Irish economist David McWilliams tells it all in "Outsiders," live on stage
“I thought there was no point in warning about the property market in 2007. You had to tell people in 2002 that this would all end in tears, and it has done.”
But ideas go through three phases in Ireland, he says. First of all there’s the ridicule phase, then there’s the violent opposition phase, and then there’s the universal acceptance phase.
“People pretend they were on your side all the time, which is clearly bulls***. In Ireland right now we have reached the universal acceptance stage, but the rewriting of history is ongoing.”
Financially and politically Ireland is a conservative country, McWilliams says. It’s paternalistic and resistant to change, and if the spectacular financial collapse has proved anything it has proved this -- the country really does have the golden circle of insiders McWilliams is talking about. They can weather every storm and walk between the raindrops because their positions are traditionally so secure, or so it would seem.
“One of the major themes in Outsiders is that fact that since Irish society is split between insiders and outsiders, the outsiders get told to leave and the insiders get stronger with each departure. They repeat the process over and over again and they f*** up again and again, and that’s the way this country works.”
With such a potentially anti-establishment take on Ireland’s economy, McWilliams laughs at the suggestion that it’s courageous to stick his head above the parapet for some plain speaking.
“Oh yeah, you’re hated and loved in equal measure,” he says with a knowing laugh.
But what compelled him to speak up? He could have sat back, folded his arms, and claimed, “I told you so.”
“Ireland has suffered the greatest loss in its economy of any country since the Great Depression. In terms of sheer magnitude it’s not a recession or a downturn, it’s a crash,” he says.
A lot of the veils that hide the interests of the Irish establishment have been ripped away by it, but there still are many left, which is why McWilliams engagement at the Abbey was a sell out.
“If there was clarity now people wouldn’t turn up to the Abbey to see a celebrated Irish economist hold forth on what happened and what it all means for the future,” he says.
“What I would say is that there’s an extraordinary attempt by our political classes to rewrite history going on right now in Ireland. It’s important that the national theater and independent journalists expose that attempt.”
There’s a personal aspect to McWilliams’ performance. When he was a boy during the late 1970s, McWilliams’ middle class father lost his job. McWilliams talks about it in the play, discussing how his family coped with their sudden change in fortunes.
“I think that what compelled me to speak up is my own father’s experience with unemployment. That’s what makes me keep doing these things,” he says.
“Economics is not about abstract concepts like finance and money and GDP, it’s about life and personal experience and what happens to people. It’s without boundaries: it goes into psychology, emotional, physical and mental health – all these things.
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