5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Vested interests kept Ireland poor,
This review is from: Preventing the Future (Paperback)
The book's subtitle explains its raison d'Ítre: why was Ireland so poor for so long? Drawing on the work of the American political scientist Mancur Olson, Garvin argues that the economic and social reforms necessary for Ireland to become a rich country were stymied for over thirty years by a `blocking coalition' of interest groups, including the Catholic Church, the trade unions, the medical establishment, the Irish language lobby, and employers' organizations. The Church feared that economic growth would precipitate a more liberal, and therefore, pagan culture. The trade unions were more interested in the redistribution of a small economic pie than supporting reforms to increase the size of that pie. Seemingly, purely for reasons of status, the medical establishment supported the Church in its efforts to prevent state involvement in the provision of health care, while the Irish language lobby ensured that more and more school time was devoted to Irish - at the expense of economically useful technical education - in a futile and ineffective attempt to revive the language. Employers' organizations, which mainly represented small family shops, were obsessed with preventing `unfair' (a catch-all term) competition from large department stores. The activities of this `blocking coalition' were broadly supported by the populace, who, riddled with deference, seemed to accept that Ireland would always be a poor little country. Meanwhile, politicians, many of whom were cultural nationalists, wanted Ireland to be a Catholic, traditional and idealist land, rather than (the only alternative apparently) a pagan, modern and materialistic one.
Nevertheless, argues Garvin, it was politicians, especially Fianna Fáil's Sean Lemass, who began implementing reforms, particularly with relation to economic and educational policy, that began Ireland's dalliance with modernity. Such a momentous break with tradition was motivated by the economic sclerosis of the mid-nineteen fifties, attested to by the high level of emigration. This contrasted unfavorably with the rest of Western Europe: even countries which had been defeated in the war were reveling in the unprecedented economic expansion of the `thirty golden years'. The Irish national project, it seemed, had failed. This new realism on the part of Ireland's political leadership was supported by an increasingly restive lay intellectuals, academics, and senior civil servants. What would have happened if such a volte-face had not been implemented? Garvin suggests the development of a 'post-de Valera `Peronisation' of the polity, with an anti-intellectual populist politics dismissing the ordinary wisdom of economic science in favour of an emotional redistributivism combined with a new explosion of Anglophobe irredentist nationalism. A vicious circle of populist irrationalism in political life might have driven the economy into free fall - the Republic of Ireland as a Latin American country, Europe's answer to Uruguay'. (p. 195)
The book's thesis is very interesting. Yet, the thesis itself could have been presented in a much better fashion. There's a lot of repetition, and many of the quotes are unnecessarily long. In other words, the work could have done with a good deal of editing. All in all, however, it's a good read.