‘Try telling that to young people today . . .’

Published in Editorial, Issue 2 (Mar/Apr 2009), Volume 17

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‘Try telling that to young people today . . .’

In these recessionary times, with the future uncertain, it’s nice to be involved in a publication whose focus is on the past and give readers a break from current travails. But, as I scan the contents of this issue, it’s clear that there’s no getting away from it, and that recessions, like the poor, have always been with us (and, moreover, have always been paid for by the poor). This is proving to be a shock to those in Ireland under the age of 40 who have never before experienced recession in their adult lives.
And yet, as Patrick Walsh outlines in relation to the collapse of the South Sea Company in 1720 (pp 6–7), there’s nothing new about ‘runs on banks, speculative bubbles, liquidity problems, suspicions of financiers, fears for recession, tightening credit restrictions, government intervention to rescue banks and fortunes made and lost’. The parallels are uncanny: liabilities were dressed up as assets (in this case Britain’s national debt); gullible and greedy investors were sucked in; and the inevitable crash drove the ‘real’ economy into recession for nigh on a decade. Nor, as C. J. Woods relates in our regular DIB piece (p. 66), is there anything new about crooked financiers. So unscrupulous was stockbroker Frank E. Du Bédat that he was prepared to defraud family and friends (sound familiar?). But there is one important difference: at least Du Bédat was convicted and jailed for his crimes.
On a subliminal level the parallels don’t end there. Chris Corlett’s piece on the 1913 Church Street disaster (pp 30–1) might serve as a metaphor for the collapse of our construction industry. Cynics might observe that John Akeroyd’s reassessment of the reputation of Vlad the Impaler (pp 21–4) is timely when our bankers and financiers are in the news, since he was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the world’s most famous bloodsucker. Indeed, Vlad’s mode of execution might stimulate some uncomfortable resonances for readers about to experience the pain of the government’s pension levy. And if that’s not bad enough, the global nature of the current crisis finds uncanny parallels in Guy Beiner, Patricia Marsh and Ida Milne’s article (pp 40–3) on another world-wide crisis, the great ’flu pandemic of 1918–19.
So apologies all round, but enjoy (if you can).

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