characters in Ireland have lifted themselves up by their bootstraps and the important point is what do people who have been outsiders do when they become insiders?

A personal attack on David McWilliams and his sources of income is ridiculous and very irrish. Who give a shit if he earning a million plus a year he deserves it. I calculate that he and Brian Lucey has probably saved the Irish tax-payer about 2bn or €1000 per tax-payer as they embarrassed the government (or probably just the greens) to apply a much larger NAMA haircut. Good luck to them. Well worth their public sector salaries

@ Jules

This is a typically ignorant reaction in a country where the concept of conflict of interest hardly exists.

Is it fair for example to tar all hq bankers as drug pushers when beyond those who set policy and approved risky loans, the money and career motivation of the rest was likely to have been no different to their critics?

Of course by demonising a few select groups, it obscures the responsibility for political and economic failures and explains why apart from the Central Bank, there is no serious appetite for significant change in governance and administrative structures. Besides, the Victorian culture of secrecy on public spending remains untouched apart from a hodge-podge FOI system.

DMcW in his last book referred to Pat Kenny’s “land grab” in Dalkey; so is it unreasonable to ask when there is a categorical claim to prescience on the bust, why then set up a company property development partnership at the height of the bubble?

As for savings estimates, this evokes the rationalisations of Haughey and Ahern.

Pundits on TV save the nation while in this age of celebrity, you have undoubtedly never heard of most of the creators of the wealth of the nation.

@ Pat Donnelly

Ireland is estimated to be 4% urbanised compared with 28% in France.

The UK RICS reported in 2009 that Ireland still had the worst housing conditions than other countries with similar living standards, with floor areas per person of around a fifth less than the western European average, even though a large number of dwellings (45%) are detached houses.

The An Bord Pleanála head said last Oct., that we have 88 planning authorities for a country with a total population of 4.4 million.

Up to half the political membership of some authorities during the boom, had a commercial property interest and they participated in rezoning decisions.

@ Michael Hennigan

And I suppose if people in poor housing organise into a residents association they will suddenly become a ‘vested interest’.

say what you will about David, he has a fantastic ability to get to the core of an idea. If he goes too far at times in analogies, thats a venal sin. None of the rest of us have the ability (or chutzpa) to do it quite his way. He popularizes economic issues. Sometimes that dilutes the message too much for academic purists ,but hey, it gets the populace thinking about it, which cant be bad.

Challenging the complacency of our institutions is vital. As Tomaltach has pointed out, it was the failure of our professional classes to call a halt to the party which opened up an opportunity for the particular talents of DMcW, media star.

Pace this excellent blog, what makes economics so unattractive to the public is a po faced insistence on arcane language and methods. Contrary to the neoclassical myth of academe, all economics is political economy. That is not to devalue economic skills and techniques, but rather to set them in their proper and comprehensible relations with neighbouring sciences. It seems to me that DMcW is contributing to that.

It’s easy enough to see where his core audience will come from. There is a tribe of well educated young folk whose economic prospects have been dashed in the most brutal fashion. Older stakeholders are keeping their opportunities for family members, (clanonomics), so you are out of luck if you don’t have connections. Last in first out.

Our new outsiders are faced with emigration and negative equity. The shock is only beginning to sink in. Lifestlyes and aspirations torpedoed, and a loss of economic innocence. Downward adjustment probably feels like a violation, and can leave a deep scar of bereavement and resentment. It wasn’t supposed to happen to this generation.

@ Michael H rightly focusses on reform of the state, which goes deeper than the usual notion of ‘public sector reform’. I submit that the problem is constitutional as well as institutional. Now that we have settled the problem of the north, we ought to be able to look at sovereignty issues calmly and without bigotry. It is in the interests of our neighbours too that we should clean our stables.

The new outsiders are hurting, but the old outsiders (rural and urban poor, travellers, disabled etc etc) still need to be heard. Setting the new outsiders against the old outsiders will suit the capital markets, and our corrupt elite, very well. The downside for us will be a nasty social atmosphere, with loss of basic amentities like the right to walk the street in safety. If we are even thinking about something as radical as default, we must consider risks to the social order.

@Micheal Hennigan
Conflicts of interest are very important when dealing with the problems we have but is only a very small part of the overall problem. What do we make Alan Dukes the head of all the banks. We can’t accuse him of any conflict of interest but as well as having no experience in banking he seems to be a bit of mouse when dealing with the bondholders.

@ Brian Lucey


@ Rory o’Farrell

And I suppose if people in poor housing organise into a residents association they will suddenly become a ‘vested interest’.


Maybe if such an association became as powerful as the IFA; prompting a minister in a country that would be Albania without trade, to ask the European Commission to ban all beef trade with a key emerging economy; prompting the Irish government to give primacy to agriculture over industrial exports and services in Doha trade round talks and ensuring that countries like India maintain average industrial tariffs at 34%; making even discussion of a change in the rezoning bonanza as a taboo subject, more than a decade after a tribunal began inquiring into planning corruption; forcing the Government to raise the cost of land for roadbuilding to 23% of project costs – -double the average in the EU – – it would be a powerful vested interest — using its influence to have a narrow interest given precedence over the public interest (all these terms of course give great latitude to a troll).

@ Jules

Alan Dukes is likely afflicted with Stockholm syndrome.

He has a big pension to keep himself tuned up for the rest of his life and I guess his position in Anglo Irish gives him a sense of relevance.

A Fianna Fáil minister once called publicly for his department to be abolished  – – a rare event in the Irish political system where the modern Age of the Spoilsmen has eclipsed the notion of public service first and self-interest second.

At the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis in 1970, the Minister for Lands Seán Flanagan (1922 – 1993), who was captain of the Mayo All-Ireland football winning teams in 1950 and 1951 and was honoured in 2000 by the GAA as a member of their Gaelic Football Team of the Millennium, was accorded a standing ovation when he proposed that his own department should be abolished.

Last year two Fianna Fáil ministers joined a legion of vested interests in opposition to the Bord Snip/McCarthy report proposals on reducing public spending.

@Michael Hennigan

Any reply to my above posts?

What has happened since the department of lands was abolished?

As you have pointed out at Finfacts was there not a major bubble in farm land prices in the late 70’s leading to major financial difficulties for farmers and the whole recent rezoning/property/road-building bonanza since the mid 90’s where some farmers became greedy and other genuine farmers were priced out of the market by speculators. How do these events tie in to the absence of an effective department of lands?

As I see it, Fianna Fail went through a gradual metamorphosis from the early years to the Haughey years to the Dynastic years and has completely lost touch with its roots by this stage.

@ Michael Hennigan

Well Michael, given that you can’t even give a prediction as to whether a residence association would be an insider, and given there is no clear definition of ‘the public interest’, this notion has zero predictive power at the macro level.

Its not a theory for economics, its a theory for understanding history.

Lot of griping on this thread about the Irish Captain Kirk. William Shatner had similar problems with his co-stars. Their critics do make valid points. Both men are far from perfect. I don’t know them but I would guess that close up it’s easier to see the faults. Therefore the public acclaim must grate. It’s hard to be a hero to your own (media) village or indeed starship crew. Overall though we would definitely be worse off without them.

YAWN !!!!

I think that I am the the greatest and most intelligent economist since the sliced pan was invented. Now that was after Keynes who was the greatest. I dont live in Dalkey where they think they have the greatest but then I am a “Culchie” from Turnipstan…………..

YAWN !!!!!

Any reply to my above posts?

Two quick observations:

1) FF’s Tammany Hall culture is not a recent phenomenon.

Rezoning and other aspects of Irish land policy have been Ireland’s crack cocaine for decades.

2) I don’t understand the economic rationale of moving farming families like the Harneys from the West in the early 1950s and later, when that region was suffering the worst depopulation.

@ Michael Hennigan

Point (1) is evidently true and there are many great battles in the history of the land commissioners that reflect this. In 1963 why was there a reduction in the numbers of commissioners from 6 to 4? Patrick Sammon in his book clearly sees this as a political act of will.

You will note in pages 11 and 12 of that book that he paints the picture of Eamon Mansfield as an absolutely determined OUTSIDER (just so we keep the posts relevant to this strand!) who was regularly voted 5 to 1 against by the other commissioners. The fact is he was highly meticulous in his work, going through each case in its minutiae and knew the country like the back of his hand.

You or any other historians (do they read this blog?) can scour the country looking for evidence of the work of Eamon Mansfield and I can virtually guarantee you that you will find that he ranks up there among our most able and important civil servants such as T. J. Whittaker, including the fact that he was operating during our most turbulent period and dealing with the most difficult issue – land ownership.

On point (ii), I am not an expert and will have to reread Patrick Sammon to find the answer to that!

In economics, the outsiders are the Austrians. Needless to say, they predicted the current mess. Peter Schiff was literally laughed at for doing so in 2006: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2I0QN-FYkpw
They were against Socialism when mainstream economists weren’t.
They’re against the bailouts, against Keynesianism and for a return to the gold standard. They have a website: mises.org

What a load of old bo****ks! The majority of the comments that have been posted on this site are classical examples of the “blame everyone else bar the people who caused the problem in the first place syndrome”? Is it a case of the “truth hurting”? Is that it? Well, it certainly looks that way to me! The plain and simple reason why this country of ours is actually in the mess it’s in is down to the collusion between the “insiders” and the various FF led governments that have been in power since 1997, nothing more and nothing less. if you can’t face up to that fact then I don’t know why you all bothered to even post a comment in the first place! YOU’VE ALL MISSED THE POINT COMPLETELY!

David McWilliams told us what would happen back in 2003. FACT! Our former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, said that people like DMW “would be better off going away and commiting suicide” back in 2004. FACT! If the economy had been “cooled down” as was suggested back then we wouldn’t have ended up facing the “hard landing” we’ve had. FACT! The people who were at fault were the Fianna Fail led governments and their “good buddies” the bankers, the property developers along with the so-called “big businessmen”! Nothing more and nothing less! And instead of going away and chasing the people responsible for getting us into this mess, what do they go and do? That’s right, they expect “Joe and Jane Citizen” to “cough up” for their crass stupidity!
Why oh why do the Irish Electorate keep on behaving like Lemmings is beyond me. A VOTE FOR FIANNA FAIL IS A VOTE FOR MORE OF THE SAME! If that’s not simple enough for you to understand then there’s no hope for this country or its citizens!

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