Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Economics 09/09/2009: Snakes/Economist Hiding in Tall Grasses

Per previous post: let me give a quick clarification. The tip I received on carbon tax trade-off is a tip. It is marked as such. I have full confidence to trust my source on it, though. Do read analysis - Carbon Tax is coming and it will be a compulsory and consumer-abusing tax, as even in theory, there will be plenty of people who will never be able to modify their behaviour to avoid it.

Now to something that I was holding back for some time, but few people have urged me to post.


I must confess that with some bemusement and irritation I observed the last couple of weeks of debates about Nama.

No, it is not the stranger than Alice-in-Wonderland world of our media that has swallowed line, hook and sinker the selling pitch of Nama-we-need-it-sooo-desperately by the DofF and numerous stock brokers that got me in the end.

And not the fact that the pro-Nama camp had to drag out Garet Fitzgerald out to drum up few obvious and irrelevant factoids about the deficit and string onto them a whoopingly outlandish conclusion that absent Nama we’ll have IMF running Ireland.

In reality, of course, with Nama, someone like ECB (not the IMF) will run Ireland. Flushing over €20-50bn into the proverbial toilet of rescuing shareholders and bondholders of Irish credit institutions (yes, this is how much Nama is likely to cost us in the end) will make us completely broke. As someone aptly remarked some time ago ‘what can’t go on usually doesn’t’.

Nor even the fact that we have politicos accusing economists for causing the current crisis and trying to shut down any debate about Nama in the name of patriotism. I thought we passed that stage of the infantile debate with our dear leader Bertie Ahearne a couple of years back.

And even Alan Ahearne’s embrace of a Nationalist idea of the state-bailed ‘Irish banking system for Ireland’ leaves me not as flustered, for one would expect it from the former US Fed employee after all (I am being sarcastic here).

No, all of these egregious abuses of public debate and media mandate pale in comparison with the ridiculous accusations – raised on air by an RTE presenter and in print by a newspaper editorial – that the 46 economists and academics who signed the Irish Times letter somehow withdrew from the debate once the Government hacks came back with irrelevant answers to irrelevant questions.

What these journalists missed is that:
  1. The new ‘pro-Nama’ answers contained in Alan Ahearne’s email to the ‘colleagues’ urging them not to sign the Irish Times oped were nothing more than a set of PR cues issued by the public officials following the publication of Nama legislation. Virtually word for word. The Journos, extolling the virtues of Ahearne’s response didn’t have a clue they were being led on a short leash by the Government spin doctors;
  2. No one has withdrawn from the debate on Nama, and moreover, as customary, the Gang of 46 has engaged directly with both the media and the public in explaining their views and providing feasible alternatives to the Government’s Nama vision.
To the second point: in the week when 46 economists ‘hid in tall grass’ per RTE and the Irish Independent, Karl Whelan and Brian Lucey were very much active in the Nama debate.

But perhaps even more surprising to the said two media outfits would be to find out that I too was busy. Here is a picture taken by my wife in the middle of Friuli wine yards of North-Eastern Italy…
Wait for it – I was doing an interview about Nama on RTE Drivetime, on the same day when RTE’s other august show ‘could not find a single one of the 46 economists’ to talk about Nama. For the record, the other show's guys did call my mobile number twice, but never left a message. And this means that when I called their 'registered' RTE number back, I had no idea which programme called me in the first place – a silly waste of a €1.50.

Oh, and here is the link to my article on Nama published by, wait for it, …the Irish Independent a day after the Irish Times letter of 46 and a day before and a week before the two editorials telling the world that 46 economists have gone into hiding scared off by Alan Ahearne-Brian Lenihan PR blitz.

Well, readers of this blog would know that in the two weeks of my absence from Ireland (physically) I produce 11 blog posts on the topic of Nama.

I also did a briefing for an investment manager in the US and another appearance by phone on a radio programme in Ireland, both dealing with Nama within a day after the Irish Times article publication took place.

I know this is a bit of 'hiding in the grass' by our extremely workaholic journalists' standards, but 11 posts, 3 press articles, several radio appearances and series of professional briefings on Nama in two weeks is, sorry, a bit more than the average number of articles Indo's own columnists produce in a given two weeks period of work, let alone during a family vocation. And they are full time journos, while I am a mere freelancer on the side! Tall grass, gents?

In contrast, Messr Lenihan and Ahearne were allowed (as they are entitled to) uninterrupted taking of their family vacations after publication of Nama legislation. And not a single journalist or politico now accusing the 46 economists of ‘hiding’ away from the debate have voiced a single question as to why neither Lenihan nor Ahearne have never appeared to face any one of the Nama critics from the academic side or professional side in a public debate prior to the publication of Nama legislation?

As anyone who hiked the Wild West knows – tall grass and stealthy snakes usually appear to those who fear them most.
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