Leading Irish economist and journalist, David McWilliams, picks 10 ideas, trends, places and people facing society today.
This book by Paul Krugman is wonderful. It’s very interesting because in order to understand what’s going on in Europe now, you’ve got to understand what went on in the ’20s and ’30s. We have two ways of dealing with debt: the first is the 1918 way, where you impose reparations and make things unstable; the second is the post-1945 way, the Marshall Plan, where you forgive debts and move on. We are making the mistake of imposing reparation terms that will destroy countries. The single biggest threat to the European Union isn’t Greece, Ireland, Portugal or Spain but the European Central Bank itself.
Cities are the creative hubs of humanity. In many ways, the key for all of Europe is to create competitive cities, not competitive countries. Great European cities are designed around living – spaces, people coming together and exchanging ideas, people being creative and generating economic growth and germinating dynamism. Creativity comes from personal, human contact. While the internet facilitates communication, it doesn’t obliterate that human need to be around other humans. That’s why I think cities consistently become magnets for talent and capital. It’s cities that create great countries.
If you want to get rid of slums, you’ve got to have an ideological shift – you’ve got to change your politics and become left-wing. You’ve got to become old-fashioned. You can’t use this, ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’ approach. You get money from rich people and you give it to poor people. Either you do it democratically, like in Britain, or you do it in a revolution, as they did in Russia. The last thing I believe is this soft American nonsense that history is dead. The battles for resources, for power, for equality and fairness will continue.
The Japanese tsunami notwithstanding, we’re heading into a world of nuclear power, which is not very kosher to say in Europe. But if we’re running out of oil, and we //are// running out of oil, that has massive ramifications for how we live in the West and how we power ourselves. Ultimately, the big economic question is not about debt or money or exchange rates, it’s about energy: who controls it, who uses it and who values it so much they’ll go to war over it.
Europe is going into very, very choppy waters and this concerns me. I think the Euro will probably break up. I believe Ireland will have a period of rapid inflation, as will most of peripheral Europe, in order to get rid of the debts that we’ve built up over the last couple of years. I also believe the debts are not ours to pay. Ireland’s banks took out lots of debts; we shouldn’t pay them as citizens. We’ve got to stand up to creditors and seek common cause with other small European countries. At the moment we’re being bullied by France and Germany to an extent that doesn’t enhance Europe; it actually undermines it. That’s not what families are supposed to do.
In the ‘70s, music became really overblown and complex, and then, out of nowhere, The Sex Pistols and The Clash delivered music in a totally different way. There are similar trends in economics today. The idea of Punk Economics is to strip economics down and deliver it in the same way that punk delivers music. It’s about changing the medium, not the message, and getting people interested. It’s like ‘gamifying’ – making things more accessible, democratic and open. That’s the key to everything.
The world is beginning to look increasingly like Latin America in the 1980s. The United States, with its huge debts and credit lines with China, is behaving like an emerging market. It’s very clear that China is waltzing up a cul-de-sac – the more money it lends to America, the less it’s going to get back. The ramifications for a world where America becomes less and less important are enormous. At the moment China is unwilling, not unable, to take a lead role as global policeman, but that won’t continue indefinitely. They’re buying the world with a chequebook, but over time they’ll have to project their power in a different way and that will result in direct conflict with the US.
Every year I do a political cabaret at the Electric Picnic festival – the biggest rock event in Ireland. And I’m reading a lot about Bob Geldof because I’ve got to interview him there. When we were children growing up in Ireland, Bob Geldof was so rock ‘n’ roll. I wrote a book about the year that punk came to Ireland. At the time, there were two cultural forces here – there was the Pope, and then there was Bob Geldof. He embodied protest, revolution and anti-authority to the younger me. He’s a visionary and a leader.
The recent Barcelona versus Hadjuk Split game was a great cultural clash. Over the last century, Hadjuk Split has come to embody Croatian nationalism in the same way that Barcelona embodies Catalonian nationalism. Because of corruption, poverty and the war, Croatian teams have ended up simply providing their best talent for foreign capital. Football is a good metaphor for how the world works: it’s a worldwide phenomenon in which rich countries extract resources from poorer countries, and ultimately this is leading to instability all around Europe and the world.
Last year I had a one-man show about the state of Ireland at the Abbey Theatre, called //Outsiders//. The theme was how small countries like Ireland split in a crisis; not between rich and poor, or young and old, or men and women, or country and city, but between insiders and outsiders: those people on the inside – who have power or access to power – and those that don’t. The idea was to deliver economics through a different medium. The spoken word is much more powerful than cyberspace in terms of how it impacts on people as a visceral, emotional and physical experience.