Late last year, I wrote in these pages about technology as a double-edged sword for social progress. Yes, advances in technology continue to underpin sustained improvements in living standards. But, I also highlighted several downsides detrimental to the wellbeing of certain cohorts of the population. One question I posed was whether we need to use anti-trust competition regulation to break up the tech behemoths that have come to dominate the digital economy.
Some tech firms, like Amazon and Uber, have found a new way of doing business that undercuts traditional providers. Others, like Apple, have carved out a dominant market position through in-house product innovation and cultivating brand loyalty. Yet others, like Google and Facebook, operate in markets – internet search engines and social networks – that barely existed two decades ago.
But Big Tech increasingly faces the public wrath, and risks a regulatory backlash. By re-locating their intellectual property, they manage to pay minimal taxes. By putting bookshops and taxi drivers out of business, livelihoods are undermined. By harvesting their users’ data, and then selling it or using it to target online advertisements, they put peoples’ privacy at risk. Recent revelations that the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users was compromised shows the risks people have been taking without even realizing it.
The question then is what, if anything, should be done about it. Continue reading
You can’t be ‘a little bit pregnant’, as the saying goes, but you can be ‘a little bit equal’.
In February, we marked the centenary of women getting the vote in Ireland and the UK. Later this year, we will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the 1918 general election. This was a momentous occasion not only because it marked a seismic shift on our path to independence. Sinn Féin’s Countess Markievicz became the first woman elected to the House of Commons.
But, all else was not equal. All men over 21 were entitled to vote, but women had to wait until they were 30. Combined with property ownership requirements, this meant that less than half the women across Ireland and the UK could actually vote.
*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 18 April, 2018 ***
But, things are surely getting better? Continue reading
LIKE A SUNNY spell sandwiched between snowstorms, the number crunchers at our Central Statistics Office published their own blizzard of economic data recently.
The headline numbers are nearly too good to be true: at 7.8%, GDP growth last year was comfortably the highest in Europe, and ahead even of India, which has leap-frogged China as the fastest-growing big economy in recent years.
Strong growth helped generate nearly 1,300 new jobs per week during 2017. This meant that by the end of the year the total number of people in work was within touching distance of the two-and-a-quarter million peak hit in late-2007. Cue cries that the lost decade is over. These are neither lies, nor damned lies: just statistics.
*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 26 March, 2018 ***
A hundred years from now, catastrophic climate change may have completely changed the way our children and grandchildren live, work and farm. Possible doomsday scenarios include a shutdown of the Gulf Stream, which Ireland depends on for its relatively mild weather, leading to another ice age.
The science is incontrovertible. Global warming is man-made, and emissions of carbon and other gases are the main culprit. Sure, Ireland makes up only a small amount of total emissions. Because of its size, China alone accounts for more than a quarter of all emissions annually. The US, another 15%. But, we rank highly in emissions per person, and total emissions are going in the wrong direction, up 3.5% in 2016 when the government is targeting a 5% reduction.
While the worst environmental impacts of climate change might still be some way off, we could be facing a bill of nearly half a billion euro every year from 2020 onwards unless we get our house in order. As part of European and global efforts to reduce emissions, we have committed to a reduction of 20% (from 1990 levels) by 2020. Ireland is one of the few EU countries on course to miss its target, leaving itself open to annual fines equivalent to widening the standard income tax band by €2,500 or building 2,500 social houses.
So, what to do? Continue reading
PEOPLE LIKE TO have something to look forward to. That’s why, even in the dark days of December, people look forward to ringing in the New Year, full of new possibilities.
They may call economics the ‘dismal science’, but even economists are not immune to looking for silver linings among the winter clouds. So, what’s in store for the Irish economy in 2018, I hear you ask?
*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 22 December, 2017 ***
Since time immemorial, young people have grown up in the anticipation that they will live a life at least as comfortable as that of their parents – that the next generation will reap the benefits of social, economic and technological progress. This is at the foundation of the social contract between generations, not just in Ireland, but across Europe and around the world.
But, something has changed.
Next generation can expect to work harder for less.
Generation Y, the so-called millennials, born since 1980, may be the first generation for whom this dream turns out to be a mirage. Long-term demographic trends, coupled with the long-term slowdown in productivity growth in developed countries, mean that the social escalator of yesteryear has broken down.
But, the real tipping point came with, and since, the 2008 financial crisis. Youth unemployment soared across Europe. In Ireland, mass emigration made a comeback as many who graduated from school or college – or lost their jobs in construction-related trades – saw few prospects at home.
Rather than helping, public policy often makes things worse.
*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 30 September, 2017 ***
After months, if not years, of shadow boxing, the Fine Gael leadership race was less Game of Thrones, and more Mad Max. Two men entered, one man leads. Realistically, there was only ever going to be one winner.
In some ways, the new Age of Leo bears all the hallmarks of what came before. His swift and seemingly inevitable ascent to the throne was a decade-long masterclass in media management and the projection of a political image. Ever-ready with a pithy soundbite, if light on Ministerial accomplishment, it was a true triumph of style over substance.
That is not to say that the Taoiseach is devoid of substance. Far from it. In fact, recognising Paddy’s scepticism of ‘ologies and isms’, he has become adept at using the dog-whistle, where once he would have blown the fog-horn. Where once he whipped up a frenzy of opposition to the sale of methadone in his local chemist or openly invited immigrants to self-deport, his recent leadership campaign was aimed at ‘people who get up early in the morning’. He has learned over the years to cloak his hard-right instincts in language that is populist and palatable. This is Leonomics: Reaganomics with Irish characteristics.