Category Archives: Uncategorized

Book review: ´How to Stop Fascism´ by Paul Mason

January 6th, 2021, will go down in history as a day of infamy. Although Trump supporters’ storming of the US Capitol doesn’t make its first appearance until a few dozen pages into How to Stop Fascism, author Paul Mason flags it as a “potentially historic turning point”. It is proof positive that leading liberal democracies are set for a fascist turn.

Correctly, Mason draws a sharp distinction between the populist far right and overt fascists. Trump is presented not as a fascist himself, but rather as an enabler, a “useful idiot”. Indeed, explicitly fascist parties are thin on the ground. Greece’s now-outlawed Golden Dawn is a notable exception, although fascist revivalism has been making its mark in both Italy and Spain of late.

*** A version of this book review was first published in The Irish Times on 29 August 2021 ***

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We need to stop the creeping Amazon-ification of our economy

Time will tell whether our post-pandemic economy really takes off like a rocket… and whether a rising rocket lifts all spaceships.

With a wholesale switch from bricks-and-mortar retail to online shopping accelerated by Covid-19, internet behemoths like Amazon have been among the big winners over the past year. While we´ve all been stuck at home, many of us have been lucky enough to have disposable income, but nowhere to spend it. A one-click purchase and a package swiftly delivered to your door can be quick thrill, a small luxury, or sometimes even an urgent need.

Something else that took off in a rocket this summer is Jeff Bezos, Amazon´s founder, world´s richest man, and plausible Lex Luthor super-villain impersonator. Worth more than $200bn, or about half of Irish GDP, he ploughs a reputed $1bn a year into Blue Origin, his hobbyhorse outfit aiming to bring space tourism to the masses. Well, at least to the super rich. On 20th July, shortly after stepping down as CEO, Bezos boarded Blue Origin´s first manned space flight.

*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 20 July 2021 ***

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Stop the games, tax the speculators

Who had heard of GameStop a month ago other than committed gamers and punters on the stock market? The bricks-and-mortar computer game retailer burst to prominence in recent weeks as a pawn in a supposed David-and-Goliath story, a battle of wits between plucky nerds and the wolves of Wall Street.

Spotting a chink in a hedge fund´s armour, small investors organized themselves through a small corner of social media, a reddit bearing the fitting moniker #WallStreetBets. Basically, the hedge fund had reached the not-unreasonable conclusion that computer game shops were going the way of Xtra-Vision. They borrowed shares in GameStop and sold them, hoping to buy them back at a lower price before returning them to their original owner and pocketing the difference.

*** This article was first published at thejournal.ie on 7 February 2021 *** Continue reading

Putting Community First

Together with the state and markets, community is the sometimes-overlooked ‘third pillar’ on which our society rests. Just as we need a strong state and can benefit from efficient markets, these imperatives must be balanced with the interests of the geographic communities that bind us. This is the premise of an important new book by Raghuram Rajan, former IMF Chief Economist.

In Ireland, public policy in recent decades has tended towards letting the market rip. To reduce the resulting stark income inequalities, the state has to do more heavy lifting in terms of redistribution than in any other OECD country. Even then, we only rank towards the middle of the equality league table.

Ironically, perhaps, for a country with such a strong traditional sense of community, local government is an area where we are weak. Ireland has one of the most centralized systems of governance, our local representatives lacking much in the way of real power. Whether it is rural heartlands losing pubs, post offices and people, or pockets of urban disadvantage ravaged by unemployment and drug barons’ turf wars, our communities suffer the consequences, fraying the very fabric of our society. Continue reading

Unemployment is down again but we shouldn’t be complacent

THE IRISH ECONOMY continued to create jobs at a rate of more than 1,000 per week in the three months immediately following June’s shock Brexit vote, defying some of the most pessimistic predictions about the short-term impact.

According to Tuesday’s figures from the Central Statistics Office, 57,500 jobs were created this year to the end of September, signalling robust annual job growth of 2.9%.

The pace of job growth moderated slightly to a seasonally adjusted 13,500 during the most recent three month period, down from 18,900 and 16,100 in each of the first two quarters of the year, respectively. This brought the total number employed to 2,040,500, the highest since the end of 2008, although still 6% below the all-time high of 2,169,600, reached in Q3 2007.

*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 23 November, 2016 *** Continue reading

Escape Velocity

Nearly three years after losing access to the sovereign bond market, Ireland appears to have built sufficient momentum to escape the troika’s orbit. Come early 2014, the country will no longer be subject to its quarterly visits and binding targets. The government will have succeeded in its number one political objective: ‘regaining our economic sovereignty’. But, what will really change?

When Ireland was first bailed out, I and many others thought it unlikely that the country could succeed in regaining market access by end-2013. In mid-2011, with interest rates on Irish government bonds soaring into double digits, such a benign scenario looked ever more remote.

Then, things changed. Increasingly, Ireland came to be seen as a special case, different from the struggling ‘Club Med’ countries. Irish bond yields fell dramatically, decoupling from those of Greece and Portugal. New ECB President Mario Draghi signalled that he was willing to do ‘whatever it takes’ save the Euro. Ben Bernanke, his American counterpart, kept the printing presses running, doubling down on his so-called ‘quantitative easing’ experiment. No doubt, this ‘easy money’ helped Ireland’s cause. High profile financiers made multi-billion euro bets on Ireland’s recovery story, and are already sitting on massive paper profits. The Irish banks also got in on the act, racking up significant holdings of Irish bonds rather than lending to businesses or households. Internally, economic pain may be manifest, but externally the mood music has been mostly positive. Continue reading

Ireland’s Investment Crisis: Diagnosis and Prescription

I have written in the past about Ireland’s deepening investment crisis. Last week’s CSO figures for Q1 2013 showed that investment had fallen 20% compared to the same quarter in 2012 while the investment rate had fallen to 9.7% of GDP. Here is a paper I wrote on the subject, recently published by the Nevin Economic Research Institute.

In short, a national investment bank focused on infrastructure and SME financing has never been more necessary.

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Happy Holidays!

Wishing a merry Christmas and prosperous 2013 to all my readers !!

New Directions

Well, it’s been a busy month… between graduating from Columbia, visiting Ireland, holidaying in Spain, moving to Indonesia, and starting work with the World Bank.

That largely explains my lack of blog activity of late, something I hope to rectify in the coming days and weeks.

Meanwhile, I’m settling into life in Jakarta, a sprawling, bustling, booming metropolis that epitomizes ‘up by the bootstraps’ development in emerging Asia. The fourth most populated country in the world, Indonesia has been Asia’s sleeping giant, but partly driven by a commodities boom, it is rapidly rising to take its place beside China and India.

At the World Bank, I am working on two projects: one on the impact of FDI in the services sector on economic productivity, and the other on trade logistics, notably issues relating to Jakarta’s port facilities. At a time when much of the developed world is mired in economic stagnation, it is fascinating to be exposed to economic policy issues in a rapidly rising emerging nation.

A Great Little Documentary on Financial Instability