Irish economist David McWilliams tells it all in "Outsiders," live on stage
Last week Irish economist David McWilliams cleared his throat and took to the stage of the Abbey, Ireland national theater, for a performance that was part stand-up, part discussion and part social observation about Ireland’s disastrous economic crash.Titled Outsiders, a stark reference to the closed shop that the Irish economy actually is, McWilliams’ show was a sell out weeks in advance (a New York run is already under discussion).
Rarely has such a senior public figure decided to call a spade a spade on an Irish stage, so the public fought for tickets alongside Irish politicians including Richard Bruton and celebrities like U2’s Bono. They came to hear the man who has an incisive thing or two to say about what happened to the Irish economy and why, if the Irish don’t change this time, it’s going happen all over again.
For McWilliams, Ireland’s economy isn’t capitalist, it isn’t fair and it isn’t working. Instead of deferring to brainpower and enterprise, the very things that will help the Irish claw our way out of the mess, they’re still stuck in a 17th century model where brawn and property are rewarded. It’s an age-old tradition that’s killing the country, he says.
After decades of study McWilliams believes Ireland’s political and social divide is not so much about rich and poor, young and old, urban and rural, but about what he calls Insiders and Outsiders.
The Insiders, who are found in every village, town and city, are those with a stake in the country who believe that the status quo must be preserved at all costs. The Outsiders, who might live next door, are those who realize that the status quo is actually a part of the problem.
In his performance McWilliams follows the collusion between the insiders of the Irish political system and the insiders of the financial sector. In Ireland, he contends, every time there is an economic crisis the insiders actually get stronger, not weaker.
Instead of losing power and paying for the chaos they caused, the Irish political establishment actually tightens its 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 really is an alternative, McWilliams says.
To make his point and to explain why he has finally taken to the stage to deliver it, McWilliams quotes an old adage from 1960s revolutionary France: “When the National Parliament becomes a theater, the theater should become a parliament.”
There’s certainly no doubting McWilliams’ credentials for expounding on the faint shadow of the Celtic Tiger. While the other commentators cheered the boom, only he accurately predicted the collapse and the mess Ireland now finds itself in.
“I felt as an economist that this country was going wrong in the early part of 2001,” McWilliams tells the Irish Voice. “I was much ridiculed by my peers at the time for doing that.
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