For obvious reasons, Ireland has been a prominent feature of the Marginal Revolution blog, one of the best and most widely-read economics websites in the world. Tyler Cowen offers the following summary of Chapter 5 of Fintan O’Toole’s new book.
From Marginal Revolution:
“How Rich Was Ireland Really?
Not as rich as they thought. I’ve been reading Fintan O’Toole’s excellent Enough is Enough: How to Build a New Republic. Mostly it is an expose of Ireland’s crony capitalism and bad political institutions. On economic issues, chapter five offers up the following:
1. During the boom years, property accounted for 72 percent of all assets.
2. For infrastructure, Ireland ranked 26 out of 28 OECD countries.
3. Ireland had a higher share of slow fixed internet connections than in any other comparable country.
4. In terms of R&D or patents, Ireland was well below the OECD average in per capita terms.
5. In the OECD “human and income poverty” rankings, Ireland was 23 out of 25 countries, sandwiched between the United States and Mexico.
6. The country’s health care and educational systems are considered subpar.”
The overreliance on property is now something even the government takes as given but it is worth debating whether our health and education systems are really subpar in the sense mentioned and, in general, whether the whole Celtic Tiger was an illusion or not. There are plenty of things wrong with our education system in Ireland but is it really “subpar” in the sense of being worse than comparable countries? In terms of the health system, I will let commentors weigh in with opinions.
It is worth keeping in mind the substantial gains in life expectancy that occurred even during the late Celtic Tiger period. Life expectancy for people over 65 was the same in 1986 as it was at the foundation of the state and increased dramatically through the 90s and 2000s. We do not have precise evidence on what exactly drove these increases but it would be wrong, in my opinion, to say that we did not make health gains during this time. And this is not to excuse political decisions that saw vital vaccines and treatment of people with cystic fibrosis given lower prominence than the breeding of race horses. But it is worth having an open debate about where the country stands from a developmental perspective as well as a fiscal/monetary perspective. I released a paper recently called “From Angela’s Ashes to the Celtic Tiger: Early Life Conditions and Adult Health in Ireland“. Everytime I have presented it, someone says something like “it should be the other way around” or “you should add “and back again”". I find it hard to think of the broad progress in human development in Ireland in the last 50 years and not have some sense of belief in the potential of the country and some degree of pride of where it has come, even in the face of the current mess. If you look at the health of Irish migrants to the UK over the last 50 years you see huge improvements there also with recent migrants performing as well as or, to a large extent, outperforming natives compared to the 1950s and 1960s migrants who, as an average, are in far worse physical and mental health. It is worth beginning to ask whether what we are facing is a large fiscal and monetary blip with a forseeable exit point or a genuine developmental structural break where the real and profound gains in human welfare seen in Ireland are in danger of being reversed.