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Sinead Ryan: Time will prove McWilliams is right... again, Garret

In other countries celebrities are called on to dance on ice, become a master chef, live in the Big Brother house, survive in a jungle and many other, career-enhancing (or ending) activities.

In Ireland we like to do things differently, so our "celebrities" are economists.

No harm there -- since Ireland's economic woes have had everyone else having a go. One of them, in particular, has been not only able to explain complex financial concepts to us in simple language and fun analogies, but also got it right most of the time.

David McWilliams is one of the very few economists who does not earn a State salary. He doesn't work for a university, a bank or government. As such, we may be inclined to consider his views free of bias.

More importantly, he is one of the very few who has a right to say "I told you so", because he did. Remember the time when Bertie Ahern scoffed about "certain people" who crib and moan from the sidelines and said he couldn't understand why they didn't commit suicide. That was David he was referring to. Now Garret FitzGerald is having a go. Let me declare an interest. I know David. I like him. I've shared a few pints with him, I've studied with him and he's written the foreword for my new book -- CentSense, a financial guide for teenagers, which will be out shortly.

That out of the way, by far the more important issue is that I respect him. That's easy, because he's been the crystal ball in all of this mess. No, he didn't get everything right -- he predicted the crash wouldn't be THIS bad. He thought we'd end up like basket case Uruguay. We're much worse, in fact. He said we'd be bailed out by the IMF. He said all this in 2003. Nobody believed him then and clearly, Garret still doesn't.

In his Irish Times column, he has a swipe at "celebrity economists". The term is used derogatively -- dismissing those of us ordinary people who now understand financial issues better because of so-called "celebrity economists" than we ever would listening to the likes of Garret's dry, high-brow, if intellectual, commentary. You'd sometimes need an economics degree first to understand him.

In talking about how we're viewed abroad, Garret said at the weekend, in a good imitation of Bertie: "For smaller states like Ireland they depend on second-hand information. This includes often ill-informed media reports, which in our case have involved reports of some of the 'celebrity economists', who have been seeking publicity by claiming that our problems are so great that we will eventually have to default".

Greedy

Right. The "damage" to our standing abroad, then, has nothing to do with what David and his ilk told us, the brazenness and foolishness of greedy banks; the complete irresponsibility of government; the entire absence of regulation.

No, it's about them "talking us down".

Now where did we hear that before?

It also dismisses the near permanent presence of a dozen IMF officials in the Department of Finance taking our economy apart with a fine-tooth comb.

They are not relying on "second-hand" information, or reading McWilliams's columns for their information, although they are very probably nodding their heads at them. McWilliams has said the only way out of this mess, apart from the almost certainty of default, is debt forgiveness by the EU. With supreme irony, Garret knows all about debt forgiveness -- wasn't it he who had a debt of IR£200,000 written off by AIB and Ansbacher in 1999 after an ill-judged punt in GPA? Pot. Kettle. Black, Sir.

McWilliams says he has "too much respect" for Garret to bother arguing over the "cheap shot".

He knows that arguing with politicians has got him precious little in the past. Time is his revenge, and it is served shiveringly cold, or between the pages of another well-timed, prescient book.


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