Ignore the doomsayers - there is little evidence of robots taking over our jobs
'Ireland is the fastest growing economy in Europe." How many times has this been said by government politicians over the past few years? More than...
'Ireland is the fastest growing economy in Europe." How many times has this been said by government politicians over the past few years? More than...
Peter Sutherland died a week ago. It is for obituary writers and future biographers to pen a full assessment of his achievements and his contribution to national and international life. This column is...
How the fruits of economic growth are shared is always a hot topic. In recent years it has become even hotter: in Ireland, in the western world, and globally.
The year has hardly begun and corporation tax is already in the news. One of the usual suspects in large-scale tax avoidance - Google - was reported last week to have kept €16bn in global earnings...
Angry venting is a vice of our age. Social media has given cranks and ranters a platform to do in public what they once did in private, or attempted to do at the end of a bar before being told where to go by those trying to enjoy a quiet drink. Much of the comment is shrill and unmeasured: the intemperate care little about facts and evidence.
On days such as these, when most people are starting to relax into their Christmas break, quality of life issues are to fore. But they are also increasingly recognised as of importance for businesses. Happy employees are more productive. They are easier to deal with than unhappy and disgruntled ones too.
In this newspaper 51 weeks ago, my New Year's Day wish list included nine hopes for 2017. With just a week to go before the end of the year, today is as good a day as any to assess which of them have been fulfilled.
Road, railways, reservoirs and pylons are in plain sight. The hard infrastructure of the modern world is visible to all. The soft infrastructure is invisible to most. Laws, regulations and treaties underpin how countries and the world work.
'How are Irish exports doing?' I was asked this question by a foreign journalist recently. With lots of focus on many aspects of the domestic economy lately, which has resulted in reduced dependence on exports to drive growth, I realised I had not checked the export data in some time. As a small open economy whose prosperity ultimately depends on foreign trade, export performance is always...
Ireland's strategic objective in the Brexit fiasco is to keep Britain as tightly locked into the European economic and legal order as possible. This is a vital national interest. Achieving it was always going to be one of the greatest foreign policy challenges this State has ever faced. It was made so much harder last January when Theresa May, the British prime minister, chose to interpret the Brexit referendum as a vote to leave the EU's customs union and single market.
Is the Irish Government overplaying its hand in the Brexit talks? That question has arisen a number of times over the course of Leo Varadkar's premiership and in particular over the past 10 days. The consequences of doing so, in a worst-case scenario, would be to leave Ireland vulnerable in Brussels, alienate even the more moderate elements in London and end up with all the downsides of a hard...
Mussolini came to power in 1922 and gave Italy its first extended period of stability since unification 50 years earlier. Hitler came to power in 1933 and dragged Germany out of the Great Depression.
How have all things related to Brexit affected the UK economy and how will that economy evolve in the run-up to Brexit in March 2019? These questions have fallen victim to the deepening partisanship...
We are out of the woods. Crash and crisis are distant memories. The good times are rolling. It is back to politics as usual. Broadcast journalists have returned to asking politicians why they are not spending more on every problem that arises.
Irish banks, collectively and on average, are much more profitable than banks across the rest of the euro area. That has been the case for four years. These facts are not as widely known as they should be.
A good instinct and capacity to assess risks and opportunities is one of the most important abilities a person can have. That is as true in personal life as it is in business, and many other fields besides.
I moved from Rome to Madrid in the 1990s. I didn't expect a huge change - Italy and Spain are both big southern European countries with Latin cultures and languages. Along with many other similarities, both have well-known rivalries between their two biggest, similar-sized cities.
Over the next week there will be a lot of talk about how budgetary rules - both EU and national - prevent the Government from doing this and doing that. Let's start this pre-Budget column by setting out some facts.
The tectonic plates of European politics have shifted more since 2010 than in the previous two decades. With Democratic Europe's three biggest and most influential countries having held general elections over the past six months, a changed landscape is emerging. What are the implications for Europe and Irish interests?
The "global war for talent" and similar descriptions are the stuff of management literature cliché. But there is no doubt that having a big talent pool to fish in is important for employers.
The man who has had as much sway over the Irish economy as Paschal Donohoe and Michael Noonan over the past half decade spoke in Ireland for the first time last week. Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, has more influence over the interest rate on your mortgage than anyone else. During his time at the helm in Frankfurt, two Eurozone countries - Cyprus and Greece - have had their entire banking systems shuttered for weeks as a result of disputes with the institution he leads.
The construction sector is booming and demand for new property is being met. That statement refers to the commercial property sector. It does not apply to the housing side of the industry, which is malfunctioning badly. That, in turn, is creating difficulties and distress for a growing share of the population.
There has been quite a bit of talk of late about the economy overheating. The 'upside risk' of too much growth has been getting more attention than the 'downside risk' of too little. In my view, the risks for the economy are still heavily weighted to the downside, with Brexit, bubbly financial markets and coming increases in interest rates all capable of derailing Ireland's recovery.
The most important question for Irish democracy is the democratisation of Sinn Fein. Where that party is on the path from the position it was in two decades ago, when it was a profoundly undemocratic party in multiple respects, is becoming an ever more important question.
How much are people earning, what sort of pay rises are they getting and what do recent salary developments mean for the wider economy and individual industries?
The holidays are over for most. It's back to the daily grind for many. The next 12 weeks will be the busiest stretch of the year for many people.
While every happening in Washington DC is reported on in great detail in the media, far too little attention is being paid to Berlin. Germany is entering the final straight of its general election campaign. That country is the most powerful constituent part of a quasi-federation of which Ireland forms a part. What happens in Germany matters for every man, woman and child in this country.
A recent conversation with a Wall Streeter who is worried about bad things happening in financial markets got me thinking about bubbles and, more particularly, how to measure them. By coincidence the conversation took place almost a decade to the day since the first rumblings of the financial meltdown took place.
Half-a-billion euro is a lot of money. That is how much the Department of Finance estimates a six-year-old tax break for the hospitality sector costs annually. The de-facto subsidy is likely to have cost close to €3bn to date.
By the summer of 2007 it was increasingly clear that the Irish property frenzy was not going to end with a soft landing. The big question was how hard the landing would be. Then, exactly a decade ago, came the first rumblings of the international financial crisis, which was to erupt explosively 13 months later with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. By the time that happened, the Irish economy was already deep in recession.
How does society balance the rights of old women to sleep safely in their beds and the rights of hardcore career criminals? Is it fair that an innocent person's life is ended violently because another person, who has already committed dozens of violent crimes, has been given yet another chance?
Every year thousands of companies are born and thousands die. The process of creative destruction in all economies makes this inevitable, and in many ways healthy.
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. So goes the old saying. It is actually well wide of the mark, according to the taxman. A recent study by the Revenue Commissioners showed that almost four out of five people who were the lowest earners in 2005 had moved off the bottom rung of the ladder a decade later. Movement among the top tenth of earners was not as great, but still considerable - almost three out of five of those on the top rung in 2005 had slipped down by 2014.
The slowing down of the news cycle around this time of year is often called the silly season. The media in high summer can sometimes be silly. But the break can also be an opportunity for mid-year stocktaking, and a chance to peer through the haze of events to see what is really important. As the summer wind-down kicks in and we enter the second half of the year, here are my five big takeaways from 2017 so far, and what they mean for the rest of the year and beyond.
'What is going on?" the editor of this newspaper asked with more than a hint of irritation. "You bloody economists are all saying that the economy is powering ahead, but people aren't feeling it," he harrumphed.
Ireland is Europe's new Rotterdam. For centuries the Dutch port has been a commercial hub with a vast hinterland spreading deep into Continental Europe.
Ireland's entrepreneurial roots are short and shallow. Contrary to the story that we usually tell ourselves, and one that officialdom loves to spout, the history of Irish business successes is a slim volume. Things are certainly improving, but there are still too few home-grown, internationally competitive companies. An acknowledgement that too many young people aspire to the professions, rather than business, and that too many choose immigration over entrepreneurialism, would be a useful starting point in focusing more on the problem.
The suggestion that Ireland should follow Britain out of the EU - "Irexit" - got quite some attention last week. Ray Bassett, a former diplomat, argued in a 42-page document published in London that Ireland should actively explore leaving the EU. His central contention is that the UK is more important to Ireland than the EU. In his judgement, choosing Britain over Europe is the best option for Ireland and its people.
On moving home after having spent almost all of my adult life abroad, two things surprised me about Ireland. The first was how careful Irish people are to avoid confrontation and causing offence to others, particularly in professional settings. The second was an all-pervasive legalism and deference to the lawyerly class.
Over recent days, the Taoiseach and other European leaders have signalled to Britain that the door is still open to staying in the EU if Brexit is abandoned.
The structure of the economy and how it is evolving concerns everyone in business. Few, if any, sources of information can beat the five yearly census for giving detailed granular information on those matters.
When a new leader takes office, there is always a sense of optimism that he or she can bring about change and betterment. That is all the more so in the case of a young leader.
Over the past couple of weeks I have been in Asia and Australia and have had lots of interesting meetings and conversations. Here are some issues raised which may be of relevance to an Irish business readership.
Political outcomes that almost nobody predicted have become more common in western countries. And Britain has been particularly unpredictable.
Garda reform and Brexit have been two of the biggest challenges facing the current Government. The contrasting ways in which they have been handled speak volumes about the political system - both its strengths and its weaknesses. They also illustrate how constrained the next Taoiseach will be in his freedom of manoeuvre.
International trade is the lifeblood of small economies. Recently, this column looked at new research on Ireland's foreign trade in goods - tangible things, such as meat and medicines, that are put into containers and shipped to other countries. Today, the much less discussed subject of services trade is put under the spotlight.
The average person in Ireland is worth the princely sum of €137,000. What's more, people are getting wealthier at quite a clip, according to the Central Bank's latest figures released last week.
Most people would agree in principle that taxpayers' money should not be used to subsidise private gain. Yet, to a very great extent, that is what we do in Ireland when it comes to third level education.
Size matters. Big countries with big home markets can get rich without doing much international trade. Small countries can't.
Today's Sunday Independent/Kantar Millward Brown poll shows a surge in optimism over the past six months. Never, in the three decades the pollster has been posing the question, has a larger share of respondents been more upbeat about their future personal financial situation. More than one in three people believes that they will be better off in a year's time than now. It was just one in five last October.
One in four people employed in the private sector in this state owes their job to a foreign company which sells stuff to foreigners. The taxes those workers and companies pay fund a great deal of the public sector and the cost of providing public services.
In the lead up to the commemorations of the 1916 Rising, which culminated last Easter Sunday and Monday, there were many voices expressing concern.
Last week saw the publication of the most important economic and budgetary document of the year so far. The Department of Finance's Stability Program Update contains an assessment of the state of the economy, along with - much more importantly - a full set of forecast figures on the public finances for the next five years.
The first large-scale use of chemical weapons took place in this month 102 years ago. Poison gas then came to be used frequently by all sides throughout the First World War. By the time that conflict ended in 1918, more than a million people had been killed or maimed by weaponised chemicals.
Last week's census results showed that Ireland's population was one of the fastest growing in the EU in the five years to 2016.
There are simple answers to society's big problems. Everything that annoys and frustrates you about your life can be put right easily. The reason things aren't put right is because bad people are conspiring to screw you over. This, in essence, is the worldview of the populist.
More than half a century ago, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson spoke with great enthusiasm about the "white heat of technology" and how the embrace of the scientific revolution would forge a "new Britain". The 1963 speech to his party's annual conference became famous for its articulation of the transformative power of science and technology. Few modern politicians anywhere would take a...
Understanding Brexit and its myriad implications is beyond any one individual. With so many factors at play, accurately predicting how things will turn out two years from today, when Britain is very likely to be in its first week outside the EU, is impossible.
There are only two kinds of divorces: bad and awful. One big reason break-ups cause strife is money. When people divorce they are usually not in the mood to be generous to each other.
Don't fight the last battle. This is a lesson that soldiers the world over are taught. So traumatising is combat, it is said, that it leaves an indelible mark on those who engage in it.
In 1845, Ireland had the fifth-biggest population in western Europe. More people lived here than in all the Nordic countries - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden - put together. Today, the all-island population is less than one-third of those countries' combined populations.
Banks have been back in the news of late. AIB is being prepared for partial privatisation, Bank of Ireland reported bumper profits, and PTSB’s boss, Jeremy Masding, has been whingeing about excessive regulations on banks.
Last Sunday Enda Kenny made a surprise announcement during a speech in Philadelphia, the city where the American constitution was drafted 230 years ago.
'It is glorious to get rich." So said, of all people, a former leader of communist China. It is hard to imagine any Irish politician saying such a thing. Despite the self-proclaimed pro-business inclinations of most of our elected representatives, the lionising of wealth creation is not something one hears frequently from those in Leinster house.
The Minister for Finance Michael Noonan spoke recently about what is sometimes called "the lucky country". He noted in a speech a couple of weeks ago that Australia has enjoyed 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth. But he didn't merely muse that this resource-rich country on the other side of the world has not experienced a recession in more than a quarter of a century. Its success, he suggested, means that other economies need not be condemned to suffer inevitable cycles of growth followed by recession.
In less than three years' time, supermarkets north of the Border could be selling juicy steaks from the furthest corners of the world at less than half the price of equivalent cuts of Irish meat for sale in the Republic. The same thing could happen to the relative prices of many other food products.
Academic economist Frank Barry has revisited the debate around joining the euro in a new paper*. After 18 years of euro participation he ponders, among other things, what might have happened if Ireland had retained its own currency.
On the Sunday before last June's referendum on the EU in Britain, this column imagined the history of Europe from the vantage point of June 2021. It envisioned that Brexit had happened and that it triggered the break-up of the EU. That, in turn, led to an exodus of jobs from Ireland as companies that used this country as a base to service the single market had left.
Last week in the Irish Independent, issues around politicians' partners were discussed and with that the sexuality of aspiring Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar arose.
It is rare that a week passes without stories on housing, property issues and homelessness making the news. Last week was no exception.
Political instability and upheaval have been to the fore over the past year: on this island, south and north, on our neighbouring island, on the continent, and across the Atlantic. Yet despite all the uncertainty, which might have caused consumers and businesses - from eastern Europe to America's west coast - to pull in their horns, economic momentum in the Western world has gathered pace...
One month into Donald Trump's presidency, much remains unclear about the precise direction and form of future US economic policy. But the tilt towards protectionism promised during the campaign has materialised in multiple ways - from the people appointed to important positions to the actions and statements made by the new administration.
After his first month in office, nobody would claim that the new US president has suddenly become what might have traditionally been described as "presidential". Supporters and opponents alike agree that he is governing in the unconventional style in which he campaigned.
A state's first duty is to protect its people. In order to do this, citizens in democratic countries, and most others besides, grant to their states a monopoly on the use of legitimate force and many other powers besides. Such extensive powers, along with the often (and necessarily) secretive way policing is done, means that no country is entirely free of malpractice and corruption among law enforcers.
Something is stirring in Europe. Almost 10 years on from the beginnings of the worst slump since the Great Depression, the continental economy appears to be picking up its plodding pace of growth. Last year, the eurozone economy outpaced that of the US for the first time in almost a decade. This year is shaping up in much the same way. Economic forecasts for the eurozone - for what they are worth - are being revised up almost by the week.
In many quarters at home and abroad, Éamon de Valera's signing of the book of condolences at the German embassy after the suicide of Adolf Hitler in 1945 was not well received. As the months and years passed, and the full horrors of Nazism became apparent, it became an ever larger blot on his record as a politician and a statesman.
The outstanding indigenous entrepreneurial achievement of this country is not to be found in the food or the hospitality or the still nascent tech sectors.
Is democracy going the same way communism went a quarter of a century ago? Are people in the free world losing faith in the elected representatives who have governed them for decades? Are the institutions and structures of democracy decaying before our eyes?
Housing was centre-stage in 2016. Don't expect matters to change much in 2017. Owing to the time it takes to build new homes, a likely (modest) increase in the supply of housing this year won't transform trends in rents and house prices.
Michael Noonan said last Wednesday: "The amount of tax collected in 2016 is at an historic high."
The number of people working in foreign-owned, export-focused companies now stands just shy of 200,000, according to IDA Ireland figures published last week. This extraordinary figure - equivalent to around one in eight private sector jobs - shows how globalised the Irish economy is. That the number employed in such companies has grown by well over one third since 2009, multiples of the overall rate of employment growth in the economy, shows that Ireland is becoming ever more globalised.
As the year begins, it is a good time to try to gauge the national mood, both here and with our neighbours. As it happens, opinion polls taken in the closing months of last year across many countries allow us to do just that. Among other things, they show that we Irish are currently the most optimistic people in the Western world.
The New Year has all the potential to be just as turbulent as 2016 was. It could very well be more turbulent. Let's hope it's not. Here's my economic wish list for 2017.
Over the past two centuries, four individual years have stood out as being turning points in Europe. The year 1815 saw the defeat of Napoleon and the ushering in of a European order that led to a century of rarely interrupted peace on the continent. It was against this political backdrop that the transformative impact of the industrial revolution took hold.
'Are the United States and China destined for war?" This was the title of an essay in the highbrow US magazine The National Interest last week.
If you have been keeping up with the stories that have made the headlines over the past 12 months, you'll probably agree that 2016 has been a year to forget. At home and abroad, many bad things have happened. An ominous sense about the state of the world has heightened over the course of 2016. There is more reason now to believe that the centre isn't holding than there was at the beginning of the year.
Yesterday's report by the ESRI paints a quite rosy economic picture for 2017. Next year the Irish economy will grow strongly, the institute's economists reckon, and at a much faster pace than almost every other developed economy.
'To make people's lives better in every part of Ireland." That is the "one simple objective" the Government has, according the minority administration's 20-page progress report on its record over the past half year.
This has been an historic year. Of that there can be little doubt. The international political context in which the Irish economy operates has changed more over the past year than in any single year since the end of World War II.
It is now almost six months since our neighbours voted to leave the EU. What exactly that will mean - for Ireland, Britain and the rest of Europe - remains unclear. It is unclear largely because the British government has not decided what kind of relationship it wants with the EU, or what relationship it believes is achievable.
Three years ago to the day, I began writing columns for this newspaper. On many occasions since then, there has been opportunity to discuss and dissect the plentiful good news about Ireland's recovery from economic crisis. Unfortunately, the news is no longer so good.
'I will duly and faithfully and to the best of my knowledge and power execute the office of Chief Justice (or as the case may be) without fear or favour, affection or ill-will towards any man, and that I will uphold the Constitution and the laws." This is the oath set out in Article 34 of Bunreacht na hEireann which all newly appointed judges must take.
When a recovery begins, and as consumers loosen their personal purse strings, companies tend to have existing employees work extra hours and overtime rather than taking on new people. That is because the cost invested in the hiring and training of new staff could be lost if the upturn peters out and the newly employed person has to be let go.
Tuesday's jobs figures were the most important indicator of what has been happening in the Irish economy since our neighbour's Brexit referendum. Even before the vote in late June, there had been signs that the pace of recovery in the Irish economy was slowing. In the months following the decision, there were further signs of an economy losing steam.
In 2014, when Ireland's public pay and pensions bill fell to its post-crash low point, it stood at 25.7pc of total public spending, according to EU-level data.
In these grim and incredibly uncertain times, let's remind ourselves of some good news which is becoming more relevant by the day. That news is that the cost of living has come down and it looks as if it will come down further in the months ahead.
Donald Trump got fewer votes not only than Hillary Clinton in last week's election, but fewer votes than Republican candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.
Over the past 50 years, Ireland has moved from being an isolated, peripheral place to become one of the most internationally connected countries on the planet. Opening up and embracing the world has brought prosperity and opportunity.
For a half decade after 2007, writing or speaking about the Irish economy was a grim task; it was always to be the bearer of bad news.
Industrial disputes are always fraught affairs. They are almost always very complicated. The factors, issues and dynamics between a group of workers and their employers are difficult to understand fully for anyone who is not involved. Because of all this, commenting on workplace conflicts carries a high risk of being unfair to one side or the other. As such, and as a general principle, I avoid...
Possibly the best-know quote in recent political history is: "It's the economy, stupid." It was coined almost a quarter of century ago by an adviser to Bill Clinton during his first presidential campaign in 1992. The advice to Clinton was to hammer relentlessly on economic issues (the US unemployment rate had been rising since the summer of 1990), and by doing so he would unseat incumbent...
Life is becoming more precarious for most of us. The job-for-life is increasingly a thing of the past. More people are on short-term contracts. Fewer people have steady jobs in manufacturing and more people are flipping burgers. The least fortunate have been "left behind" entirely.
It has been an eventful year. A general election at home was followed by extended political uncertainty and then the forming of a minority Government involving the first ever tie-up between the civil war parties.
Medicines and alcohol cost more in Ireland than most other European countries. The latter is expensive because taxes on drink are the highest in Europe. The former are overpriced because drugs-makers use their huge presence in Ireland to squeeze taxpayers' money from the State and because the State won't do more to take on anti-competitive practices in the retail pharmacy business.
Last week this column discussed Budget 2017. Among other issues, it looked at public sector pay, a matter that has become more topical by the day since. Industrial unrest on a scale last seen in the 1970s and 1980s could be looming, something that would be economically damaging, politically destabilising and socially divisive.
'Five of Ireland's 60 mushroom farms have so far gone out of business since the [Brexit] referendum, including two this week". So reported Reuters last Friday.
How do you feel about paying social insurance? About the same as you do about paying income tax I would guess. There is every reason to feel that way. PRSI comes out of your income. If you are on a salary it is taken by your employer before you ever see it.
This week's Budget was the third in a row in which the public purse strings were loosened. Budget 2017 also joins its immediate predecessors in having a last minute ramping up of the amounts splashed in new spending and tax cuts.
Over the past week I've been in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. Every place tells a story.
Gross domestic product has been described as the most powerful metric in history.
Settling on a stool at 8.45 on Monday evening in a bar in Delaware, a small town slap in the middle of swing state Ohio, your columnist asked a group of 50-somethings close by if the presidential debate was going to be aired. A friendly bunch, who, it quickly became clear, ran the place, were not on the edges of their seats about the most eagerly anticipated debate in US election presidential history.
Brexit has for many decades been the stuff of strategic nightmares for Ireland. Being pulled between our closest neighbour, drifting out into the north Atlantic, and the continent which is vital for our prosperity is never a place we wanted to find ourselves. But the nightmare is now upon us.
In the incredibly complex world in which we live today, the observations of any one person are of limited value in explaining how things are changing and evolving. That, however, does not stop people from coming to conclusions about things based on little more than their own experiences.