Thursday 14 December 2017

Colm McCarthy: Four years now and still no explanation

The bank bailout, in dollar bills, would carpet Louth, yet the genesis of the bust remains unrevealed, writes Colm McCarthy

The sheer scale of the Irish banking collapse is lost on most people. The numbers are just beyond everyday comprehension. The American politician Everett Dirksen, criticising a US government capital programme back in the 1960s, remarked: "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money."

The financial crisis makes people nonchalant about incredibly large numbers. Newsreaders no longer say 'million' when they mean billion, but it is only slowly beginning to dawn on everyone that a billion is rather a lot of money. Phrases like 'a billion dollars' or 'a billion euro' trip rather lightly off the tongue, but to what everyday reality do these numbers correspond? Most people are comfortable with figures corresponding to their annual salary, the price of a car or the price of a house. Larger numbers with lots of zeroes attached are easy to toss around in conversation but much harder to grasp.

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