I’m anchored for the day in calm waters off the southern Irish coast near Waterford, so the smoke-signal Internet system is working a little bit. The debt ceiling controversy is on people’s minds even over here, too. At the William Butler Yeats exhibit in Dublin yesterday the desk agent commented to me (upon picking up my unmistakable Scottish accent?) that the U.S. seems to be trying to imitate Ireland’s sovereign debt woes.
If there is anywhere that growth is more sluggish than the U.S., it is the U.K. and Ireland, now that the stimulus of the royal wedding has abated. Prime Minister David Cameron was on the tele the other day lamenting the slowing UK economy, clearly worried about his political prospects. Glenn Reynolds likes occasionally to post photos of stores with going-out-of-business banners, but if he came over here he could see the signs of commercial real estate and retail distress in every direction. Block after block of prime locations in Edinburgh, Belfast, Liverpool, and Dublin are chock-a-block with “To Let” and “For Sale” signs on empty buildings, followed closely by banners for deep discounts or shops in the process of folding up. (In Dublin a lot of the distressed real estate is right on the water.) It has been a while since I’ve been over here, but I don’t ever recall this much commercial and retail space looking so distressed. I don’t know what it all adds up to, but it can’t be good. Never mind the financial market wobbles that may or may not come with the debt ceiling drama early next week. The visible signs of distress over here suggest that the economic collapse of 2008 is not over by a long shot.
By the way, I did wander around Liverpool asking the locals about “The Rutles,” the “pre-fab four,” as Eric Idle styled them. But I guess that joke is too old. I thought I was going to be arrested for impiety.