Ireland in 2050

This new book by Stephen Kinsella of UL should be a good read.

19 replies on “Ireland in 2050”

I doubt it. I can’t think of a worse way to waste several hours of my life. It’s bad enough reading most economists’ daydreams of what Ireland will be like in 2015 nevermind 2050.

Economic forecasting beyond 2/3 years is pure and simple non sense.


Hi Steve,

The book isn’t really a set of economic forecasts, though calling it a daydream might be accurate!

The book is written to start a conversation about Ireland today, I’m happy to discuss anything in the book at

Stephen you may have updated the 2040 peak oil deadline from 2008, as last year’s oil price peak has followed this year according to the New York Times with new discoveries amounting to approximately 10 billion barrels in the first half of the year alone.

The absence of war or the threat of war and fear of unemployment in a society are crucial issues and we can observe from the armchair quibbling from the No Lisbon Treaty folk, how easy it is for the comfortable to take such issues for granted.

In Ireland, in the Republic in the past 41 years, the ending of the fear of unemployment was a crucial factor. However, the commodity boom last year showed that a return to high world growth does not guarantee permanent prosperity.

In the US, the current middle class are said to be the first that cannot say life is better than their parents’ time.

About 55 per cent of China’s population is still living in rural areas, and 72 per cent of India’s.

Plenty cheap labour stillon the horizon but competition from Asia won’t just be solved by depending on services.

Other aspects of life will be little changed.

The 3-day week is not on the horizon!

@ Stephen,

Have you notice the events scheduled at City Hall, in relation to smart economy and so forth. The panel discussion on the fortheenth looks interesting.

I tried to draw attention to this material:

with some urban planners that I know working in Ireland. They look like quite interesting reports. Have you come across Foresight before Stephen? What interested me about Foresight a couple of years ago, was the long range time frame they took to their studies. Of course, all government dept’s in Ireland since then claim to have a ‘long term’ vision. Lets hope so.

@ Kevin,

thanks for the link to your paper. One think I did question about the Celtic Tiger, maybe I am alone in this observation. Ordinary, everyday people I met from day to day, had a cynical attitude towards the Celtic Tiger I thought. In other words, they treated it all like some ‘scam’ that was producing money for them for a limited duration of time. But they didn’t treat the economic prosperity as a viable thing at all. Did anyone else pick up on that? I don’t mean bankers of financial people – I mean, just the ordinary joe soap in the street in Dublin or most other major cities. Didn’t really believe in it. Have we some sort of stumbling block in Ireland in that regard? When we get success of any kind, we are doomed by our own cynicism to discount it as only a kind of ‘scam’ or pyramid scheme. That is the only factor that can account for the collective behaviour of so many lending institutions, and the individuals who worked in those institutions, from the top to the bottom.


Thanks for this paper–pity I hadn’t come across it a few months ago!


That’s a great resource. One thing I’m keen to discuss here and at the 2050 site is the future of suburbia: we have a huge overhang of houses, and no coherent plan as to what to do with them. Thinking a little bit longer term might help us solve the problem.

@ Kevin
Thanks for the link to the paper. As you can imagine I could say many things about it. One comment I would make on it is that in your looking back section you hypothesize that a number of major geopolitical / political shifts might have been detectable to informed observers. Unfortunately I think, the record suggests that such clarity requires a level of openness to new mental models and heretical perspectives, and a willingness to think systematically about the world that few possess.
The experience of the scenario planners at Royal Dutch Shell, who correctly called both the oil price rise of the 1970s and the collapse of the Soviet Union shows how powerful such insights can be. See the chapter Mystics in Art Kleiner’s “Age of Heretics” for a gripping narrative on the oil price 1970s case and the difficulties those planners faced in getting people within Shell to “reperceive” their models of the future. As someone who is involved in such work today, I can testify both to how hard it is to get to some clarity on the different ways that things might pan out and then to get people to act one new insights.

Congratulations on the book, which I look forward to reading. As I have mentioned various times on this forum, it is vital as a small open economy, that policymakers in this country begin to take more seriously the task of understanding the broader external forces that will shape a large part of our economic and political destiny and the implications they will have for us. Only then can we begin to have the type of meaningful national conversation of the type of country we want that recent appear to suggest that we need. To the extent that your book can contribute to furthering this understanding it is very welcome

@ Stephen,

I guess you know the man who runs this practice, he teachs in Limerick?

bmcea dot com

I like what Bucholz is doing and thinking about in his Limerick faculty. I know a young lady who is doing her Phd in carbon cycles at Limerick also. I joked to her, there was this fellow Bucholz I used to have as a tutor, who pioneered a lot of carbon emission saving design approaches years back. It turned out she was almost sharing office space with him and they had never really discussed there respective roles at the university. Typical isn’t it? All these folk in Limerick and surrounds doing great work. But it is hard to get joined up thinking, even in a place such as a university, which does an awful lot of thinking and an awful lot of joining up of facilities, sharing etc.

DEGW dot com, see what Frank Duffy’s practice is up to. There is an ‘Idea of the Month’ webcast linked on the front page, which is worth a listen to. Very, very interesting people at DEGW. If you can get over the fact they are a big, successful international ‘superstar’ type of outfit, their core ideas are good.

Bottom line I would say, in relation to the suburbia problem. If I was Stalin and could do what I liked right now, I would round up all the architects and urban planners who are out there and send them all back to university to study urban land economics properly. I don’t know if yourself and Mr. Bucholz have banged heads together yet in Limerick. But I do know back when he was my design tutor at Bolton Street DIT, I used to fall asleep in urban land economics. More is the pity now.

You are right about suburbia. However, I think there are other challenges in other geographies too.

I did some work for the Next Generation Broadband study ( and what it seemed to me is that there are really four separate human geographies in Ireland that need to be considered – city, suburbs, exurbs (something that doesn’t exist in most european countries and really includes a lot of the celtic tiger junk development) and rural.

Each of these has its own unique issues that need to be addressed separately. Each of the four faces big questions and problems.

Okay, I’ll bite. But this is going to be longer than I would like.

It has been a debate brewing for quite some time between the more extravagant and ‘new age’ designer professionals I work with. And those who are perceived to be ‘old hat’, not up with the moment or simply boring. I have realized while listening sometimes to David Korowicz’s ideas, that boring may not be that bad after all.

I know I have listened intently to some architect friends of mine who are ‘old school’ and they have tried to articulate an argument to me several times – to do with resources, and planning of how we build and accomodate, or try to accomodate the needs of a modern society in Ireland. The older school architects often claim the younger generation have little respect for the value of resources and the work, effort that goes into assembly of large objects such as buildings.

Until very recently, I had no attitude about this myself. I simply believed the old school architect was ‘jealous’ in some way or other of the younger competition. At the moment, I am beginning to believe, there is a deeper message to what the older architects are trying to tell me.

Many designs for future environments spend much more of the client’s budget than may be absolutely necessary. It purposefully creates something which tries to ‘dance a dance’ around basic structural logic. Trying to make itself notice-able by the mere fact alone, no one has ever dared to build something such as this.

In a post-credit-crunch world, it simply strikes me as out-of-date somehow. Hugging onto some kind of claim to ‘green-ness’ or eco-friendliness, and hoping that no one will raise the obvious question: Do we really want to donate the ever more scarse resources of the planet towards realizing somebody’s fantasy?

I mean, on the one hand our western affluent society seems to have such a surplus of ‘apparent’ resource abundance, that we can design and conceive anything we want. While on the other hand, parts of the world struggle to power a light bulb. It is worth downloading and listening to the 7.2 MB webcast from the Homer site here, to see what I mean.

Go to homer energy dot com, slash user presentations.

For my money, I would rather see some of the surplus flow in the direction of other parts of the globe that could do with it. Than watch with some degree of horror as our sky lines are punctured with sky villages.

Search for sky village + MVRDV architects.

I like the sky village myself because I am a designer and am attracted to forms. I am even a ‘fan’ of MVRDV, the co-designer of the ‘Sky Village’ project I linked above. However, that is still no excuse for me. We must have a responsibility to see the wider picture.

But what I am saying is, there seems to be a lack of some ‘serious’ discussion on systems of resource allocation within building design professions. The physicists seem to be ahead in their thinking in that department.

A theme for a future mini-conference? Dublin’s physics departments cooperating with building professionals to find some common ground and learn something new in the process? I would enjoy watching a physicist put ‘modern design’ under a critical eye and analyse it, based on their knowledge of finite resources at the world’s disposal today. Also, based on the economist’s knowledge of finite financial resources at our disposal also.

Architecture and design really does need a second opinion on itself. From someone who doesn’t have a designer’s ego at stake.


There must be a national debate on what we should do with the suburbs we’ve created around Ireland, which are rapidly depreciating–maybe physicists and architects can work it all out, who knows?


That report is great, my colleague Donal Palcic in UL might get a lot out of it too, I’ll send it along to him.

I’m really concerned in the book to thread the suburb overhang, lack of services, flooding due to climate change, and a misfiring education system together. It’s one big rant, basically 🙂

@ Stephen,

I am going to try and string together a lot of un-related parts here, and allow you to have a look at them in your own sweet time.

You mention a combination of things there Stephen which you perceive to be a bit shaky and unreliable going forward to say the least. These are all systems and they need to connect and talk to one another in intelligent ways.

To broaden up the view of this problem with ‘systems’ going forward in the world, I encourage you to listen to David Korowicz’s lecture from the Feasta conference this year. David is a physicist, and his point of view is interesting. He tends to see everything as joined up forms of energy and matter. Kind of like Einstein would look at the world or something.

Search for: vimeo david korowicz

On another kind of topic, search for MIT World, Oklahoma + Edward T. Linenthal

Linethal gives a quite revealing look into how communities cope in situations in his talk. He is basing his views on an extreme situation such as a terrorist attack on a city. But really, much of what he says could be interpreted in the Irish context today, in terms of the attack on our livelihoods and our economic system. We are working our way through various ‘naratives’ to deal with our circumstances. You will notice on Prime Time this evening, a number of clips of leaders, press reporters and regulators who refused to accept or deal with the situation as late as 2007/08. Why is that? Linethal offers some insights there into human behaviours.

Now here is one final question: To really get the full picture I suppose we require physicists, economists and urban planners to come together. I simply don’t have the expertise myself to understand how finance availability going forward is going to affect substantial long-range renewable projects. Will the lending institutions only want their capital exposed to risk for a very short pay back period?

It has come to my attention, the fact that engineers and financiers speak using different vocabulary. Financiers talk about interest, internal rate of return and so forth. Engineers use a different language to talk about the money aspects of their projects. Economists compare interest returns of a project against those from bonds and stocks etc. How do all these people come together and have a sensible conversation?

I realize now that reading Constantin Gurdgiev’s blog for instance, there is a whole pile of talent needed from the economic planning direction which will be needed in planning and development for the long term. Lets not forget that in the past, the ‘turn over’ of cash in many projects was very quick. That culture is still very much alive and kicking, and may prove ultimately to be too much of a stumbling block for many plans we will try to make.

I will finish off by quoting part of a comment by Derek Brawn, to a Sunday Tribune article on NAMA recently. Derek was describing a process by which people acquired land and then subsequently ‘released’ their money from that asset again, and exposed it to further risk down the road somewhere in another scheme. This is the context in which we still find ourselves, while attempting to look forward and see other ways development can be done.

Refinancing or “Re-Gearing” as it is more commonly known was a widespread practice, especially since land was usually purchased by the developer in an individual capacity (due to 20% CGT rate, ‘resting on contracts’ – Sec.110 of Finance Act still not signed into legislation by Minister for Finance where land is bought with power of attorney no stamp is paid as final sale deeds are never signed, and licensing practices where individual builder licensed or sub-contracted the construction to a company, often owned by himself or a family member). So when planning approval was obtained the same site would be ‘re-geared’ to release the initial equity/cash deposit put in by the developer. Sometimes they would re-gear out a substantial profit, then use that cash as deposit for the next scheme. In essence, it is tantamount to almost infinite gearing and results in a massive ‘house-of-cards’ scenario!

What I am trying to say Stephen, is you need to work at both the general end and the specific end. Derek Brawn is an expert on the things that are very specific to Ireland. Constantin Gurdgiev is another such expert on things specific to the Irish problem.

But you also need people like Korowicz and Linenthal who can work from the particular back up to the general, and see how these things are affecting people everywhere across the globe. How we are all ultimately connected together in some way.

You need to attack the problem from both ends. That is what makes it really challenging to my mind.

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