To mark the last episode of his series Ireland's Generation Game, David McWilliams returned to answer your questions and was online from 1pm to 2.30pm on Tuesday, 2 October.
Donnacha: Hi David. You said there was no such thing as a 'soft landing'. I'm just curious as to how long you think it will take for the crash, if any, to come? I would like to buy a house for me and my family and currently we are waiting out the storm. But how long do you think we will have to wait?
David: Hi Donnacha. On the soft landing, international evidence from 30 countries, done recently by Morgan Kelly, an economist at UCD, suggests that it could take three to five years of price falls before the housing market settles down. If we follow the same path as most other countries, and house prices have been falling for a year here already, we're talking 2010. That's the international evidence, and I can't see any reason for us not to repeat this. Thanks, David.
David: Hey David. I find that there seems to be an across the board sentiment of negativity towards every element of our economy, led in many ways by the mass media's need for a controversial story. Do you think that such a blanket of negativity could lead to a 'careful what you wish for' scenario?
David: Fair point David. There's very little wrong with the Irish economy, rather the problem is in the Irish housing market. And the Irish housing market lobby, the Government, which gets 28% of the price of every new house, the banks, the auctioneers and the landowners have hijacked the economic debate, hoodwinking people that the economy and the housing market are one and the same thing. They are not. In fact the housing market has to fall for Ireland to be economically competitive again. So maybe in the long term those who are telling it as it is in the housing market are doing the economy a service. Thanks, David.
Ciaran: If you're a returning emigrant, is it worth moving from Boston back to Dublin? Or should I just sit out the upcoming recession in the US and swoop in when the property market in Dublin finally collapses?
David: Hi Ciaran. That's what I would do if I was you. The latter option. Thanks, David.
Declan Hanley: In a previous interview you mentioned the terms 'Micks' and 'Paddies'. These are offensive terms. If you had to emigrate like thousands did in the 1970s you would not be so smug. This is your Blackrock College upbringing coming out. So David, be careful what you say, mate.
David: Hi Declan. If you watched last night's programme, you'd know that I believe returned emigrants are our greatest resource. They, and more importantly those who left generations ago, should be given Irish passports and encouraged to return. As for myself, I'm not too sure about you, but I emigrated in the 1980s, came back for a year or two and emigrated again, so who are you calling smug? Thanks, David.
Katrina Morrison: As someone who recently emigrated from America and has been given Irish citizenship through naturalisation (my grandparent being born in Ireland) I'm wondering why you make it seem difficult to accomplish this for those in Argentina?
David: Hi Katrina. I'm not too sure why we make it so difficult for the Argentinians. It seems like a very callous thing to do to people who have an emotional attachment to this country, irrespective of the economic upside. I think that it would be a sign of maturity and great generosity for Ireland to look after those who are the descendents of people who were forced to leave this country. Thanks, David.
Elaine: It seems people are really taking notice of what you say. Do you think the government will take notice? Do you think they're aware of the situations you describe regarding the Irish economy?
David: Hi Elaine. I'm not too sure that we have the leadership in this country to think beyond next Thursday. I'm very optimistic about the future if we do the right things but, like you, it's difficult to see any of the present incumbents thinking about what this country should look like in 2030. Thanks, David.
John Paul: People talk about how Ireland is becoming a high knowledge economy, moving away from manufacturing. I have worked in the IT sector since 2000 and our salaries are not great. People driving trucks and buses earn more money than me, prompting me to leave the industry. Is this what the property boom has done?
David: Hi John Paul. Couldn't agree with you more. The property obsession has been the greatest scam perpetrated on this nation in many years, elbowing out knowledge workers and greatly enriching people who are simply lucky enough to own land. The economy can't be liberated until we are weaned off the land obsession. Thanks, David.
Colm Magoo: Hi David. Great programme, but aren't you dismissive of the potential of Eastern Europe? You could have said the same thing about Ireland in the 1950s and if it had kept going that way there would be no-one left today. I think Europe has a lot of potential despite the aging population.
David: Hi Colm. You're right that things could have been said about Ireland in the 1950s. However back then the world was a much less competitive place and by the 1970s Ireland was probably the only English speaking country that American multinationals could do business in and get a tax holiday. Today the East Europeans are competing against much cheaper workers from India and, unlike us, they have no real modern industrial infrastructure to speak of. Also, the rapidly ageing populating over there doesn't help matters. I hope you're right in terms of your optimism, but the cards are stacked against them. Best regards, David.
Gavin Fitzpatrick: A recent ESRI report suggests the housing market will drop by 15% by the end of the year. Would you have foreseen the housing market to start falling so quickly?
David: ... and if the ESRI are saying it you can probably add another 5% to that. Realistically, I didn't see it happening so quickly, and that may be just as a result of the incessant propaganda coming out of the housing lobby - painting a rosy picture when they knew that underneath there was far too much supply coming onstream. Thanks, David.
TK: Very good programme. One thing you didn't seem to cover were the environmental challenges that Ireland's economy is facing: how to cope with them; what impact they will have on our performance and can we benefit from green technology and green economy.
David: Hi TK. I didn't cover the environmental challenges because I don't know that much about them. And it seems that this would require an entire series on its own. Thanks, David.
William Winters: Excellent ideas proposed on the subject of immigration last night. I hope they gather momentum in the political arena. I think the Irish rugby and soccer teams would not be in crisis had we accepted the Argentinean Diaspora as the labour of our economic boom 10 years ago! Your thoughts?
David: Hi William. You're dead right. But on the bigger issue, Jack Charlton saw the potential of the Diaspora and when Kevin Sheedy equalised against England in 1990 or Houghton scored against England and Italy did anyone care that these lads were sons of the Diaspora? What works in sport could work in economics. It's all about expanding capacity. By the way, José Brown, who played inside Maradonna for Argentina in the 1986 World Cup, protecting the maestro, could have played for Ireland through the granny rule. Bet you he's glad he didn't!!
Brian Byrne: David, given that we are a predominantly Catholic society (or were in previous days) why do you link Irishness with the Jewish religion in your third episode?
David: Hi Brian. I only used the Jewish people as an example of a wandering tribe who have engaged with their Diaspora all over the world. It was simply an example of what can be done.
Thomas Kelly:Hi David. I saw the show last night and almost fell off my chair when you made the comment about saving the souls of the Irish Diaspora in the US. It wasn't so much an over dramatisation as an utterly farcical 'jumping the shark' moment. You're better than this bluster. What gives?
David: Hi Thomas. Hope you didn't injure yourself. 'Jumping the shark' as an expression shows you the influence these Irish-Americans have had on our own language. The idea of saving their souls was a reference to their constant emotional yearning to reconnect with Ireland. This is something that we sometimes fail to recognise and even worse something many people snigger at. A bit like the Fonz jumping the shark! However, the serious point is that many Irish-Americans see Ireland as their homeland and regard reconnecting with this place as something definitional and almost spiritual. I think we should recognise this. Thanks Thomas. Best regards, David.
Breako:David, I am not sure about your analogy with Israel. There have been all sorts of consequences about placing a huge emphasis and priority on ethnicity in the Middle East. You seemed to be only looking at a few of them.
David: HHi Breako. Fair point re the Middle East. The Israeli example is interesting because Israelis work the Jewish Diaspora so well. In the same way as it was outlandish to suggest that Ireland, let's say in the 1970s, would have become a hi-tech exporter by the 1990s, all these ideas meet with scepticism initially. It seems to me that we have no other option, and no other comparative advantage, and that we should see the Diaspora as a great resource. All we have to do is focus on its 'soft power'.
Roland: Hi David. What the Irish have that other countries don't is optimism and likeability, the two most critical traits of a good salesperson. Ireland can turn itself into the Super Sales Country of the world. While the rest of Europe moans and worries about the future, we Irish create it and sell it.
David: Hi Roland. That's an interesting point. Years ago I worked in an investment bank in London and the Irish were disproportionately the best salesmen on the floor. I think you're on to something here. And maybe rather than try to move Silicon Valley to Ireland, we might be better off moving Madison Avenue. Thanks, David.
Mike O'M: In light of an economic downturn, how do you think the welfare state will cope with the additional influx of migrant workers and asylum seekers?
David: Hi Mike. This is a big issue, and one that has potential to blow up in our faces. However, it's much more likely given the immigrants' work ethic that our own will become more dependent on the welfare state than the immigrants. But this does not mean that resentment will not surface. Indeed it may compound issues. One of the reasons that immigration works in the United States is because of an absence of a welfare state. Americans regard immigration as a vote of confidence in the American way. Precisely because they have a collective folk memory of immigration they are all immigrants really (apart from the Native Americans). The welfare state and mass immigration might be mutually inconsistent. Thanks, David.
Dora: Hi David. I really enjoyed 'The Generation Game'. Do you think Ireland will actually develop its culture and heritage in the way you described last night or will the government stifle any such plans Ireland's entrepreneurs may have in this regard? Dora
David: Hi Dora. Contrary to the doom and gloom label, I have always been optimistic about our country. Things can change here. They did in the 1980s and 1990s and I think they will do so again. Maybe the role of the presenter is to risk ridicule from begrudgers and throw the ideas out into the public. This is the way we get debate started and the way things change over time. What is certain is that if we don't talk about it nothing will change here. It might take a while but an Ireland that is much more self-confident in its own culture, and sees the economic implications in its demographic history, will be worth the wait. Thanks, David.
Henry: David, do you not think that the rejuvenation of Germany's fortunes and the enthusiasm of Sarkozy to reform pose further challenges to Ireland's success? These countries are far more developed than us but with similar costs! We are like the ugly fat small sister by comparison...
David: Henry, you could well be right. Certainly things are motoring in Europe quicker now.
Danny Kenneally: Hi David. I have really enjoyed your programme. How can the Government encourage and support the Irish Diaspora, given that we have been very wasteful with revenue from the boom? How now in a different economic environment can we support them?
David: Hi Danny. It is clear that we seem to have blown the money. I see the Diaspora as coming here with their own resources, both in terms of cash, brainpower and networks. And they will be a positive injection to the economy rather than a drag. The only people who might be threatened by this are the vested interests and the political class who would be petrified of no-nonsense Irish-Americans coming in to reclaim a stake in the country their grandparents or great grandparents were kicked out of. Can you imagine Irish-Americans tolerating the fiasco that is the M50? Or any or our other infrastructural nightmares? Thanks, David.
Niall: I live in Greece. Last month thousands of the Greek Diaspora voted in their general elections. I saw Polish citizens who are Irish residents on RTÉ News last week discussing arrangements for them to vote in Polish elections. Why are the Irish resident abroad disenfranchised?
David: Interesting point Niall. I can't understand why we call ourselves a Republic in the American and French way, both of whom extend the vote to citizens living abroad, yet we on the other hand disenfranchise them. I can only suggest that this is another example of sleveenism, where the local politicians are petrified of people voting on principle for the long term rather than on promises for the short term. Thanks, David.
Nicola: Hi David. In your opinion, is it in Ireland's interest in the long-term and short-term to leave the EU?
David: Hi Nicola. I think Ireland's relationship with the EU will become increasingly lukewarm in the years ahead. This is because Europe is now moving towards the East and we are still an Atlanticist nation that, like it or not, are part of the Anglo-American economic world. What is interesting is that our political elite seem totally wedded to the EU project even when its nature has changed. This is best exemplified by the fact that this country voted against the Nice referendum and our political elite refused to recognise the democratic vote and told us to vote again. It seems a case of loving democracy when it works in your favour but dismissing it when it works against you. Personally, I hope we can balance the project, remaining within the EU while looking elsewhere for new ideas.
Brian: Hello David. While I agreed with your first two episodes, about how over leveraged Irish people are, I do not understand how returning emigrants could contribute to a comparative advantage over China. Shouldn't we be focusing more on research and development and use this as a form of trade?
David: Hi Brian. Like Jack Charlton, I see the Diaspora as bringing their own talents and changing us as much as we would change them. So in many ways the idea is a blank slate, there to be fashioned by whoever wishes to fashion it. It is bottom up economics rather than top down. It comes with its own risks but offers some obvious rewards if we host this talent properly. Thanks, David.
David: Conan O'Brien's father is a top medical professor at Harvard and his mother a senior partner in a large Boston law firm - prime examples of Irish-American talent. Do you expect people such as them to return on some notional basis of patriotism?
David: Hi David. The interesting thing about the Israeli example is that Jewish people, successful ones like Conan O'Brien's parents, take time out from their careers to recharge their Jewishness by going to Israel and they take up positions there. For example, the head of the Israeli Central Bank is an American Nobel Prizewinner for Economics, Stanley Fischer, who has taken up the job in Israel for a couple of years before going back to America. The Israelis benefit from his experience and brain while he feels slightly more Jewish when he returns to the States. We could offer the Irish-Americans a similar package. Emigration back to Ireland would be temporary in most cases. The only problem with this is that maybe some of the consultants at the higher level of the medical profession here, who are making a fortune, might not necessarily welcome very well qualified Irish-Americans into their midst who might show them up!
Brendan H:Hi David. I have distant relatives in Argentina and through the Longford-Westmeath Argentina Society we established many links. How should we use the historically advantageous position of Irish-Argentinians in Argentina who are the landowners, the English speakers and the educated?
David: Hi Brendan. I have visited these Irish-Argentinians and they are waiting to do business with us, make contact with us and foster closer links to the homeland. There is a good website called www.irlandeses.org which gives a great history of these people and is a good place to start. Best of luck, David.
Thomas Freeman: As it stands I believe that we have upwards of 15m Irish passports in circulation. Are you suggesting that we increase this exponentially by inviting all who have Irish heritage? And how far back do you go?
David: Hi Thomas. The Diaspora are our best resource. And I think we should give them an opportunity to recharge their Irishness by setting up a mechanism for their children (not unlike the Gaeltacht) to reacquaint themselves with the country their forefathers came from. The Israelis do this (even though the vast majority of Jewish people have no tangible direct familial connection with the area that is now Israel). However, by bringing these young Jewish people to Israel, the Israeli state bonds them in a way that benefits Israel in business, trade, culture and commerce in the future. We could do the same.
Sheila: David, excellent programme. How likely is it really though that the Dept of Finance and senior politicians will allocate funding towards the development of heritage infrastructure and networks rather than allocating that money to more building projects which they see as having more predictable return?
David: Hi Sheila. At the moment this is unlikely. But all ideas need to start somewhere. And this one already has emotional momentum behind it. In the future, investments in 'soft power', like culture and heritage, rather than 'hard power', such as coal, steel and land, is much more likely to be mainstream. Watch this space!
Richard: Hi David. It's the same old same old. Telling people to hold off until next year - young people need to get on the property ladder. Telling people to hold off - and rent is dead money! It's not the politicians that run this country, it's the media! We are in the best position in decades, can we not be positive?
David: Hi Richard. This discussion has moved on past the immediate concerns of the housing market. Ireland needs to think long term and maybe you should address your housing concerns to the ESRI, Central Bank, IMF and every other institution that is saying the Irish housing market is over-valued. People don't need me to tell them what they know already. However, the reason I've been banging this drum for a while is that you'd be much better off facing a monthly rental bill than a 35-year mortgage for a house that cost you 15 times your salary, a commute of four hours and is now falling in value. That is the promised land that was sold to us by the property bulls in the past three years. This is not an example of economic success but a lamentable example of economic failure. I'm extremely positive about the future of this country, and last night's programme and the book 'The Generation Game' concludes that we have nothing to fear as long as we liberate ourselves from the millstone that's property.
John T: Hi David. Enjoyed the show. Where did you get the best pint of Guinness?
David: Best pint had to be O'Donoghue's. Somethings don't change. Thanks everyone for all your questions. The programmes are now online to watch at rte.ie and can be watched all around the world. The geoblock has been lifted. We should do the same! Thanks again, David.