As we are about to embark on a year of celebrating 1916 and the birth of the nation, maybe it’s a good idea to stand back and ask what 1916 did for the economy.
The last time I checked, you couldn’t buy bread with slogans, speeches and flags, so isn’t it a good idea to ask what happened to living standards and economic opportunity after the Rising?
What was the economic and financial backdrop to the Rising? And what economic policies were followed to ensure that the pledge to “cherish all the children of the nation equally” (which was intended to refer to Unionists rather than the poor) was underpinned by financial reality?
When I learned about 1916 and the national struggle, economics was never mentioned other than scant reference to Horace Plunkett and his co-operative movements. Because this Plunkett, a former Unionist MP, was often confused with his relative Joseph Plunkett, a Proclamation signatory, there was always a vague sense that some Plunkett who was involved in national politics at the time had something to do with economics.
That was about the height of the economics – which is unusual because the story of revolutions tends, typically, to have a big economic component. The story of our revolution, as told in school, is one of rich Britain subjugating poor Ireland. This sounds good, but it’s not entirely accurate.
Work by economists Kevin O’Rourke and Ronan Lyons reveals another, more nuanced, story. In fact, the decades leading up to the Rising were a period of relative prosperity for those people who stayed in Ireland. They were decades of rapid social improvement. I know it sounds counterfactual, but it’s true.
Take for example, the lot of Irish skilled workers and tradesmen, such as carpenters and fitters. During the Famine they earned about 90pc of what their English counterparts did. This ratio remained more or less unchanged, but in those decades leading up to 1913, both English and Irish tradesmen saw rapid increases in their wages. The Empire project enriched all of Britain and Ireland. In the later part of the 19th century both Irish and English tradesmen got richer together.
However, we see much greater upward mobility in the wages of unskilled Irish workers and farm labourers, which actually rose rapidly after the Famine. This goes totally against the national narrative. I am not saying that people weren’t poor, but they were beginning to get richer.
In 1845, Irish unskilled workers earned half of what their counterparts were earning in Britain – by 1913 they were earning three quarters.
This seems counterintuitive because these were years of natural catastrophe and mass emigration – and surely that should be the key metric for any assessment of economic viability. But the fact is that those workers who stayed in Ireland did well after the Famine. When there are fewer workers to do the work, their wages tend to rise, and that’s what happened. Therefore, strange as it may sound, the typical economic reasons for a Rising, which traditionally should be a deterioration in the plight of the local people ahead of the Revolution, were not present in Ireland.
In addition, wealth, which in agricultural Ireland primarily stemmed from land ownership, was also undergoing a transformation. The various Land Acts from 1870 to 1909 began the mass transfer of land from the Anglo Irish aristocracy to the local farmers. This too would have had a profound positive impact on the wealth of the local population. Finally, the Irish stock market, which if the country had been an economic basket case would have been falling, actually doubled in the late Victorian era. Indeed some household names such as Arnotts were quoted at the time, revealing a buoyant retail sector in Dublin.
During this period, we had an Irish Home Rule party that held the balance of power in Britain and could therefore extract concessions from British imperialists who were looting the globe at the time. As a result, large-scale sanitation and infrastructural projects were undertaken such as bringing clean water to Dublin from Roundwood Reservoir. (By the way, there is a statue of the dude behind that initiative, which saved the lives of thousands of poor Dublin children – more than Jim Larkin ever did – situated just behind “Big Jim” on O’ Connell Street. Can you name him?)
All this taken together explains how in 1913, on the eve of the Rising, far from being poor, Ireland was actually a rich country – one of the richest in Europe. Income per head was on a par with the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden and Finland.
Seventy years after the Rising in 1986, Irish income per head was half the income of the Scandinavians. What happened?
Did our population expand rapidly so that our income per head fell – which would have been the inverse of what had happened between 1850 and 1900, when wages rose because the population fell? No, in fact, the Irish population kept falling up until the 1970s.
Emigration remained at ridiculously high levels. Consider this: in the 1950s, we know that 450,000 Irish people emigrated to England alone. That is not taking into account the people who went to America, Canada or Australia. And we are talking about a decade when the rest of the world boomed. In the 1980s, again, when our major trading partners – the English-speaking world – boomed, we went backwards. This is hard to do.
Since then, things have got much better. In fact, since the mid-1990s, even despite the crash, Ireland’s living standards have increased dramatically.
However, the fact remains – the first 80 years of this State were an economic disaster.
I am talking here about the ability of the new State to look after its own people, to match the rhetoric of nationalism with some semblance of achievement. Two out of three people born in the country in the 1930s – the first real generation of the new State – ended up living abroad. Just take that in.
I wonder will any of these individual stories be referenced in the many centenary celebrations that lie ahead?
Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t trade my Irish citizenship for anything and I believe in a nation’s right to make its own mistakes. And yet we should acknowledge that the people who took over this country in the aftermath of 1916 in our name were about as economically literate as the Taliban, and it wasn’t until these men were dead that this country began to deliver economically for its citizens.
get the popcorn out
there is a little too much invective in this article for it to be readable. There is no doubt that the state was a mess after the rising or that things had been improving beforehand. This does not mean that there was no need for the Irish to take their freedom instead of it being granted to them. Perhaps the tragedy of occupation only became apparent after the rising. This is a story in which all the parties involved were found wanting. It seems to me that the real target of your invective is the republican mythos and propaganda, rather… Read more »
There is invective in the title which is unfortunately written by the sub-editors, but the article is very measured – at least I think it is. Crucially, the final paragraphs are my own personal view on being a citizen of an Independent country – I wouldn’t trade it for anything. That said, its worth starting the conversation.
If there was a referendum in Ireland next year to rejoin the UK, with the result that if Ireland did then the following would be abolished: VRT USC Annual Local Property Tax (the UK has stamp duty, but no annual payments). Lower VAT Lower income tax Much higher thresholds on tax bands. plus an absorption of national debt, plus all the good bits Scotland is about to get to run its economy, as well as a large slice of the total tax take of a much richer country. How many people WOULD swap their passport? I’m thinking a lot more… Read more »
This should be good. :-)
My own tuppence worth as an economic illiterate: Our Trademen were well paid in the late 90s and early 2000s and look how that worked out.
We’re a wealthy country alright but its the concentration of wealth in a few hands that seems to be the problem.
However bad any of Irish history proved to be, you have to admit, in comparison to many other places in the world, Ireland suffered relatively little. Take Niall Ferguson’s excellent documentary on WWI about how genocide was the leitmotif of the 20 Century, we escaped almost without a scratch. Any of the tragedies of the past in Ireland look like tiny skirmishes in comparison to events elsewhere. Even Eastern Europe suffered much more than Ireland and they did nothing to deserve it. We have to look beyond nationality, people in Britain suffered tremendously during the Industrial Revolution, in the World… Read more »
Firstly, I think David is to be commended for trying to address a topic, in a manner different from all the many other commentators who have mutilated the past, in an effort to mutilate the future. In other words, there have been no guilt trips, even though this is currently “in vogue” in the Irish media. The one thing that has baffled me no end is the volume of cliche ridden nonsense that circulates with respect to the entire period. The 1913 commemorations have been turned into a SIPTU-fest, completely obliviuous to the often selfish agenda that predominates with SIPTU… Read more »
Correction: [ However, I would like to know how we would define the men who inherited what they fought for, and who are full believers in the current imperial project. They seem even more clueless about econommics. Their entire program amounts to bring in rich American mncs, and let them pay minimal taxes – while the worker bees will pay for everything. In fact, the current political “leadership”(sic) have been given the responsibility of running a free country, and yet, in the period of the current Dail, they send the budget to Berlin for review before showing it to the… Read more »
Good point. There is a whole 20 minutes of the patronizing `Mummy-knows-best-mentality´ vs. calmly and logically argued reality to be found right here(from last week): http://www.rte.ie/news/primetime/2015/1106/740096-prime-time-yanis-varoufakis-full-interview/ I found the faces that Miriam O´Callaghan made throughout at Yannis Varoufakis to be ridiculous and hugely unprofessional. As well, I found it to be deeply ironic that she actually spent the whole interview parroting back arguments, directly into Varoufakis´s face, that stemmed from the actual `model prisoner´ government line that Varoufakis himself was calmly and clearly speaking about to her. She kept pulling things on to a personal level throughout, with no logical… Read more »
First of all, congratulations to David that he had the guts to touch the hot potato. Secondly, oranje68 goes on to touch on a very important philosophical topic: “Revolutions are not generally inspired by looking at an Excel spreadheet and seeing that your mopnthly income has dropped.” I think that the question of what actually causes the revolutions is very rarely, if ever, discussed in countries where the revolutions have occurred more often than in other countries (that is, Ireland and Poland), and those who discuss in a more inquisitive way are not read and their findings remain unknown to… Read more »
Hindsight is twenty twenty vision so the real question David should be asking is-
With the benefit of hindsight why didn’t our leaders of the noughties do any better than their 1916 cabal of predecessors.
The answer is always the same. It’s still a cabal no matter when it is.
After every general election the government is always in power.
David, did you not get the memo?
The glorious dead leaders of 1916 are the nations new Gods.
They shalt not be criticised in any way.
Repent at once, wrap yourself in a tricolour and kneel at the altar of the GPO and beg the great Pearse God for forgiveness.
DAVID -> ?
DID IRELAND HAVE COLONIES TO EXPLOIT?
DID IRELAND HAVE MORE CHILDREN TO FIGHT IN IMPERIAL WARS?
DO YOU KNOW HOW POOR THE IRISH STATE WAS AT FOUNDATION?
DO YOU KNOW WHO CONTROLLED IRISH TRADE?
EMIGRATION -> ?
AN GORTA MóR
-> IN A CENTURY OF TWO WORLD WARS?
-> WHERE WAS THE MONEY TO COME FROM?
THERE IS A REASON WHY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH GAVE SCHOOLS AND HOSPITALS?
THERE IS A REASON WHY NUNS AND MONKS WORKED FOR FREE?
ANS. NOBODY ELSE CARED.
-> THERE WAS NO GOLD FOR LOAN TO THE IRISH
MAYBE WE COULD HAVE GOT SOME VERSAILLES REPARATIONS?
-> FOR OUR DEAD IRISH SONS
VAMPIRICALLY SUCKED ON LIFEBLOOD GOLD FROM GERMANY?
MAYBE OUR OWN SLICE OF RHINE VALLEY?
Thanks. Perhaps it is the ‘modern’
diet. Those Dublin women who do not live on take-aways and/or drugs are still beautiful – i.e. very good skin complection. Sadly ability to cook is in decline. Those who do live on alcohol, processed food, old animal take-away fat and drugs often do look and sound like sea monsters
Some interesting comments. Time is running short so I can’t say much. I’ll read through the article again tomorrow, but my first impression is that a lot of it is what Crotty said. He argued that a relatively small number of Irish tenant farmers acquired land from the Anglo landlords (a considerably smaller number again) and became the new elite. The push for independence came (as David says) from an increasingly prosperous and confident landed and professional class who did not see why Ireland should sacrifice its youth to the Empire in WW1. There were a small number of ‘irritants’,… Read more »
I think this needs to be aired David and it’s a truth we don’t like to face. There is another truth and it is that we are reluctant to accept the role that catholicism plays and has played in grooming people to accept ALL authority without real dissent. We were prepared to take on an empire but yet we kneeled to rome. Our emigrants thrive in protestant but secular anglophone Countries. Do people think that’s a fu*king accident? I think this generation have bypassed the reformation and moved on to secularism and that is moving us forward very quickly. We’ve… Read more »
Nigel Farage: Ireland has been crushed by iron fist of the EU
Your politicians have sold out for free sandwiches and jobs in Brussels
“I (Shall Happily) Accept the 2016 Nobel Prize in Economics on Behalf of Satoshi Nakamoto”
A Dublin TD, J.J. Byrne, told the Dail in a debate regarding land in 1927 “I did not intend to take any part in this debate at all, for I always considered that the city man knows very little about land”. Wise man. His wisdom still applies. The 1916 Rebellion was largely confined to industrial Dublin because the centuries-old Irish agrarian question had been largely settled by then. Most agricultural holdings had been purchased by their tenant occupiers through a system of British Government loans which were repaid in the form of “land annuities” and collected with local authority rates.… Read more »
Maybe understandable if you believe your income comes from milk quotas, intervention payments, set aside, disadvantaged area grants, single farm payments and all sorts of other exotic payments that us Dubs don’t really understand but yet have to pay for through taxation. Shelves in Dunnes, Aldi, Lidl or any other suprmarket won’t run dry that is unless farmers think their salvation lies in supplying China with baby food.
DB4545 and Tony: I think we agree more than we disagree. This all goes back to my (limited) study of economics many decades ago. The same arguments still rage about “land, labor and capital”. What is capital? Is it merely accumulated labor? What happens when labor becomes highly specialized, as in an industrial economy? Is a city/country divide inevitable? Is a capital/labor divide inevitable? These are the controversies that still rage today. Unfortunately the basic concept of social interdependency is still not fully understood or accepted. As for the Irish economic experience, both city and country, there was not a… Read more »
Pat if we can learn anything from 1916 it’s that ideologies should never be a replacement for common sense and pragmatism. The ideology of total EU integration is flawed and will lead us to disaster. A few bucks now is no substitute for retaining the option to paddle our own canoe. Our prosperity and safety rests with commerce not an Empire which will morph into a war machine to justify its existence. I’m not interested in listening to bloated politicians lecture us about “solidarity” and “je suis charlie” horseshite and crying crocodile tears while trousering our money and “leading” us… Read more »
THE 2016 COWARDS ARE EVEN MORE ECONOMICALLY CLUELESS. In 2015 we have Bloated Plastic Lefties that pin medals on each other for writing essays about 1913 and 1916 while engineering a Pension Bias Robbery that diverts state funds away from top priorities like “All the needs of the sickest children in Ireland” to the POISION of the Irish Political Gerontocrats – “The Irish Golden Pension For Cronies”. With less than TWO million full time employed workers in Ireland we have more than ONE million non secure workers without a private pension. Non Secure Workers without a private pension are levied… Read more »
Good account on research that shows factory farming is bad for us all. Bad food, bad ecology, bad results.
Sustainable farming practices will sustain the land and increase the food available.
Another exaMPLE OF SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL AND DO NOT CENTRALIZE AGRICULTURE.
“There are at least five major UN reports that have come out in the last few years that are saying that industrial agriculture is not the answer to feeding the growing global population. They’re increasingly moving toward supporting agroecology, sustainable agriculture, permaculture, and natural farming – these alternative systems of production,” Dr. Ikerd says.
HE WHO LIVES BY THE SWORD.
Adam, I voted FG the last time to sort out the economic crisis and banks FAIRLY for the needs of the greater public good. Their record for helping the bank customer speaks for itself. The Irish bank customer comes LAST. Their greatest failure was not restructuring debt ratios for Irish families. They were too politically weak to access 40bn@ 0% for 25yrs from the ECB and their ESM fund to restructure household overvalued debt from 2004 to 2009. Industry best practice split mortgages and interest only restructures were required for families with overvalued debt. Alan kelly(housing) and michael noonan (finance)… Read more »
Unconstitutional Irish Right
David, you’re reaching a new low with this click bait headline. Not once does your article back up the assertion of the headline. Tut, tut.. Then you go on to waterboard the stats to fit your flimsy argument. Also you are quite economical with the truth. E.g. the notion that the land was ‘transferred’ back to the Irish from the Anglo-Irish is misleading in the extreme. The land was purchased and thus paid for by the Irish through a series of Land Acts from 1870 or so onwards. In fact these repayments were so contentious that they were one of… Read more »
1,100 euro 3 bed accomodation outside Dublin works out at 18% of net pay for three average earning workers.
If the average earning workers in Dublin are on 150 net euro a month more, then the rent of 1,500euro for a three bed is still below 25% of net pay and is not in the RENTAL CRISIS category.
Job bridge and intern accomodation costs are the responsibility of FG/Lab to provide grants for FG/Lab LOW paid jobs.
Students have to pay the going average wage rent rate( now below 25% of net pay) for private rental accomodation.
Mike flannelly It’s getting close to election time Mike so logic doesn’t come into the equation. If a landlord rents to private tenants the landlord gets 75% tax relief for interest payments. If a landlord rents to people receiving housing benefit the landlord gets 100% tax relief on interest payments. This effectively means that taxpayers fund housing benefit and then further subsidize those in receipt of this benefit via tax reliefs. Working people receive nothing and those claiming benefits get further subsidies and the taxpayer picks up the tab. A further reward for not working or making an effort to… Read more »
Well said. DB4545 I cant believe that Irish economists were calling 18% of net income a rental crisis. Everywhere else a rental crisis is WELL OVER 30% of net income. It has been up to 50% of net income in some countries. Our Great Economist Hero 2015 told us in a previous blog about rent controls ” Say it loud and say it clear: the cost of the housing crisis is being shouldered by renters”. It is a social housing crisis/SHORTAGE. 2015 Irish Landlords with 300,000euro INVESTMENT mortgages from 2007 (ZERO investment value)are FORCED to subsidize a social housing shortage… Read more »
Reading your article helped me a lot and I agree with you. But I still have some doubts, can you clarify for me? I’ll keep an eye out for your answers.