The Irish economy is in a mess. Real GDP has fallen by about 10 percent. The deficit is over 30 percent of GDP, of which 20 percent is the cost of bailing out banks. The housing market has collapsed. The banks are teetering on the brink, sucking up seemingly infinite amounts of taxpayer resources.
How did this happen? Up until the crisis, Ireland was lauded as the celtic tiger, the envy of the world. It adopted policies that seemed more American than European – lax regulation, nudge-and-wink supervision, low taxes. And it grew strongly. But this growth was based on an ephemeral housing boom, and it all came crashing down. Ireland is suffering more than the US because of the small size of the country, and the relative size of the banks in such a small pond.
The Irish people are angry, but they are sane. They know exactly who is to blame – in first place, the bankers. There are no “green tea parties” railing against government and taxes, and trying to kick out (Polish) immigrants. Leo Varadkar, a rising politician in the Fine Gael party (which allies with the Christian Democratic wing in the European parliament), has said that the bankers did more damage than the IRA and should be “treated like subversives”. “The public are furious that none of these people have been brought to book and they are right and we cannot move on until they are prosecuted,” he said.
At first blush, I though Leo was making yet another of the wild statements he is famous for. But then I thought about it. A quick google search gives the estimates of those murdered by IRA terrorists at around 1800. What about the human costs of the global financial crisis? The International Labor Organization says more tha 30 million lost their jobs. The World Bank says more than 64 million were pushed into extreme poverty all over the world, and that up to 50,000 babies might have died in sub-Saharan Africa.
So, Varadkar might have a point. This crisis was caused by financial sector greed. And yet, they go unpunished, and even rewarded.