a new take on the economy backed by startling statistics
Sins of the Father
by Conor McCabe
'SINS of the Father' sounds like a trashy novel but it presents an interesting alternative view of the Irish economy.
Written by Conor McCabe, who also contributes to the excellent Dublin Opinion blog, the book is a mixed joy.
The downside is that the writing is clunky and peppered with statistics. Chapters begin with a seemingly random selection of facts, leaving the reader scratching his head and wondering what the chapter is about and where is it going.
This reviewer would have stopped reading several times were he not determined to review the book and this would have been a pity because among the thickets of factoids and stats is a very interesting and thought-provoking polemic about Irish economic performance since the foundation of the State.
McCabe repeatedly challenges orthodox views and has the figures to back up his assertions. He also has a sense of history which is sorely lacking in most discussions on the economy.
McCabe's basic argument, as far as this book can be said to have an argument, is that indigenous industry has been neglected in favour of property and banking because it suited the elites who find it easier to make a dishonest living from rezoning land than allowing industrialists to make widgets.
This may sound like the sort of thing a teenager might say around the dinner table but McCabe supplies a startling array of facts from many diverse sources to back up his contentions.
The economic historian Cormac O Grada touched on many of the same themes in his thought-provoking Whitaker lecture hosted by the Central Bank last month. Like McCabe, O Grada charts our six decades of economic underperformance and highlights the fact that they were characterised by mismanagement on a heroic scale which triggered several major recessions at a time when most of Europe was booming. The present recession is part of a long and dishonourable tradition.
McCabe's opening chapter on the property market is particularly incisive and a challenge to the lazy assumptions about the relationship between the Irish and property. McCabe carefully traces the various government programmes created to promote property ownership.
It was these successive governments' repeated efforts to promote property ownership that have led to a dysfunctional relationship between ordinary people and the land, not some sort of post-Famine yearning. Despite this government focus on property, which has allowed many politicians to enrich themselves, we still don't have particularly high ownership levels.
One particularly telling statistic is that Irish owner occupancy is the 18th highest in the European Union. This means that 17 other countries in the 27-member union have higher rates of ownership. Myth dispelled thanks to Eurostat, McCabe rubs the point home by quoting many experts who maintain otherwise. It is nuggets like this that make 'Sins of the Father' worth reading. It's just a shame it is not a little more reader friendly.
'Sins of the Father' is published by History Press I and is available to purchase on www.independentbooks.ie, with free P&P, or by calling 01 405 9100