Housing won’t look better before general election

Brexit and Covid have dominated headlines – and politicians’ preoccupations – at different times over the past decade. Health is a perennial concern. Referenda on same-sex marriage and abortion passed overwhelmingly. But, it doesn’t seem controversial to say that housing is the defining political issue of our times. This perma-crisis is unlikely to improve before the next general election.

*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 22 May 2023 ***

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Book Review: ‘Crack-Up Capitalism: Market Radicals and the Dream of a World Without Democracy’, by Quinn Slobodian

Recently reviewed here, Martin Wolf’s The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism charts the symbiotic rise of capitalism and democracy, despite their being in tension with each other. Of course, capitalism can and does exist in the absence of universal suffrage. It always has.

*** A version of this book review was first published in The Irish Times on 17 May 2023 ***

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The Coming Global Debt Crisis

The Irish, European and global economies have proved more resilient this year than many economists had feared. Yes, stubbornly high inflation has sapped consumers’ spending power. Yes, economic activity has slowed in the face of higher interest rates and lingering effects of the war in Ukraine. Yes, there was a wobble in the banking sector on both sides of the Atlantic, and we still don’t know how that will affect credit availability. But, there is little sign of the feared recession. Yet.

*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 1 May 2023 ***

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Chronicle of a Crisis Foretold

Bolivia may still be one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere but, particularly since Evo Morales became the country’s first indigenous President in 2006, his Movement for Socialism (MAS) has overseen immense improvements in living standards. Though still significant, poverty and inequality have massively reduced. Bolivia has had the lowest inflation rate in the region, so it hasn’t borne the full brunt of the cost-of-living crisis of the past two years. In fact, managing the economy has been seen as one of the government’s strengths.

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Is a profit-price spiral driving inflation?

Inflation really started to pick up in the second half of 2021. Coming out of the pandemic, as the economy recovered, demand and supply were out of whack. Buoyed by pandemic-era government supports, but still cautious – or restricted! – in going to pubs or restaurants or consuming any services that require close human contact, we were still buying more stuff. Replicated the world over, this meant relatively high demand for goods and snarled supply chains. This caused prices to rise.

In early 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, sending oil and gas prices through the roof. This quickly fed through to higher energy prices, at the pump and in our electricity bills. More slowly, it fed through to higher prices for everything that uses energy as an input. That is to say, almost everything. The annual inflation rate seems to have peaked at 9.2% in October 2022, and was expected to fall throughout 2023 as interest rate increases sapped demand and dampened prices. After prices spiked by 1.6% in February alone, only modest progress has been made so far, with annual inflation still at 8.5% as of last month. Still, in the absence of further energy shocks, the expectation is that inflation will moderate as the year progresses.

*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 27 March 2023 ***

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Did the warm Winter put a spring in our economic step?

What a difference a few weeks makes. Coming into the year, there was doom and gloom about economic prospects for 2023. But, the mood music seems to be changing.

Economic growth is holding up. Inflation continues to trend lower. Job markets remain strong. Energy armageddon was avoided. China’s economy is re-opening after ditching its zero-Covid policy. Forecasters like the IMF and EU Commission are beginning to revise up their predictions for growth this year. And, Ireland is still in a far better position than many European countries.

*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 26 February 2023 ***

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Book Review: ‘It’s OK to be Angry About Capitalism’, by Sen. Bernie Sanders, and ‘The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism’, by Martin Wolf

People are angry. The failures of capitalism are the cause. The failure of democracy itself could be the result. These are the central themes of two new books, one by US senator Bernie Sanders and the other by Financial Times chief economics commentator Martin Wolf. Sanders is a self-professed democratic socialist; Wolf is a lead contributor to one of the world’s foremost financial periodicals. One might assume they’d agree on very little. One would be wrong.

*** A version of this book review was first published in The Irish Times on 18 February 2023 ***

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Book Review: ‘Global Discord: Values and Power in a Fractured World Order’, by Paul Tucker

Looking back, the decade between the fall of the Soviet Union and September 11th, 2001, was a time of optimism, even western triumphalism, around the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” and following the culmination of the third wave of democratisation. The United States was the undisputed economic and geopolitical hegemon. Pax Americana reigned. The European Union was expanding and deepening. China was growing strongly, but had yet to come of age as a global power.

*** A version of this book review was first published in The Irish Times on 29 December 2022 ***

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Preview: the Irish Economy in 2023

The ‘R’ word is being bandied about a lot these days. Is Ireland really headed for recession? And, does it matter?

*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 31 December 2022 ***

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Book Review: ‘The Great Famine in Ireland and Britain’s Financial Crisis’, by Charles Read

Through lack of understanding of macroeconomics and financial markets, a new UK government turns a fiscal and political challenge into a financial crisis, leading to an austerity-driven humanitarian catastrophe. The year is 1847, not 2022.

This is the core argument of Cambridge historian Charles Read’s The Great Famine in Ireland and Britain’s Financial Crisis. By exploring private correspondence of leading policymakers of the day and highlighting discrepancies with their public statements and historical perceptions, the author interrogates their underlying motivations. In the process, he nails a number of established myths.

*** A version of this book review was first published in The Irish Times on 29 December 2022 ***

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