A neighbour across the fields in Co Down used to tell of going to a horse race meeting with a group of friends from work.
Lurking around the entrance was a man offering brown envelopes at £1 each. These envelopes, he claimed, contained tips for the winner in each race on the card that day. My neighbour and his workmates bought envelopes for the fun of it. When they opened the envelopes they discovered that each contained a different list of horses. “None of us would have admitted being taken in and backing a loser, but when we got a winner we would have said that the man was a great tipster”.
Economic punditry seems pretty much like horse race tipping, no-one is going to admit getting the whole thing completely wrong. The news that the Government deficit was three times that which had been projected was tucked away yesterday evening. News in yesterday’s Irish Times that a leading estate agent had admitted that second-hand property prices in Dublin had fallen by 9.9% during the year, was deep inside the business news (a suspicious figure in itself – 0.1% off having to admit double digit falls).
Meeting a bishop in England during my student days, I was asked where I was studying. “The London School of Economics”, I replied.
“Ah, give me a one-armed economist”, he declared with a flourish.
Mystified, I asked why.
“So he cannot say, ‘On the other hand'”.
Economic history shows that every boom eventually comes to an end. But George Bernard Shaw, a founding figure of the LSE is said to have once commented, “we learn from history that we learn nothing from history”. In Ireland we seem to have again proved the truth of Shaw’s comment.
Seeking reassurance we are in expert hands, I am indebted to my friend Dot for pointing out this clip from last October of John Bird and John Fortune explaining what the banking crisis last year was about.