Laughing stock: how many light bulbs does it take to change an economist?

GOOD morning. Today I'd like to share with you my ideas on what caused the recession and how we can solve it. Ha ha. Just joking. No, no, come back! It's now impossible to leave the house without someone telling you what they think caused the crisis and what we can do about it.

Everyone is at it: the people who refer to our nation as an "economy" and the ones who refer to it as a "jurisdiction"; plucky little radio DJs; Joseph Stiglitz; the ESRI; people on the internet bringing Hitler into it somehow; David Quinn, heaven help us all; cheesemongers; sharks from the EU, whom you don't even see coming until you spot their Finns in the water. Taxi drivers take the long route so as to finish their point. The dentist, having numbed your face into submission, opens a lever arch file of suggestions. Ten-year-old children practically chase after you with their manifestos. The very dogs in the street are on about it. (The code is growl for austerity, wag for stimulus ? watch out for it.)

Worst of all, of course, are the economists, who are now so numerous that it seems likely they've established a spawning ground somewhere off the M8. Bacteria could not multiply as fast, nor represent so exasperating a mix of the treacherous and the beneficial.

Economists, remember, have forecast six of the past two recessions. In their latest incursion into territory that was once blissfully neutral, a group of 10 top economists (but then when have you ever seen an economist described as anything other than a "top" economist?) proposed last week that mortgage debt forgiveness was the only way to go forward, going forward. This idea hasn't gone down all that well, funnily enough.

It would be one thing if they proposed mortgage debt forgiveness for those who have fallen on hard times and can't meet their monthly payments. People could see their way around that. But they also think it's necessary for homeowners in negative equity. The words 'lead balloon' spring to mind, for want of a better cliché.

People who behaved prudently with regard to debt don't fancy bailing out anybody else, thank you very much. And they certainly don't fancy bailing out those who borrowed 60 times their annual salary to keep themselves in a style to which they hoped to become accustomed, and then borrowed even more when their house increased in value, forgetting, perhaps, that the value of your house means almost nothing if you're not selling it, and even less when you are selling it because you'll have to buy another one just as overpriced.

You don't have to be an economist to know the difference between thinking you're poor and actually being poor. Let's not forget, too, that many of the people now in negative equity bought houses at a time when you had to have been either very wealthy or a right eejit (or both) to buy property in Ireland, and sympathy for wealthy eejits is in short supply at present. No, this idea is likely to sink without trace. So is the ESRI's suggestion last week of an €80-a-month property tax, an idea so daft it can have only one imaginable function, which is to soften us up. Threaten people with a €960 annual property tax and they won't mind paying a bit less. They'll feel not quite as screwed as they might have been. They'll be less likely to crash their vans into Leinster House. Everybody wins.

Now might be a good time for everybody just to shut up for five minutes, economists in particular. Economists should all go into a room together and tell each other economist jokes. It'll be good for them. For instance, how many economists does it take to change a light bulb? None: The darkness will cause the light bulb to change by itself. (Economists won't mind if the jokes are old ones.) In the ensuing silence, the rest of us can then muse on how many light bulbs it takes to change an economist.

We can also muse on the fact that, no matter how many economists, taxi drivers and newspaper columnists weigh in on this, there isn't a single solitary thing we can do about any of it. We'll do what the government tells us, and the government will do what Brussels tells it.

Property tax will be introduced, and the government will assure us that it will be spent on useful local services. Instead it will disappear into the fetid bowels of Dáil Eireann, never to be seen again.

People who can't pay their mortgages will continue to be just that, people who can't pay their mortgages.

Eventually we'll have an election, and persuade ourselves, yet again, that that will be the beginning of a new chapter. Even though no one can quite put their finger on what exactly are the ideological differences between the main parties, we'll persist with the delusion anyway. Put away that lever arch file: you're wasting your time.

Who cares about meath. let's flog kerry instead...

THE case of the 67-acre farm in Meath that raised only one bid of €1 in a receiver's sale last week throws up some interesting questions.

First, since when did we start rallying around people who lost a lot of money in property development?

Second, will anyone who ever said the works of John B Keane were not apposite to the modern age please come to the front of the class?

The receiver wanted €470,000 for the land, which is a bit improbable. But think about it: even at €1 an acre, Meath is worth a lot of money. The area of the county is some 904 square miles, which by my (unreliable) reckoning is 578,560 acres. Why are we hanging onto it?

In truth, probably not many people would want Meath. We should consider flogging Kerry instead. Kerry is twice as big and the Americans love it. We could throw in one or two Healy-Raes with it. There will be plenty more where they came from; you're never stuck for a Healy-Rae (see Michael right).