“Now if you’re not seeing this then you’re not with the programme..”

In the Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole gets to the heart of the issue with NAMA – regardless of whether it can withstand the collapse of developer’s €2bn group.

Napoleon famously called the English a nation of shopkeepers. We are now to be a nation of property speculators. This is not a rhetorical exaggeration. The principal activity of this State, for this generation and probably the next, is to be the management of the biggest property company on the planet. Everything else – health, education, security, job creation – will be a side issue. We now live in Developerland – of which Ireland is a wholly-owned offshore subsidiary.

The State is taking on not just the debts of the property developers, but their habits of mind. We’re going for a grand, heady gesture: the €90 billion that’s at stake here is the same as the entire amount the Spanish government, in a vastly bigger economy, is spending on its entire bank bailout. And we’re channelling the developers’ adrenaline-fuelled love of risky behaviour.

Remember all that stuff about the wisdom of the market, which decided what things (and people) were worth and it was wrong, wrong, wrong to interfere? Scratch that. The market may think that virtually every property in what is to be the people’s portfolio is worth a fraction of what madmen paid for it at the height of the boom.

But we’re not going to buy the stuff at market rates, we’re going to buy it at some notional future value, determined by a raft of assumptions. These include the notion that the depression is a short period of readjustment and things will get better. We’re gambling on the future or, in other words, speculating.