Michael O’Leary’s merry-go-round is in full tilt once again

Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s flamboyant chief executive and chief mischief maker is back in the news again, once again trying to buy Aer Lingus. This happens every few years; Michael gets bored with crunching numbers in his Dublin Airport or London offices and decides to have some fun with the Department of Transport and the Competition Authority; trying to find new ways to turn the former into his downtown headquarters and the latter into nervous wrecks. This time he’s offered €1.30 per share, less than half what he offered in 2006. That’s fair enough, I suppose, Ryanair’s own shares are down by a similar percentage over the same timeframe. I can just picture (Minister for Transport) Leo Varadkar rolling his eyes and thinking “here we go again.” Everyone knows it will never happen, even if the government agreed to sell their stake in Aer Lingus, it’s unlikely our own competition board, let alone the EU, would sanction it.

Now don’t get me wrong – I think Michael O’Leary is great craic. I love hearing him on the news, laying into some hapless individual from the Dublin Airport Authority or the D.O.T.; I love the way he comes up with zany ideas just to get publicity, any type of publicity it seems. Remember “Spend a penny, pay a pound”? And everyone believed he would actually do it, but it was all just a publicity stunt. And all jokes aside, Ryanair is a strong company with a superb business model. They really have made travel in Europe cheaper for everyone, if perhaps a bit more irritating.

What continues to amaze me as an economist, however, is that every time Michael O’Leary is back in the news, some radio DJ will inevitably read numerous texts sent in to their show along the lines of “Michael O’Leary should be running the country, he’ll sort everything out.” This is a common phenomenon worldwide it seems – Mitt Romney’s experience as a venture capitalist alone qualifies him to run the US government, apparently. But countries are not corporations, not even remotely like them, and it’s a sign of how deep into Neoliberal thinking we all are that we think this way. When last did you hear some politician announcing that the country is “open for business” or calling us “Ireland Inc.” Probably not too long ago.

Michael O’Leary might, for all we know, make a very good Taoiseach (if he was even interested in the job, which he isn’t). But he might also be crap – we just don’t know until we hear what his policies would be. We know he hates unions and the €10 departure tax at Dublin Airport – that’s about it. There’s no earthly reason why a successful business person should be any better or worse at running the country than a successful person in any other field. Does anyone really think Michael Schumacher would automatically be a good transport minister because he’s a brilliant racing driver? Or should Padraig Harrington be minster of sport? Bono could take Arts and Culture; actually Bono could take anything, if Bob Geldof doesn’t get it first. But you see my point. An entrepreneur is just another profession, so you may as well elect a good entertainer, engineer, IT specialist, policeman, priest or cleaner.

I’ll have to end this with a Ryanair joke – this is apparently true…..I know a guy who knows a guy etc. Anyway, Ryanair flight about to depart for Gatwick is going through the usual safety brief that you humans who fly regularly are so familiar with – the recorded announcement with the stewards doing the actions – it gets to the bit with the oxygen masks. “Pull the mask down, placing it over your mouth and nose………” Someone shouts from the back: “and insert €2 for oxygen!”

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