Monday, December 03, 2018

LOUDEN RYAN


When I went into the Department of Finance in 1968, Louden had already been involved in the formulation of the Second Programme for Economic Expansion. I remember my boss, Jim McMahon, telling me about how Louden had asked the components of the industrial sector for their projections of expected market share under the programme. This turned out to be a very educational exercise as when added up, the total came to way over 100%. A well worthwhile exercise though, as it gave rise to more sober consideration of what needed to be done.

My first section included responsibility within the Secretariat for the National Economic and Social Council (NIEC) a consultative body, in ways a precursor of the eventual national partnership arrangement. TK Whitaker was the Chair of the Council, but Louden was Chair of the equally important General Purposes Committee, where most, if not all, of the heavy lifting was done.

Louden was magic. He would go away at Easter and come back with a full first draft of the Council's annual economic review in manuscript (and I mean handwriting) without a word crossed out. And 90%, or more, of that draft ended up in the Council's final report.

Louden was also a master at chairing a meeting. He had buckets of patience, which is not the same as suffering fools gladly. But he knew that the various representative elements on the Council needed to take, or be cornered into taking, ownership of the final result. He would patiently watch the various parties back each other into apparently irreconcilable corners as frustration mounted. He would then respectfully propose a form of wording he had drafted earlier which was then gratefully grasped by the participants as the only way out of their dilemma. A real pleasure to watch.

But not everyone appreciated his methods or his success. Charlie Murray, the Assistant Secretary in charge of economic planning, and whose area in the Department was responsible for the Council and its Secretariat, was not a fan, whether from envy or whatever. One day he decided to have a serious go at Louden. He had the Secretariat do timelines for all of the reports that went through the General Purposes Committee to the Council and wrote these up in a way that was designed to show that Louden was inefficient and not pulling his weight. The offending document was circulated to the Council in advance of their next meeting.

Louden was incensed and promptly resigned. Whitaker had a seizure and passed it on to Maurice Doyle who was the Secretary. The document had been circulated without the Chairman's authority and was to be retrieved immediately or heads would roll.

The document was taken off the Council's agenda, copies were retrieved, and Louden was eventually pacified. This was followed by an abject apology to the Council by the Secretariat, no doubt part of the pacification package. Charlie Murray was conveniently out of the country for the apology which fell to Maurice Doyle to make.

Louden eventually went on to become chair of the NIEC's successor, the National Economic and Social Council (NESC).

I have always thought it a bit ironic that Louden became Chair of the Prices Commission. He had very strong views against administrative interference in the market. As he often pointed out, when you interfere at any level of detail you become responsible for the consequences and subject to strenuous lobbying. As we would phrase it today: you break it, you own it.

And here he was enmeshed in detailed price control, no doubt out of a strong sense of public service. There again he was a delight and an education to watch. I was at the Department of Finance end of the operation and we mirrored his ingenious prices marginal input/output model.

Himself and Whitaker made a great team. Fancy, two Northerners running the country back in them thar heady days. Whitaker seemed gratified when I reminded him of this in Dún Laoghaire County Hall in 2014.

Both these men have left us within the last two years. I imagine them up in some heavenly conference room scheming the final abolition of indulgences, the redeployment of those angels involved in the rarefied calculation of partial indulgences, and the reception of the final batch of pre-crucifixion Limbo refugees into holy direct provision.

RIP

1 comment:

Póló said...

Those of my readers who may be too young, or lifelong heretics, to be familiar with the subtleties of indulgences may wish to check out the theology.

The same goes for Limbo in the following section of the same link.