What does economic collapse look like?

As much as I am familiar with economics, I remain puzzled by one thing: if Ireland really is heading for absolute collapse – IMF intervention, seven lean years and everything else that the most pessimistic prognosticators claim – what would that mean in practical terms?

It’s not enough to say things will be bad. Things are already bad. Unemployment is at 13.7 per cent and emigration has returned to historic levels (estimated by the government no less, at 5,000 people leaving each month). Jobs are virtually non-existent and everything feels like it’s held together with little more than blind hope and sticky tape.

Despite this, Ireland remains hideously expensive.

To take just one example, rents have fallen since their 2007 peak but they remain high. Certainly they are much higher in Dublin than, say, Belfast. Obviously there’s the capital city premium, but if a quarter of all apartments are lying vacant, why haven’t prices crashed?

And what would happen if they did?

How come landlords, particularly of the small, buy-to-let variety, haven’t decided that €400 is better than zero euros? How can they continue to service their mortgages? What would happen if they failed? Would the rest of us, the great unwashed of non-property owners, start squatting?

Rents aren’t the only issue, but surely I can’t be the only person who is confused as to why Ireland remains so astonishingly expensive a place to live in.