January 16, 2007

In the news: Irish Echo article

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Irish Echo journalist Ray O’Hanlon has an article in the current edition on the subject of “Irelandian economics: A new breed of Irish economists ponder the future”.

There is an interview with David and Michael O’Sullivan, author of “Ireland and the Global Question.”

A stern scolding

The question revolving around David McWilliams is if can he maintain a sustainable pace.

While Michael O’Sullivan’s study veers towards the academic, McWilliams, more than any of his peers, has made economics a popular reading subject in the Celtic Tiger and post-Tiger years.

His own Web site points out that he was the first economist to predict the birth of the Tiger. So far, and lucky for its cubs, he has not predicted a de-clawed moggy.

But McWilliams, too, is wary of complacency and the status quo.

His book, “The Pope’s Children,” was the best selling non-fiction book in Ireland last year. It is set for publication in the U.S. later in 2007 and right now he is working on the sequel.

McWilliams is a busy man. He is a broadcaster and columnist, his words appearing in both the Irish Independent and Sunday Business Post.

He likes to chide. “The Pope’s Children,” to exaggerate just a little, is one of those books about everybody that is read by everybody but with every reader believing its criticism applies to everybody else.

On purely economics, McWilliams, who is 40, thinks that Ireland should think in terms of being a medieval city-state like Venice.

This, he told the Echo during a recent U.S. visit, would mean being less involved with the European Union and more aligned with the U.S. and Asia.

Ireland’s European roots, McWilliams believes, are only skin-deep.

“Ireland is culturally closer to the Anglo/American world,” he said.

At the same time, Ireland needs to be much more au fait with China. “There are 130,000 Chinese now working in the Irish economy. The problem with the EU is that Ireland becomes increasingly flat-footed tying itself into an alliance with countries whose populations are falling,” he said.

McWilliams also grates at what he says is the Irish tendency “to ignore the enormous powerhouse that is Irish America.”

Employing economic as his jumping off point, McWilliams has emerged as a wider ranging social commentator. In a recent Independent column he derided the Irish, in other words, all those who might buy his next book, as a nation of adults now behaving like spoilt little children.

At some stage between 1997 and 2007, McWilliams opined, Ireland’s emotional growth rate had become stunted.

“We became obsessed with what others have. Instead of growing up, we reverted back to infancy. Ireland’s adult population is behaving like babies … rather than making us happy, copious cash is making many people insecure.

“We have simply forgotten to grow-up and are caught somewhere between permanent infantilism and adolescence — one second overwhelmingly egocentric, the next desperately wanting to belong.

“This is this psychological challenge for Ireland over the coming decade — and economics is not up to the job. This is a political challenge and what better year to ask the questions then this election year, 2007.”

And what better year to publish a new book about all these challenges?

Full article is available here.


  1. If the thesis is concerned with detaching Ireland from Europe because of purely demographic factors, then it is flawed. Christopher Caldwell in yesterday’s FT revealed the French population is again growing and that the German trends are likely to turn with the new incentives.

    If it’s about ideology, then there is still a lot of convincing to do. Ireland is far more European than my native England and there are strong collectivist and social democratic traditions.

    Closer to Boston than Berlin can be wishful thinking!

    Ian

  2. Ciarán Mc

    I saw the phrase suggesting we should become “less involved with the European Union and more aligned with the U.S. and Asia”
    It is always good to spread your eggs in many baskets. In a way, are we not doing that already: we are Eu members, so we benefit from market access and from the superior punching power of the Eu in international trade rounds. Meanwhile we successfully attract 100,000 jobs from American FDI projects. From Asia we have thousands of immigrants who work their pants off in low paid jobs to sustain our boom. Plus, the Irish government has conducted several major trade visits to Asia. IDA and Enterprise Ireland are never done issuing guidelines to companies on “how to do business in China” or “SW in India” etc. In my opinion we are doing just what David is suggesting. Perhaps not perfectly, and surely more can be done.
    But exactly what is meant by “less involved in Europe”. Does that mean we should leave the Euro zone? Surely though, being “less involved” is wrong. Not being involved just means we loose a say over decisions that will affect us anyway. At least full engagement means we can make allies such as the UK and Sweden on issues like fiscal harmonisation. So less involvement would be bad. Unless of course, you leave the club. But that would be a drastic step and certainly one that couldn’t be taken lightly. ‘What did europe ever do for us?’. Well quite a lot, actually. And much of the advantage we get from being in Europe is more secure than say American FDI. Already Amercian companies are thinking about channelling their efforts elsewhere as the environment changes (enlarged Europe, emergent Asia, etc.). The Irish head of intel says as much in todays business section of the Irish Times(Jan 23). So the American money could dry up horribly fast. Probably the best approach is to devote more and more effort to building global or regional indigenous businesses. But that takes time.
    Like David says, we need to work on several fronts. I don’t think we have reached the stage where we should ‘downsize’ or engagement in Europe. But one nail that David hits bang on: that we haven’t taken full advantage of the powerful Irish American lobby. We should still work hard on that front: they are a powerful lobby, but arguably their decline begins now as the hispanic element outweighs the Irish one in terms of immigrant background. Nevertheless, there’s still a huge base to work with.

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