Richie Ryan talks to his mum most Saturdays. She sounds like a gentle Englishwoman from the south of the country. Their conversation is conducted over the airwaves on Phantom FM, Dublin's indie music radio station, where Ryan is a disc jockey. Ryan phones his mum in England and gets her to forecast the results of soccer games in the Premiership and the League of Ireland.
I hope it is not doing the woman an injustice to say she knows absolutely nothing about the League of Ireland and not a lot more about the Premiership. Yet her predictions are sometimes accurate.
The slot is highly entertaining, and, whether by accident or design, it uncovers the absurdity of most forecasting in football of any code. As with football, so it goes with economics in general, and Nama in particular.
What would Mrs Ryan think of the prospects of Nama doing what it says on the tin? Her forecasts on Nama should be as valued as yours or mine, yet we all appear to be in thrall to the opinions of self-appointed experts.
Pick an economist and he or she more than likely has a definitive view on the prospects for Nama. They can usually give an answer to the following crucial questions: How much will it cost on our payslips for the foreseeable future? Is it a bailout for bankers? Will all the reckless developers be Nama-fied? Who stands to make a killing, and who will get a right haircut? Will Nama mean our children and grandchildren must pay for the greed and recklessness of the last seven or eight years?
In these matters, economists have assumed the role of sages. Yet I find it difficult to believe any of them really have an iota what's coming down the line. We are entering an untamed jungle where the bedraggled Celtic Tiger has been reduced to fodder.
If all of our sages were in agreement as to the prospects of Nama, it would be some way reassuring. But they aren't. Twenty of them wrote to the Irish Times to express dismay at the establishment of Nama. Others offer qualified support to Nama-fication. Then there is an economist like Alan Ahearne, who accurately predicted when and by how much the property bubble would burst. Ahearne was among the group Bertie Ahern advised to commit suicide, but thankfully he stayed around and Bertie's successors decided he was the kind of economic brain they could do with inside the tent.
Ahearne is one of the few prominent economists to give his full backing to Nama, but as a government advisor he couldn't but do so. Should a handicap therefore be applied to his opinion on the matter?
Whatever about Ahearne's view being weighed down by a vested interest, the opinions of economists working for banks and stockbroking firms are completely discredited. Not one economist in the above category has expressed any scepticism about Nama. To do so would not be in the interests of their employers, the very entities that have landed the country in the mess it's in. Yet many of these economists are still popping up in print and on the airwaves giving all manner of commentary on Nama, as if it was untainted, personal opinion, based on their expertise and experience.
Through the years of the bubble, bank economists trotted out every so often to declare all
was hunky dory. The fundamentals were solid. Don't worry, be happy. What they were really presenting was opinions, but because economics is regarded as a science, these opinions were given the status of applied fact.
These opinions were presented in the media as if the bearer was a neutral scientist. A report compiled by, for instance, an employee of Bank of Ireland, was accorded the same status as one written for the ESRI, or another non-government agency. Not one bank economist predicted the bubble would burst. Instead, they cheer-led the madness, within the elastic parameters of economics.
For this, the media must shoulder some of the blame. Every time a bank economist presented a view on the economy, the media outlet should have emphasised the economist in question had a vested interest as he was employed by a bank, stockbroker or whatever.
It is in this context that I now switch off when I hear an economist from a bank or stockbroking firm propound on Nama. Their opinions labour under the burden of their employers' interests. And banks are primarily concerned with returning to making money at the least cost to themselves. The taxpayers' burden is of no concern to them.
Who among the bank economists is going to suggest the alternative to Nama – nationalising the banks – is the best way to go?
Yet they are still accorded prominent billing on air and in newsprint. It should stop now. Economists working for banks or stockbrokers should no longer be afforded the oxygen of publicity to forward their employers' interests under the guise of balanced commentary.
In the meantime, where to source information on whether to Nama or not to Nama? I say bypass the sages and trust in old-world methods. Look at the moon. Ring a priest. If your mother is alive, ask her. Lou Reed once opined in song that you can't always trust your mother, but at least she doesn't have a vested interest. Unless, of course, she works for a bank.