While working for Addmaster, I had made a number of trips to the U.S. in the Seventies and loved the place.
Little did I know then that there were forces at work then that would change the country drastically—and not for the better. It was the end of the Golden Age which followed World War II—a period during which wages and salaries rose in line with productivity, and during which the Middle Class boomed.
Economics had been my main focus at university, though I had never planned to practice it. I didn't think I was a good enough statistician to become a professional economist, though the behavioral aspect fascinated me.
Why did some policies work and others not—and what did work? What was the role of government? Was the free market inherently better?
I didn’t ponder these issues through an ideological lens. I simply wanted to know what worked. By that time, I had visited—and spent some time in—France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, the U.S., and Morocco—in addition to living in both Ireland and the UK—and it was clear to me that some countries were doing a great deal better than other.
When I tried to discuss this issue—which was often enough—the classic response was to praise or blame national characteristics: The Germans are so efficient. The French are lazy. The Swedes are…
Though I was well aware of the cultural differences, I didn’t buy this argument. It struck me that policies, and how they were implemented, constituted the primary reasons for success or failure.
The focus of much of my thinking was Ireland. I had returned there after leaving Addmaster UK—and found the country in a decidedly depressed state. That was scarcely surprising given the stagflation that dominated the Seventies—but it also became clear to me that government policies were scarcely helping.
Without consciously realizing it, I read more and more about the issues, and in the Eighties became actively involved in trying to open up the Irish economy. Mostly I spoke or lobbied in person. I didn’t write about economic issues in those days. All my writing efforts were focused on trying to progress my first novel. In essence, I was learning how to write—mostly by failing. And when I didn’t fail, my computer did.
My transition from business—where I had enjoyed considerable success—to writing was long, painful, and strewn with obstacles. I persevered because I knew it was my calling; but I was well aware that such a rationale made no practical sense.
Why don’t you get a job and write was the much proffered advice. However, it missed the point that writing required all the time I could give it—and more besides. Also, I craved time to think. Indeed, I lusted after it. I became convinced that the answers to most of the problems that faced us were out there—if only we would take the time to look (and looking included thinking). I still hold to that view.
Throughout the Eighties and the Nineties, though I read a great deal about the U.S., I didn’t pick up on the forces that were changing the U.S. economy so drastically. The analytical side of my brain was busy enough with trying to write; and any energy that I had left was devoted to trying to change Ireland—which we did (somewhat to my amazement). Then suddenly Ireland took off to become the Celtic Tiger—before greed took over. But, by that time I had moved to the U.S. with my two children, Evie and Bruff.
We arrived just in time for 9/11. That distracted me for a time—military related work was my focus for several years—but then I started to look seriously at the U.S. economy. It seemed to me that something was wrong; and that it posed a much greater threat to the U.S. than terrorism.
And yet the country seemed largely unaware that the American Business Model—the economic engine that drives this extraordinary country—was hard at work destroying it.
It still is.
I started researching the U.S. economy seriously in 2004 and soon came to the conclusion that there would be a recession in or around 2008. I also became convinced that America's problems were—and remain—structural.
I have now been digging away for ten years—and I’m still amazed that there isn’t a fundamental recognition of what is happening. Certainly, income inequality has finally received some decades overdue recognition—but that is a symptom—not a cause.
It’s very strange. We are in the middle of a crisis—but mostly unaware of the scale and consequences of it.
I’m reminded of the movie INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS where the world was being taken over, but most people didn’t even know there had been an invasion—let alone that the invaders were winning.
To be continued.