August 14, 2007
Irish Import & Export.
Posted by William Birdthistle

Ireland is often lauded as a marvel of economic engineering.  With a few tweaks of policy, the story goes, a country of rural and bumbling charm (see, e.g., the classic "traffic jam in Ireland" postcard below) transformed itself into an exploding economy with Europe's second-highest per capita GDP in about twenty years.

That is, from this:


To this:


I can personally verify that something very dramatic has happened during my own sentience.  Contrast my earliest trips home, which featured rampant unemployment and fancy dinners consisting of a soggy clump of chips in a soggy wad of newspaper, versus my latest visit this summer when everyone I met seemed to own a couple of houses and was heading off to New York for a cheap weekend's shopping.

My hometown of Midleton, County Cork, has exploded to about triple its original size, and along its high street, I now find a Thai restaurant.  Dinner for two: $75.  Though they did have very good chips.

All this wealth and development is forcing Ireland to confront new problems, such as how to cope with immigration, urban sprawl, and the choice of Fendi or Chanel sunglasses.

And my interests have begun to diverge quite a bit from my relatives'.  They're delighted with the boom, the jobs, and the income, whereas I wouldn't mind having the quaint roads, charming pubs, and cheap prices back.

The broader question is how to replicate this success -- or at least the beneficial parts of it -- in other parts of the world.  Evidently, the Chinese premier and Irish Taoiseach are in regular contact.  But what about the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, and so on: is it merely a matter of lowering the corporate tax rate, encouraging financial innovation, and making secondary education free and universal, as Ireland has so famously done?  Or is it also essential to situate your country right in between the United States and Europe, to retain U2 as cultural ambassadors, and to lay down a few centuries of genealogical ties to the world's most powerful economy?

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