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Over the last few days I have been blogging on what life might look like in 2019. The bottom line, of course, is that nobody knows. For sure, there will be wild-cards in the next ten years that nobody could have predicted. Even so, it’s interesting to speculate about how the events and trends of today will play out over the coming decade. Today it’s the turn of the dismal sciences. 

The Great Recession

unemploymentThe world has never seen anything quite like it. During the last six months of 2008, every country in the world caught an economic ‘flu precipitated by years of care-free lending across the globe. Stock markets crashed and some of the biggest names in banking were forced into government ownership. Unemployment soared. Breadlines and tent cities have began to appear. The USA was caught out very badly, and it’s likely that its standing in the world may never again be the same in the face of growing competition from China and India. As I write we are still unsure how deep this recession will cut or how long its effects will be. The Economist, in a recent article, declared that the recovery is going to be prolonged and painful, with double-digit unemployment rates and horrendous levels of public debt. Such crises have massive after-effects: history has shown us that revolutions and wars are common outcomes. Will this time be any different?

The European Union

eu-flagIn 2004, the European Union grew in size to 25 states: a new political entity at the heart of Europe based on the free movement of people and capital, the promotion of democratic values, and a pooling of resources when it comes to foreign relations, humanitarian aid, financial policies, agriculture and lots of other areas that impinge on everyday life. That said, the political structures required to govern such a large and diverse group of nations are not quite up to it. Two attempts have been made so far to resolve this problem, but the first foray failed outright and the second attempt – the Lisbon Treaty – has been driven into the mud primarily as a result of an unsuccessful referendum in Ireland. What is clear is that the EU is comparatively toothless if it doesn’t resolve these issues quickly. Its long term future is far from certain, despite evidence that it has lead to a greatly improved quality of life for many people within its borders. There are several groups within the EU who desire to see it fall under it’s own weight and while a legislative vacuum remains, these groups have been gaining in confidence. No-one knows what a post-EU Europe might look like, but my guess is that it would not be pretty. Nationalism, once you get beyond the flag waving and the late-night singing, is often an ugly spectacle to behold. So where will it be in ten years time? Dead? Broken? Stagnant? Or, perhaps, reinvigorated? Thriving? We can hope.

Last installment tomorrow: The 9/11 Wars.

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Over the last few weeks I have been reflecting on the dramatic end to the Irish boom years. The papers and radio programs can talk about little else these days. It seemed to me that we Irish lost control of ourselves, embarking on a no-holds barred journey of utter hedonism and a devil-may-care financial splurge of epic proportions.

And yes, there were excesses. I remember once meeting the wife of a builder in Co. Clare, who told me that she changed houses every 2 years. At the time, they were both living in a 4,000 square-foot pad, and they would probably build a bigger one as soon as she got bored with it.

In a more general vein, there was the epic investment in foreign properties and towering office blocks; the multiple holidays per year to far flung locations such as Mauritius and the Seychelles; the arms races between neighbours and the ubiquity of stretch limos ferrying debutantes and first holy communicants to their dates with destiny.

But despite all this, the boom years were good years: a chance to forget the day to day struggles and to approach that stage of self actualisation heralded by Maslow. Many people were permitted to set up new businesses in a wide variety of fields, from coffee shops to tree surgery to exotic footwear. The quality of everything – food, clothes, furnishings – jumped dramatically. People were better able to provide for their families and to enjoy meals and outings with their friends. Services were set up to help people to improve the quality of their lives. People could indulge themselves in their hobbies and interests. Many people worked harder than they had ever worked in their lives, fanning the flames of an entrepreneurial ethic within Irish society. For a short few years, the wolf was no longer at the door, and it felt good.

So screw it. Let’s not regret the boom years. Let’s figure out how to get ourselves back to such times as quickly as possible so that we, our families and the less fortunate in society can benefit from a bit more cash in our pockets.

As Spike Milligan once said, “money can’t buy you happiness, but it does bring you a more pleasent form of misery”.

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