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No One Shouted Stop

The late John Healy published ‘Death of an Irish Town’ in 1968, republished as ‘No One Shouted Stop’ 20 years later in 1988. On the 50th anniversary of its publication, it’s interesting to look back at the original.

Slow Decline

Healy chronicled the slow economic and social decline of his native Charlestown, Co. Mayo, through the fifties and sixties. Initially poorly received, it’s now an out-of-print, in-demand classic. Why poorly received? Well, people, especially locals, resented the message. Healy related the waning of Charlestown in a series of stories, such as the fact that its busiest place was the train station; full of locals waving goodbye from train windows as they emigrated. Many never returned.

The resentment was founded on denial of the truth. It faded over the years, as the reality dawned on people during the early seventies that Healy was right all along. The fact that ‘No One Shouted Stop’ has become a modern aphorism for failure to recognise the bleeding obvious is a testament to Healy’s native wisdom.

There was similar resentment towards those who predicted the Irish crash in the Great Recession. While no one foresaw its timing or severity; from the early 2000’s onwards, many economic commentators said our housing market wasn’t sustainable, and a bubble was about to burst. Few predicted that it would also cause a fiscal crash, a banking system collapse, and 15% unemployment.

To be fair, Morgan Kelly wrote in December 2006 ‘…when the fall occurs, it will be from about 18 per cent of national income. We could see a collapse of Government revenue and unemployment back above 15 per cent…’ The Taoiseach of the day suggested the doomsayers should commit suicide. And Morgan hadn’t even predicted the collapse of our banks! Sadly, when the tsunami of economic collapse hit, a large number of Irish people did, in fact, take their own lives.

You Don’t Need a Crystal Ball…

You don’t need to be a celebrity economist, or a fortune teller, to know the economy can’t keep going at current rates. House prices are ballooning, as are rents. Our health, education, and justice systems are creaking, inefficient, and increasingly ineffective. Yet every public servant wants ‘restoration’ of pay hikes they should never have received under bench-marking. Government debt levels, as a proportion of national income, are up there with Japan, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Not illustrious company. And our housing stock and infrastructure lag far behind what an increasing population urgently requires. What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a few things actually: A Trumpian trade war; an actual war in the Persian Gulf; a disorderly Brexit; a collapse in our corporation tax revenues courtesy of Brussels; a shrink in Chinese growth; a shrink in EU growth; an ECB rate rise; a flight of FDI due to US corporate tax changes; a US recession…

Wouldn’t it be nice…

But wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to rely on the ‘dismal scientists’ of economics to tell us things could go wrong? Every Irish mammy knows you need to balance the household books. You spend within your means, and you only borrow ‘long’ to finance assets that will exceed the value of the loan. Mammies realise that the people who suffer most when the fall comes are those who have the least. Wouldn’t it be nice if parties of the ‘left’ and trade unionists recognised this? Wouldn’t it be nice if some among them had the courage to shout ‘Stop!’ before the next recession hits?