Lenihan: Economists and Our National Mediocrity

Yesterday morning on the Sunday Business show on Today FM, Minister Lenihan commented on the anti-NAMA economists (podcast here). Among his comments were the following:

What I notice about them is that there’s about forty of them. There’s about two hundred economists in all in the state. Most of the rest of them have approached me privately and said that these gentlemen and ladies are wrong. But of course they are not prepared to say so publicly because in Irish academic class, people don’t criticise other people’s books. That’s part of our national mediocrity. If you take the Irish historians and someone publishes a bad history book, you won’t find any reviews in the paper pointing out how bad that book is. If you look at the press in the United Kingdom or the United States, you’ll see robust academic criticism of others works but we’re reluctant to do it. We’re a small country, we have to meet people again, we have to go to other people’s funerals and we know and we don’t want to put the cross on someone even when they’re saying something that’s fundamentally wrong.

So Minister Lenihan is now saying that at least 80 economists have approached him privately to disagree with those who have criticised NAMA. He is stating that there is a silent majority of economists who support his approach to the banking crisis but are not willing to say so publicly because they are scared of insulting the anti-NAMA economists.

I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on this. Is it likely that the Minister has been receiving huge amounts of anonymous support from intimidated economists? Is the Minister’s characterisation of the absence of disagreement or debate among Irish economists an accurate one? If we suffer from a national mediocrity, are the anti-NAMA economists part of it? Is the Minister attempting to encourage debate or to stifle it?