Friday 23 March 2018

Cowen's legacy of bad luck

NAPOLEON wanted his generals to be lucky. As Brian Cowen's political career comes to what is undoubtedly a sad end, he can reflect that he did not have much luck. Of all the times in the history of the State to become Finance Minister, 2004 was probably the worst.

The lending and property bubble was already inflating alarmingly. The only way to deflate such a bubble is exactly that -- deflation. Without national interest rates, the Finance Minister would have had to raise taxes, especially property taxes, by large amounts.

Would any minister have done so, and confronted his Taoiseach and party if required? There are not many contenders, but we know enough to know that Brian Cowen was the last man likely to do so. That became depressingly clear once he became Taoiseach. His approach was simply to wish away problems in public and, it sometimes seemed, in private too. These tendencies reached their disastrous climax in the last-minute denials of an EU/IMF bailout and the attempt, against advice, to try to appoint new cabinet ministers within weeks of an election.

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