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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Ireland's Nostalgia: The Never Was Days

Nostalgia should be about good things of yesteryear like Yankee fans remembering championships pre-2001, like Americans remembering male tennis champions, like Frenchmen remembering their military heydays in the 1700s and like Howard Dean remembering the Democratic Party.

While I am no expert on Irish history, assuming McCourt's Angela's Ashes was remotely accurate, the history of Ireland has been that of little industry, few jobs, massive poverty and alcoholism borne of despair.

As Thomas Friedman has been reporting, the times in Ireland have changed and its embrace of free market capitalism and global economics has improved life there. Today is/are the "good old days" of Ireland.

Friedman reports the benefits of free market employment laws:

Given that Ireland received more foreign direct investment from the U.S. in 2003 than China received from the U.S., the Germans and French may want to take a few tips from the Celtic Tiger. One of the first reforms Ireland instituted was to make it easier to fire people, without having to pay years of severance. Sounds brutal, I know. But the easier it is to fire people, the more willing companies are to hire people.

Harry Kraemer Jr., the former C.E.O. of Baxter International, a medical equipment maker that has made several investments in Ireland, explained that "the energy level, the work ethic, the tax optimization and the flexibility of the labor supply" all made Ireland infinitely more attractive to invest in than France or Germany, where it was enormously costly to let go even one worker. The Irish, he added, had the self-confidence that if they kept their labor laws flexible some jobs would go, but new jobs would keep coming - and that is exactly what has happened.

But then we get those people who long for the "good old days" like this visitor (published in the NYT):

To the Editor:

While Thomas L. Friedman may be correct that "the Irish-British model is the way of the future" ("Follow the Leapin' Leprechaun," column, July 1), it is unfortunate that to secure this economically prosperous future, a nation must sacrifice its identity.

I spent six months studying in Cork, Ireland, and found myself increasingly disheartened. As I looked out over the ocean from the seaside village of Cobh, I felt an oppressive melancholy seeing the view sullied by a large number of foreign manufacturing plants. Gaelic, the native tongue, is dying everywhere but the west coast, which has been left out of much of the globalization.

Although the "bad old days" of emigration and poverty are behind the Irish people, it saddens me that Mr. Friedman hopes that other countries will follow their model; that will certainly cost those countries much of their individuality, as it did the Irish.

Peter J. Ebnet
St. Cloud, Minn., July 1, 2005

Dear Mr. Ebnet:

While your view of the coast may have been sullied by the appearance of manufacturing plants, you really should have had your head in the books. I take it you were studying neither economics nor sociology. Because, if you had any humanitarian impulses, you would appreciate that the citizens of The Old Sod are thriving, working and likely feeling great about their lives and prospects.

I know the views in Minnesota are breath-taking. On your next study-sabbatical I have an idea. If you are seeking great views and have the stomach to ignore the suffering of locals who die of dysentery, have polluted water and cannot combat other maladies routinely cured in developed countries, Live8 should have pointed you in the right direction. Contact Bono or Bob Geldorf for more information.

Neal L. Phenes

PS: I sent this letter to Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek. Little did I know he was half-Irish. He makes my letter appear down-right conciliatory. Meaning, he got pissed off. Please read it.

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