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BOOK REVIEWS Facing the Unemployment Crisis in Ireland, by Kieran A. Kennedy, pp. 93, Cork: Cork University Press, 1993. IR £3.95. This brief, intense book is intellectual espresso, it stimulates without satisfying. And in doing that, it achieves its author’s intention to leave his reader sufficiently informed on the nature of the problem and sufficiently dissatisfied to seek solutions. As Kieran Kennedy’s contribution to Cork University Press’s Undercurrents series will help stir the debate in Ireland on the most persistent and tragic problem of unemployment. Irish public opinion has maintained a bewildering equanimity in face of severe unemployment, even as it climbed a staggering rate of twenty percent . Public indignation, Kennedy points out, tends to be reserved for the sudden jumps in unemployment. Reassured by pallatives, which in the long run tend to reinforce rather than diminish the problem, and promises of alleviation from government , the public passively submits to the new level. Two elements combine to produce this morally injured complacency. First, unemployment is, even at its current high rate, still a minority problem. In one figure quoted by Kennedy 62 percent of households claimed not to have experienced it. There is, therefore, little political pressure to tackle it. Any serious policy initiative on behalf of the economically depressed minority is likely to affect adversely the majority. The “established interests,” in Kennedy’s words, reckon that enduring unemployment—or having a significant minority endure it—is less painful than enduring efforts to reduce it. Second, there is a pervasive economic fatalism— a sense that in the modern world of interconnected economies, Ireland, a small and open economy, can do little to affect its economic fortunes. This inhibits the necessary public exchange on what should be done to counter unemployment. What Kennedy calls the “deeper mystery” of the absence of the political will to effectively tackle the problem means equally an unwillingness to engage a long-term strategic economic plan. Kennedy attacks this complacency with an unrelenting indignation at the human waste of unemployment and of emigration, its sister in misery. Its persistence , he argues, “could create an enduring dualism in the economy and society, with an increasing minority left further behind in terms of access to jobs, income and educations, and the attendant risk of similar deprivations being transmitted intergenerationally to the children of this marginalia sections.” As for economic fatalism, Kennedy concedes that international conditions and the level of unemBOOK REVIEWS 168 ployment are connected, but he warns that the casual connection actually lies in the response to a deterioration internationally. Austria, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland are small economies which have maintained low unemployment. Kennedy’s passion is aided by the very brevity of his text. Within some sixty pages, the facts of unemployment in Ireland emerge with startling force. It is an assault on commonly held presumptions of progress to read that employment levels are now only ten percent lower now than they were in the 1920s. One is tempted to recall Brendan Behan’s quip that we should hand Ireland back to the British and apologize for the state we have left it in, though even that remedy appears moot in the face of Britain’s persistent economic malaise. There is little mystery about unemployment’s current causes—a growth in the labor force of 22–25,000 per year until the year 2000, which far outstrips job creation, the staunching of emigration because of international recession, and domestic financial retrenchment. This monograph is very much an economist’s account. It does not broach the role of Irish politicians and officials since independence whose decisions played a key role in determining the country’s economic policy. That would take a far larger tome. But the precise role of government in so small an economy remains a key question, all the more so since the publication of Economic Development in 1958. Subsequent economic programs were intimately linked to Ireland’s success in the 1960s, just as the decision to publicly underwrite economic activity in the 1970s imposed such devastating strains on the Exchequer in the 1980s. Kennedy describes the current unemployment situation as “a new manifestation of a deeper problem that has been...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1550-5162
Print ISSN
0013-2683
Pages
pp. 168-171
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-31
Open Access
No
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