Letter from Korea, September 2010

Yongin, South Korea
9/11/10

Dear Ireland

This month I came across a small article which made the front page of a leading daily newspaper, the Joongang Daily, here in Korea. It was one of the kinds of articles that make front page headlines for one day and the next day is forgotten, and in fairness its front page location is probably the only reason that I can remember it. The other reason that I remember it and that I’m bringing it up now is that right in front of me was a statistic that placed Ireland better than Korea and undoubtedly many of the other larger economies in the world!

It is far from often that the word ‘Ireland’ finds its way onto front pages of international newspapers and it is certainly less frequent in Korean newspapers. The last time I heard of Ireland making the headlines here was in relation to the selling of pork that was contaminated with some sort of disease. This event went so far as to stir up the anti-Irish brigade over here of, hmmmm let me think, zero people. The incident however was not isolated to Korea and many countries around the world were affected, the government promptly apologised and made efforts to not make the same mistake again. Business was probably damaged but not reduced to nothing, because let’s face it, the world loves diggin’ on swine. But before that? And after?

With the exception of passing references to Ireland, Korea has minimal influence in Ireland and Ireland has minimal influence in Korea. Most of the connections are behind the scenes financial and economical interactions where nationality matters little. But in this instance things were different.

The article criticised Korea for its low ranking in the international supply of services. Of course the report itself didn’t necessarily criticise Korea; the newspaper and the national body designated to appraise the international report found that Korea was lacking in its services sector, or should I say its international share of services. Further down the article points to the fact that Korea developed its manufacturing industry too much and neglected paying attention to the rest of the economy. Anyway, it goes on a bit about balance of payments and the importance of es….snnnnooorreee…. Oh, I beg your pardon. Yeah, I know, not my area of expertise. Anyway, if you’re really interested you can read the article here.

Fascinating stuff, right?

Well anyway, they give a table of scores  where there are a few statistics that make it easier for those less literate in the facts and figures of international business hijinks. And right there in the top ten is Ireland, although its number nine, it’s in the top ten! And look at the competition! Let’s not forget that this is the world share, not a percentage of GDP. I was quite impressed. Ireland is, despite what news you’ll read about the country collapsing, right up there and comparable with significantly larger and more populous countries than our humble Atlantic hugging selves. This is Ireland as an international economic leader. This is very positive news.

The share global services, and look at Ireland, we're so high up the list it's like we're good at something! (courtesy of the good people at the Joongang Daily)

What? Ireland and news being positive? Didn’t you hear there was a recession on you mad thing? Didn’t you know that everything we hear of these days is doom and gloom multiplied by infinity? Well, yeah I did, and it’s because of the reason I reluctantly open the newspapers (but not the reason I left the country, I left first in 2005 when everyone was loaded), but that’s no excuse for being sceptical about this news lads, I’m telling you now!

In recent reports in the Irish news unemployment figures have been a hot topic. It has gotten to the point that they now have given up shocking readers with the gross figure. They’ve started breaking it down into how many poor-misfortunate people lost their job this month and from what area of the economy and what colour underwear they were wearing on the day they lost their job. These reports have nicely generalised the industry with the most job losses as ‘white collar’, or those who don’t work in manual labour (a cynic, of which there are many in Ireland and which I am one but not in Ireland, would possibly retort that that is because there is no longer any blue-collar workers working to lose their jobs). This generally means they work in the services industry, right?

In case you’re wondering, services can be spread extensively across finance, law, tourism, IT, logistics and more, there is even a services industry that supplies industrial and manufacturing industries, so let’s face it, it is a very, very, very broad scope. For Ireland to hold 3% of the world market is, again I have to say, very impressive.

Take a look at Ireland’s situation is you need convincing. Firstly it is by far the least populated country in the top ten countries, with The Netherlands coming closest, a population of 16 million people, four times the amount as Ireland. If you look further up the list, the major European populations, Spain, France, Germany, the U.K., as well as the United States, China and of course Japan are all firmly established on the list. This accounts for just under a third of the population of the whole[i], which is fairly tough competition.

Here are a few maps and graphs that look very nice.

World GDP (courtesy of the good people at wikipedia.org)

Accumulated GDP Growth - Ireland looking well (courtesy of the good people at wilipedia.org)

Little old Ireland with our pints of Guinness and potatoes. Sure, that’s great isn’t it?

So what are we going to do about it then? Look at it from this perspective, we could all get up and emigrate and find jobs in another country right, or we could actually take advantage of our current situation. Outrageous, I know!

Firstly, why is Ireland in a group placed just behind eight of the world’s top economies?

Ireland is the location for a number of the world’s major technology firms’ European headquarters, which means someone else likes what we do. But these major employers aren’t everything. Ireland is in an ideal position and we are not rising to use our ability to fight far above our own weight.

Good things come in threes so that’s how many reasons I’m going to give.

First of all, the answer is possibly simple. It is us, the people, the humble Irishman, which makes Ireland the ninth largest provider of services in the world. The connection of Ireland, which may or may not leave a more positive imprint on some countries in the developing world, let’s face it, we were one of them one hundred years ago, and possibly even fifty years ago. There’s also fact that we are a small country with, I imagine, a reputation possibly afforded to us by the hard work of our current and previous President, or ‘The Mary’s’ as I will refer to them here.

There are other factors that have allowed us such prominence in these world rankings I’ve been ranting on about. The first of these is our language, our bastardised and imported language that so many of us have made a living out of and survived because of it, English. Yes, English! The ‘global’ language, a language that is the international language of business, and also many other trades, but business is the main one. All international business is conducted through English. Even all the larger countries above Ireland use English in their provision of international services. Ireland, like these uses its advantage in this field to be at the top (or very bloody near it at least). But I think everyone knew that already (being Irish we know everything).

Let me hear you sing it; "money, money, money..."

The third reason is Ireland’s membership of the European Union, the largest economy in the world. Like it or love it Ireland, without the E.U. we would be back in the bogs or whatever other end of the world situation you can think of.  And I’m not even going to go into the importance of the Euro for our current economic survival.  Actually, if it wasn’t for the E.U. we wouldn’t even have come near to the Celtic Tiger and all the nonsense that has resulted in our complete lack of understanding of what it is to have money and manage it wisely – myself included.

But where do we stand now? If you read some sources you’d swear the world was ending and that Ireland will never have a job to offer anyone again and that everyone and I mean every single person should emigrate and hope that some new people grow up under the leaves behind us. Shower of arseholes, I’m sick of hearing these revelations.

Here is solid evidence of what we need to do. Ireland must go up for sale to all bidders, Ireland must sell all the service professionals who are unemployed and create the jobs that the world needs to engage with the European Union and with the United States, thanks to our proximity and language. It startles me that initiatives haven’t already been taken. If prices are too high for less well off countries, then drop them and entice more international clients. Korea is a great country for really seeing economies of scale in practice, and Ireland could take some serious lessons from this: if everyone wants it then drop the price and make more people buy it, don’t raise the price and scare those sceptical buyers away!

Traditional Irish exports: Guinness, Waterford Crystal and People

Ireland has been labelled as a country of exports; it’s time we started exporting something other than computer chips and medical devices. We have skills, market knowledge, product awareness and a bag full of hard working and honest professionals who will work their arses off so as to keep themselves and their families alive. This I know for a fact because they are my friends, family members and the people that made Ireland the Celtic Tiger that was.

The government, not known for being perceptive, doesn’t need to lead this initiative, Ireland needs to wake up and see that we have always had these resources available to us and that we cannot be expected to have the world handed to us on a spoon. There are countries all over the world that would stage wars to get into Ireland’s position, and Ireland must take this desire and offer some understanding to countries that need to be built into a position of prominence.

Only we can do this. No more silver-spoon. No more waiting. We have hung around long enough for politicians of all shades to come and fix the situation. Fuck ‘em, their mates lost all their money, and ours; it’s time that we define our own destiny before that’s taken from us too.


[i] If you are curious as to how I came to this assumption. Here are some figures for you to play with: In descending order, the populations of China (1.4 Billion), the United States (310 million), Japan (130 million), Germany (82 million), France (65 million), United Kingdom (62 million), Italy (60 million), Spain (46 million), total at approximately 2.15 billion people. World population has been estimated to be 6.8 billion people. So there you go. Of course if you take China out of this equation the statistic isn’t show shocking.

Source: Wikipedia.org

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