Not many financial writers can break down the economy of a country in a way that gives you a razor-edged insight into the character and spirit of it’s people. Michael Lewis, author of the classic “Liar’s Poker” and the more recent “The Big Short” is that rare kind of master in the art of non-fiction.
Mr. Lewis’s article in this month’s Vanity Fair, When Irish Eyes Are Crying not only offers the most concise overview of where Ireland is today and how it got there, it seems to express the odd predicament that Ireland has been in for centuries. While it will certainly convince you that Ireland’s financial problems are far worse than you ever realized (its government debt is rated lower than Iraq’s at present) it provides an even more interesting panorama of the internal, external, cultural and personal forces that have come to define the country, in a way that’s eerily similar to the 1950’s.
A convincing case is made that Ireland is, right now, the financially sickest nation in the western world. It’s debt is almost immeasurable, and its crony politicians have made a succession of choices that have amplified the pain it’s citizens have felt and will continue to feel for it’s crazed real estate boom.
Just two bright spots that emerge from the story. First, that the country’s condition is so bad that a default on soverign debt is almost certain. That may offer an end, however Draconian, to the current mess. The second is that, for all their faults, the Irish remain as funny as ever. If you have an resistance to reading a financial article, I guarantee you that this one will provide several deep belly-laughs. Credit Mr. Lewis for also gaining an inside track on the true Irish character. His comments about how the talkative nature of the Irish tends to conceal a deepy reticent character are dead on.
At the very least, you may take some comfort in the fact that, when it comes to real estate, those Irish were even crazier than we Americans.
The news from Ireland these days is all about economics and just about all gloomy. One small bright spot, however, is a comment from fast-growing Facebook that the company is actually planning to boost its number of employees there next year. Facebook has about 200 Irish folk in its Dublin office, which serves as headquarters for Europe and the Middle East. Apparently, it’s planning to add another 100 or so staffers in the coming year.
According to Facebook’s top exec in Ireland, John Herlihy, the two reasons Ireland remains atractive are it’s great talent pool and rock-bottom corporate tax rate of 12.5% (America’s corporate tax rate, by comparison, is about 40%). All of this would seem to back up the Irish government’s decision to keep that rate low in spite of other belt-tightening measures in the wake to the recent massive bailout from the EU. More on Facebook and other tech giants staying in Ireland on this Forbes blog.
Here’s a very in-depth video from the Wall Street Journal network about the depth of Ireland’s economic problems. 30,000 people left the country last year to pursue jobs abroad, and there seems to be little hope that the trend will change soon. A sobering portrait of Eire in 2010:
See Ireland Video
Just wanted to post a few interesting Irish quotations I came across today. There’s no end to these:
“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” – Yeats
“The nicest buttocks in the world are in Ireland. Irish women are always carrying water on their heads, and always carrying their husbands home from pubs. Such things are the greatest posture-builders in the world.” – Actor Peter O’Toole
“I loved Jack Ford. I got him in his later days, and he was a total tyrant and a total autocrat and an Irish drunk. But I had a great time.” – Actor Richard Widmark, describing John Ford, director of many famous westerns.
“Politics is the chloroform of the Irish people, or rather the hashish.” – Oliver St. John
“That’s what the holidays are for – for one person to tell the stories and another to dispute them. Isn’t that the Irish way?” – Lara Flynn Boyle
Easter is certainly the most important holiday on the Roman Catholic calendar. Ireland has a long list of traditions around it, some of which relate to Christ’s return to life and some of which have grown out of old Celtic practices that have more to do with the agricultural calendar than with religion.
Easter comes in springtime, at about the same time as the Vernal Equinox, which ancient Celts associated with fertility rites. For Catholics, Easter Sunday comes at the end of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting when many eat no meat, and some give up additional things like smoking or alcohol. Here are some of Ireland’s Easter traditions, a few of which are a bit strange:
On Good Friday:
– A complete “spring cleaning” of the home.
– Doing no work with tools, in order to avoid spilling any blood from an accident.
– Mark one of the eggs laid on the farm on Good Friday to be eaten with the celebration meal on Sunday.
– If you die on this Good Friday, you go directly to heaven.
– Gather food on the shore, but do not go out fishing in a boat.
On Easter Saturday:
– Go to church and drink a few sips of holy water, then sprinkle a bit on the family and even the farm animals for good luck.
– Turn off all lights in church at 11 pm and light a Paschal Candle as a symbol of Christ rising from the tomb.
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On Easter Sunday:
– Get up at sunrise and do a celebration dance.
– A mock funeral is conducted by the town butchers with a dead herring. The poor fish is a symbol of the end of Lent, when some Irish folk once ate lots of herring, because it was the only available alternative to meat.
– Gather for a contest called a “cake dance,” where the winner gets the cake
…courtesy of the readers of BBC.com
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I saw a mention of an Irish athlete competing in the skeleton event at the Vancouver Olympics and thought: “There aren’t a whole lot of ski mountains in Ireland that I know of — I wonder how many Irish Olympians there are at the Vancouver games right now?” Well, in case you were wondering about this too, Irish athletes are competing in four Olympic events:
– There is a women’s 2-person bobsled team let by pilot Aoife Hoey. The brakeman is Claire Bergin and Leona Byrne is alternate brakeman.
– 32 year old Patrick Shannon of County Wexford is competing in the skeleton (a sled event on that track where the unfortunate accident occurred during training).
– The Irish ski team is comprised of slalom skiers Kirsty McGarry and Shane O’Connor, both of County Dublin.
– Last but not least, Ireland is represented in cross-country skiing by PJ Barron, a 20 year old originally from Scotland (Scotland, by the way, has 19 athletes competing in Vancouver). Mr. Baron has completed his event. He came in 91st in the Men’s 15km individual race.
According to this amusing post, the Irish athletes, or their fans (I’m not sure which) are making so much noise late at night in a Vancouver Irish pub that people in the neighborhood are complaining.