James Wickham: There’s a curious paradox about economists in Ireland today. In the middle of the financial crisis, the public standing of economists is higher than ever before. This is odd, because in most countries the claim of economists to any special knowledge about the economy (or anything else) is subject to extensive criticism. Inside and outside the profession, there are calls for greater ‘modesty’. Furthermore, many ‘eccentric’ or ‘heterodox’ economists have long claimed that conventional academic economics has become essentially a branch of applied mathematics. Today their views are being given a wider audience than before. Readers of this blog will be aware of such developments, but they have had no impact in Ireland. Why?
Surely the answer lies in the national specificity of the Irish crisis. While the government claims that what has happened here is just part of a global crisis, this is of course nonsense. The global crisis – or more accurately, the crisis of Anglo-Saxon capitalism - has been exacerbated by our own construction and housing asset boom. And here I think - though I would like to check this - most Irish economists did point out that we were in a speculative bubble and many did call on the government to try to restrain it. However, I suspect that on a more general scale Irish economists were as guilty as their international colleagues. Even at home, how many called for tighter regulation of the banks? And abroad, how many pointed out the dangers of unregulated financial markets?
Professor James Wickham
James Wickham was Jean Monnet Professor of European Labour Market Studies and Professor in Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. He has published widely on employment, transport and migration in Ireland and Europe; he is the author of Gridlock: Dublin’s Transport Crisis and the Future of the City and co-author of New Mobilities in Europe: Polish Migration to Ireland post-2004. His book Unequal Europe: Social divisions and social cohesion in an old continent analysed the collapse of the European Social Model; his new text book European Societies (Routledge 2020) examines the structures of inequality in contemporary Europe. He is a former director of TASC.