Technology: friend or foe to working people?

First, they came for the factory workers, but I did not speak out –

Because I was not a factory worker.

Later, they came for the bank tellers, but I did not speak out –

Because I was not a bank teller.

Soon, they’ll come for the taxi drivers, but I do not speak out –

Because I am not a taxi driver.

Are they coming for me?

***

This adaption of Martin Niemöller’s famous poem about the Nazis’ creeping reign of terror is supposed to illustrate the ambivalence of ordinary people to technological change.

We like the fact that TVs, computers, mobile phones and domestic appliances are better and cheaper than in the past. Progressive automation in manufacturing has been a key driver of the productivity gains that allowed this happen.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Clash of Generations: Ireland’s no country for young people

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 ***

Continue reading

When the quake hit

Victor Duggan and his Mexican wife Ixchel in the park in Mexico City that they headed to when Tuesday’s earthquake struck. Photograph: Tom Griffen

My wife, Ixchel, and I moved from Paris to Mexico City late last year for work. Although born here, and having lived here most of her adult life, my wife’s family had moved to the north of the country only weeks before the earthquake that hammered the city in 1985, killing nearly 10,000 people.

Even she had never felt anything like the mega-quake that struck this past Tuesday, September 19th, nor the one that hit the south of the country a dozen days earlier. This was a new and terrifying experience for both of us.

We live in Roma Norte, a newly-hip neighbourhood that has only in recent years been reclaimed and restored, having been devastated and depopulated by the 1985 quake.

My wife, Ixchel, and I moved from Paris to Mexico City late last year for work. Although born here, and having lived here most of her adult life, my wife’s family had moved to the north of the country only weeks before the earthquake that hammered the city in 1985, killing nearly 10,000 people.

Even she had never felt anything like the mega-quake that struck this past Tuesday, September 19th, nor the one that hit the south of the country a dozen days earlier. This was a new and terrifying experience for both of us.

*** This article was first published in The Irish Times on 21 September, 2017 ***

Continue reading

Leonomics: lost in fiscal space

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.

Continue reading

Twelve steps to tackle Ireland’s housing crisis

Watching Ireland’s housing crisis unfold has been like watching a slow-motion car crash.

Surging numbers of rough sleepers around our cities were an early sign, shortly after the economic crisis struck. As job losses mounted, and wage cuts began to bite, more and more people struggled to pay their mortgage and keep a roof over their family’s heads.

Meanwhile, the shutdown in house-building was storing up problems for the future. Chronic shortages in housing supply have sent rents surpass their boom-time peaks, while house prices have increased by half since they bottomed out four years ago. Record numbers of families are forced to stay in hotels or in emergency accommodation. Some have had to resort to sleeping in their cars or putting themselves at the mercy of the local Garda station.

*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 29 June, 2017 ***

Continue reading

Venezuela: failed state, betrayed revolution

Venezuela is in crisis, sliding further towards collapse.

Opposition protests sparked by attempts by the Supreme Court, stacked with loyalists to President Nicolás Maduro, to usurp the legislative powers of Congress have already seen dozens killed.

Perhaps inconveniently for the government, the President’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) had lost their Congressional majority in the 2015 elections for the first time since Hugo Chávez was swept into power by a democratic landslide in 1999. Shortly after Chávez’ first became President, he set about re-writing Venezuela’s constitution, giving more powers to the Presidency and laying the foundations for his Bolivarian revolution – Socialism for the 21st Century, as he called it.

This piece of history is important, given that President Maduro last week pledged to reconvene another constituent assembly to re-write the constitution once again. This is seen by many as a thinly-veiled attempt to delay the regional elections scheduled later this year, and the Presidential election scheduled for 2018.

*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 12 May, 2017 ***

Continue reading

Mexico: political risk update

“May you live in interesting times” is a Chinese curse that seems apt to describe Mexico at its current political juncture. Times are certainly interesting. With the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., much focus in recent months has been outward-looking. Indeed, political risk in the diplomatic sphere is perhaps higher than at any time in living memory.

Domestically, the current administration is on the cusp of its final year in office, and the lame-duck status that goes with it. The pre-campaign to elect a new President in 2018 is well under way, with a very real possibility that Mexico will elect its first ever leftist President. At the same time, recent high-profile incarcerations of former high-level government officials and narco-traffickers has shone a spotlight on corruption and organised crime like never before.

With imminent – and important – state-level domestic elections in June 2017, seen by many as a prelude to the Presidential elections taking place in July 2018, the scope for political and policy change in Mexico over the period to late-2018 is significant. In light of the single term limit on the Mexican Presidency, the incumbent, Enrique Peña Nieto, will give way to his successor on December 1st, 2018. Opinion polls suggest a three-way fight between Peña Nieto’s PRI, the opposition PAN – which held the Presidency from 2000 to 2012 – and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), at the head of Morena, the movement he left the PRD – traditionally Mexico’s 3rd party, and for whom AMLO twice contested the Presidency – to form.

Continue reading