If this boom talk proves any­thing it’s that we’ve learned noth­ing

The Irish Times Magazine - - INDEX -

Here’s my story. Last Novem­ber we thought we might go away in the new year. Just a night or two. Per­haps one of those old coun­try piles you find in the Blue Book with a posh restau­rant nearby. We emailed a place ev­ery­one said was great. We said our dates were flex­i­ble, but it would be nice to get a Fri­day or Satur­day night. Maybe next March. They said they had no avail­abil­ity un­til April. Of 2020.

You may have your own story. An ¤ 8 pint or a fiver for a cup of tea. As far back as 2017, ar­ti­cles started pop­ping up in the me­dia us­ing the B word, usu­ally in the form of handy lists: five ways to spot the boom is back! Seven­teen clues to the re­turn of the boom! Twenty- one signs the boom has re­turned!

These lists con­tain much you might re­mem­ber. The sky­line in­fested with cranes. Pay­ing ridicu­lous prices for or­di­nary things. Spend­ing money on non­sense. And the rea­son why we ap­par­ently need clues to spot the boom is be­cause there is no clear def­i­ni­tion of what one is.

My eco­nomic con­sul­tant Pro­fes­sor Google says it is a “pe­riod of sig­nif­i­cant out­put” with­out spec­i­fy­ing what “sig­nif­i­cant” means. In this pa­per a cou­ple of weeks ago, David McWil­liams cat­e­gorised Ire­land’s 2018 eco­nomic per­for­mance as “pretty good”; hardly the lan­guage of party time.

Yet in­comes last year ex­ceeded in­comes in pre- crash 2008, and things do feel boomier. What’s cu­ri­ous about these ar­ti­cles deal­ing with the al­legedly re­turn­ing boom is the breath­less isn’t- it- all- a- laugh tone: as if tak­ing day trips to New York or queu­ing overnight to buy Adi­das run­ners is some­thing to be cel­e­brated; not a re­minder of how crass we be­came dur­ing the first decade of this cen­tury, and how it was a pre­lude to a dis­as­ter.

The good news is that this boom, if it is a boom, is dif­fer­ent from the old one. The bad news is that you’re pay­ing for it. This time around, the Gov­ern­ment is depend­ing far more on in­come tax, which, although a far more stable source of rev­enue, means that the mid­dle is in­deed get­ting squeezed. It also means that if you have a boom- re­lated anec­dote, it’s prob­a­bly to do with some ex­trav­a­gance you ob­served, rather than one you in­dulged in. Just like the last time, the boom ul­ti­mately ben­e­fited peo­ple who were well- off any­way.

And I imag­ine most of the peo­ple who ben­e­fited – who ben­e­fit again now – are on the east coast. The sky­line filled with cranes is a Dublin sight. Most of the over- priced and over­booked res­tau­rants are in the cap­i­tal.

That’s not to say that other ur­ban ar­eas won’t do well from this up­turn, but there are many parts of Ire­land where they have felt no dif­fer­ence at all, where even the Christ­mas splurge wasn’t enough to ar­rest the eco­nomic de­cline of the main streets. There are small


If you have a boom­re­lated anec­dote, it’s prob­a­bly to do with some ex­trav­a­gance you ob­served, rather than one you in­dulged in. Just like the last time, the boom ul­ti­mately ben­e­fited peo­ple who were well- off any­way

and medium- sized towns that feel like they have no cen­tre any­more, bar a few pubs, per­haps a bookie’s and a chemist shop. Peo­ple don’t bump into each other on the street so much any­more be­cause they’ve no rea­son to be there.

But of course, the most strik­ing sign of the eco­nomic re­cov­ery – if that’s the cor­rect term – is the in­creas­ing num­bers of peo­ple who can’t find a place to live sim­ply be­cause it’s be­come too ex­pen­sive to buy or rent. Thanks to Brexit, it may not get as bad as be­fore. It may even go hor­ri­bly wrong. But that hasn’t pre­vented the ap­par­ent drift over the last cou­ple of years back to a money- based nar­cis­sism. If there’s one thing we learn from his­tory, it’s that we learn noth­ing from his­tory.

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