This is What They All Think | David McWilliams’ Renaissance Nation

Late one night during the 2008 financial crisis, David McWilliams came up with the idea for the bank guarantee. The following morning, after the Irish Government had made the public liable for €400 Billion of private bank debt, David McWilliams used his column in the Irish Independent to call David McWilliams’ idea “a wise choice”, and, a “masterstroke”. He did such a good job protecting the interests of the elite, The Irish Times gave him a weekly column where he writes articles with titles like: ‘Sea-salt crisps and our CrossFit Taoiseach; how the demise of Tayto explains the failure of the far-left in Ireland’.

His latest book, Renaissance Nation, was launched by Bono, and reviewed by Leo Varadkar, who wrote that it “provides a strong defence of small businesses and entrepreneurs as the silent heroes of the Irish economic miracle, and reminded me of the reasons why Fine Gael is so determined to stand up for them.” Like all of McWilliams’ work, it is an attempt to protect the neoliberal economic system which has treated him so well.

McWilliams’ main idea is that “Innovation stems from the liberated and creative mind which comes from individual liberation, freeing him or her up to venture artistically, commercially and socially.” The Irish economy, he argues, has allowed people to engage in “economic promiscuity” and “flamboyant commercial self-expression.” The Irish economy is poly and bi and out of the closet. And, since “social liberalism and economic liberalism go hand in hand,” a new, prosperous Ireland has emerged. They play hurling in South Dublin, they vote for repeal in South Tipperary, “Ross O’Carroll-Kelly meets the Hardy Bucks and both have a total laugh.”

Leo Varadkar -

You might argue that the generation under 35 are the most socially liberated while also being the generation most impoverished by neoliberalism. You might say that this economic system is restricting your life every day, that the energy and money needed just to survive is stopping you from getting married or having kids or making art or moving jobs or leaving your parents’ house. You might oppose Leo Varadkar as he continues his Thatcherite project to hollow out the state and transfer even more wealth and power into private hands. You would be wrong. Varadkar is a symbol of hope for us all, especially for David McWilliams, who describes him as:

  • “a gay half-Indian who is the son of an immigrant”
  • “our fit, photogenic, well-spoken intellectual Taoiseach, who also happens to be a doctor”
  • “a gay half-Indian polyglot who went to a protestant school, is a qualified doctor and a fierce intellectual, who works out every morning, practises yoga and takes world leaders jogging rather than drinking.”
  • “a gay, half-Indian physically fit Taoiseach under the age of 40 who is more interested in bench pressing than pint drinking.”

For McWilliams, Varadkar is the leader of something he calls The Radical Centre. “The essence of the Radical Centre”, he writes, “has been the encouragement of business and self-expression.” They are:

“Everyday people who are slow to judge others, who live by their own set of civilised rules, who return lost wallets or mislaid bikes, who pick up their dog’s poo in bags and deposit it in the municipal bin…”

They are Nicola Murray’s Quiet Bat People.

The Radical Centre was never the “extreme Larkin left”, though it did fight in 1916, because, “the vast majority of the rebels in the GPO during Easter week were employed”. That these “revolutionary entrepreneurs” declared a socialist republic makes them no different, according to McWilliams, to the Dalkey Hurlers or Mary Robinson or The Happy Pear Twins or Michael O’Leary or Leo Varadkar or Bono or Lenny Abrahamson or Anne Enright or Conor McGregor.

David McWilliams |

The Radical Centre, apparently, can accommodate such contradictions, while everyone who opposes it is the same. The “dyed in the wool environmentalists” who protest climate change are joined in the act by “32-county nationalists”. “Old fashioned right-wingers in the Iona Institute” who campaigned against repeal are the same as “left wing anti-water protestors”. “Atheist, bearded trade unionists worry about the destruction of the food chain” and so do “bearded rural Catholic fundamentalists”. “Pro-choice left wingers worry that we are losing our sovereignty, but so too do anti-choice Christians”. Nurses and teachers are the same as billionaires, since, “the average public worker is not just slightly overpaid, but is actually a member of the 1%”. Irish politics is a horseshoe with David McWilliams’ face in the middle of it.

He is so blinded by neoliberal ideology that he can’t even interpret the data in his own book. “Since 2013”, he tells us, “wages have gone up 3% and rent has gone up 42%”. “The top 5% own 46.4% of the wealth in Ireland”, while “the bottom 20% own 0.2%”. “Around 87 cents in every euro of all the wealth of the richest people in the country is held in land, property and houses”. Profits are at record levels, but “only a fraction goes back to the workers in the form of income”. He is so smug and certain that the present economic system is the only option, he won’t even lie to you. He’ll include the bare facts of why your life is so difficult, and he’ll spend the rest of the book telling you that everything is great.

He does, at least, suggest a wealth tax (Leo Varadkar: “I found myself sceptical of some of his prescriptions, for example, his idea of a wealth tax”). His main prescription, though, is more neoliberalism. He wants you to put down your phone and concentrate, because young people “are cannibalising themselves and their economic value by spending too much time online”. To maintain our “economic achievement”, we must “remain a restless nation, moving houses, changing jobs, migrating in and out of the country”. By “we”, of course, he means you, not him. He grew up in Dún Laoighaire and now lives in Dalkey. He went to Blackrock College and then Trinity, where he now lectures. He’s fairly well rested. He’s very happy with the status quo, and if you want to change things, you’re probably a Nazi:

“Despots, extremists and faith based religious leaders, drunk on an irrational hatred of the independent, free-thinking, inventive commercial citizen who pays her taxes, finances public libraries, goes to work and, in some cases, fights in the GPO for a better future, brought the curtain down on Bloom’s world, and in an act of ethnic lunacy, on Bloom’s people, the Jews.”

This is what they all think. Everyone at the top of Irish society, in the government, in the media, in the arts establishment, in the business elite. They all love him. They’re all laughing along with him. All you can do is grow old in your rented accommodation and use some of your stagnating wages to buy the Irish Times and read his articles with titles like:

  • ‘Putting the good room on Airbnb: why we should cut public sector pay and unleash the power of the creative class.’
  • ‘Beat the slapper; how youth discos prepared a generation of Irish people for the flexibility and freedom of the gig economy.’
  • ‘Thanks. Pennys; how sensible Irish female spending changed the world economy.’
  • ‘Turning off the immersion; what the wisdom of our parents can teach us about reducing government spending.’
  • ‘The USA-biscuit-tinisation of the Irish workforce; why a change of diet lead to Ireland winning at globalisation’.
  • ‘The Brother Hubbards Bros versus the Herb Street Honeys; who reserves tables for brunch in Dublin and what that tells us about the gender pay gap.’

And when the next crash comes, as it inevitably will, David McWilliams will be there to tell you where it all went wrong, and how much public money we should use to rescue the rigged economic system which keeps crashing and keeps enriching David McWilliams.

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