Not many financial writers can break down the economy of a country in a way that gives you a razor-edged insight into the character and spirit of it’s people. Michael Lewis, author of the classic “Liar’s Poker” and the more recent “The Big Short” is that rare kind of master in the art of non-fiction.
Mr. Lewis’s article in this month’s Vanity Fair, When Irish Eyes Are Crying not only offers the most concise overview of where Ireland is today and how it got there, it seems to express the odd predicament that Ireland has been in for centuries. While it will certainly convince you that Ireland’s financial problems are far worse than you ever realized (its government debt is rated lower than Iraq’s at present) it provides an even more interesting panorama of the internal, external, cultural and personal forces that have come to define the country, in a way that’s eerily similar to the 1950’s.
A convincing case is made that Ireland is, right now, the financially sickest nation in the western world. It’s debt is almost immeasurable, and its crony politicians have made a succession of choices that have amplified the pain it’s citizens have felt and will continue to feel for it’s crazed real estate boom.
Just two bright spots that emerge from the story. First, that the country’s condition is so bad that a default on soverign debt is almost certain. That may offer an end, however Draconian, to the current mess. The second is that, for all their faults, the Irish remain as funny as ever. If you have an resistance to reading a financial article, I guarantee you that this one will provide several deep belly-laughs. Credit Mr. Lewis for also gaining an inside track on the true Irish character. His comments about how the talkative nature of the Irish tends to conceal a deepy reticent character are dead on.
At the very least, you may take some comfort in the fact that, when it comes to real estate, those Irish were even crazier than we Americans.