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The indiscreet complacency of the bourgeoisie: A review of Stephen Kinsella’s Ireland in 2050: How we will be living. October 21, 2009

Posted by guestposter in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics, The Left, Uncategorized.

By D.J.P. O’Kane

A former Taoiseach of this state was fond of remarking that we did not live in an economy, that what we lived in was a society. What we live in is – of course – both an economy and a society, and this presents certain problems for anyone who wants to predict the future of the 26 counties. The social, cultural and economic structures in the Republic of Ireland interact with each other in a variety of complex ways; and these structures are in turn inextricably linked with a vast array of global networks of social, cultural and economic exchange. These networks are all, in turn, part of a human ecological relationship with the planet, and all these factors combine to make predictions about the future difficult, to put it mildly.

Stephen Kinsella’s Ireland in 2050 is an attempt at predicting Ireland’s future. Despite the evidence that the wheels have well and truly come off the Irish economy, Kinsella believes that ‘Ireland is in forward motion’, and that his book will convince us of the ways in which he thinks ‘we’re headed as a country’. I think Ireland’s future may well resemble the picture he paints of ‘how we will be living’ in 2050, but I am not persuaded that this will be a good thing.
After an opening chapter where he evokes the anxieties of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, Kinsella goes on to discuss Ireland’s place in the global economy. He counsels a continued orientation to the outside world, and especially to the United States, which he believes will continue to be a major trading partner and source of investment (he considers a successful Chinese bid for world hegemony unlikely). This is followed by chapters that try to trace the future evolution of the Irish family, Irish patterns of work and leisure, education, the likely consequences of environmental change, energy policy, health care, government and the probable persistence of social inequality. Each of these topics would be deserving of a volume, or several volumes, in their own right – but as they all strongly influence each other it’s not a bad idea to consider them within the boundaries of one work.

By 2050, Kinsella is convinced, a ‘divorce bomb’ will have gone off in Irish society (his source for this appears to be the questionable conservatives at the Iona Institute). An aging population will be putting severe stress on a highly unequal health care system and the pensions system. Dublin in 2050 will be the same size as Los Angeles, and the social integration of youth born and raised in alienating suburban sprawl will be a high priority. Transport will be car-based, and electronic surveillance will make toll roads far more prevalent than they are now (incredibly, public transport gets one derisive line; ‘If you don’t want to pay, stay at home and do something more fun than sitting in traffic, or get to where you want to go by bike, train, magic carpet, or whatever’). We will work in creative industries, and the education system will have to change to accommodate this – with the Leaving Certificate in its present form being the first candidate for the chop (though I have to say I didn’t see much discussion of the innovative industries a creative Ireland might produce). The Irish model of low taxes will persist, as will its consequences – poor public services and structural social exclusion. Agriculture will forced to change radically, as a warming world makes things very different in the Irish countryside. Water charges will be inevitable from 2015 onwards, as pressure from an expanding Dublin makes the present system of water supply untenable (Ireland’s water supply is experiencing problems already, but there are good reasons for thinking that privatisation and water charges are not the tools for dealing with this problem: but that’s a whole other post).

Between now and 2050, Irish society is likely to be stressed by new challenges from within and without, and the consequences of those challenges will be unpredictable. What we can predict, however, is that an effective response to those challenges will require more than just toll-roads and water charges. In his chapter on social inequality, Kinsella acknowledges the superior outcomes (economic and social) enjoyed by relatively more equal societies, but rules them out for Ireland. Not only is he adamant that he is not a socialist, but he is also of the opinion that ‘Ireland will not choose to reduce inequality by increasing taxes on the wealthy and increasing public service provision, because we have never done so in the past’. We do a lot of things now that we did not do in our parents’ or our grandparents’ time: we’ll be doing a lot of things in 2050 that previous generations could never have dreamed of (it’s revealing that Kinsella barely mentions the new immigrant communities that have helped transform Irish society over the past decade). A reversal of present social and political priorities is by no means inevitable, but it can’t be ruled out either.

Even though I found Kinsella’s book consistently wrong-headed, naïve, question-begging and tendentious, I think he does deserve some credit for at least trying to think beyond the present crisis. I disagreed with almost all of his book, but I think it deserves greater consideration than I can give it in the space of this review. I’ll close this review with a quote from Ireland in 2050 which sums up the central problem of Kinsella’s viewpoint:

Ireland’s development over the last forty years, though striking (both in how we failed to develop in 1970 – 1987, and how quickly we developed thereafter), hasn’t changed us all that much. The influence of the Catholic church is much diminished. We drink more Cappucinos and owe more money per person, and we travel more. But fundamentally, today we are the same. We’ll be fundamentally the same in forty years.

Will we? Have we really not changed fundamentally since 1970? And if we don’t change fundamentally between now and 2050, can we avoid disasters of all kinds, economic, environmental, and social?



1. John Murphy - October 21, 2009

I don’t agree with the comment that “The influenec of the Catholic church is much diminished” nor will it be in 2050. The genuis mindfuck brain program that is catholicism is still deeply ingrained in the Irish psyche. It’s present in what we do and what we don’t do. Unless we face the demon head on instead of locking him in the closet we’ll never fully exorcise ourselves. As for prediciting a possible future for Ireland and the world in general I think all bets are off at this stage!!


2. Jim Monaghan - October 21, 2009

I think the Catholic Church is brokem. We are now give and take like France, culturally Catholic.You could say that newer forms of obscurantism have emerged but a large [part of the secular intelligentsia are so focussed on the Church that they do not see it.
When I started politics in the 60s it was a living force with a strong cadre. Now if I see a priest/nun under 60 I would be mildly surprised.
The Church is trying to reinvent itself with a relevance for todays age. Healy and CORI are a manifestation of this. The Anglicans across the water were doing this much earlier. Mind you I find that the leftie priests/nuns have still the same bullying and paternalistic attitude as their more socially backward predecessors, and wish not to empower the poor but keep them in a dependency situation.
In real terms Irish attitudes to everything will gradually move to a pan European norm. We follow the same football teams and gurus etc.
What I fear is that what is unique such as language, musicand literature will also disappear to be replaced by the X-factor. This is a problem for all minority cultures acroos the world including many that are in a stronger position than ours.
According to a Star Trek calender Ireland is united at this stage. Does the above preduict the same?
I see that he paints a more divided society with a few in trendy jobs and many in the banlieus of Dublin without real education and a future. This is just an extrapolation of what is happening now. Our education system is not as good as it is painted. Anyone see the article by Ed Walsh in yesterdays Irish Times.


3. Stephen Kinsella - October 21, 2009


Thanks for the review, it seems your major problem with the book is that it doesn’t predict the type of future you’d like to see.

I’d be interested to hear the type of Ireland you’d like to see, and I’d be happy to host your response on my blog for the book, http://www.irelandin2050.com. It’s clear you’ve read the book in detail, and you’re clearly a smart chap/chapette, so perhaps a good discussion based around the likelihood of your scenarios could be possible.

Also, I really do hope that’s not me you’re titling as one of the bourgeoisie. I’d recognise as bourgeoisie those described in Marx, Capital, Vol 1, Pg. 885 (Penguin edition) , in the “Expropriation of the Agricultural Population” 🙂


D.J.P. O'Kane - October 21, 2009

No, Stephen, my major problem with your book is that it started from flawed premises and reached flawed conclusions.


4. Adam - October 21, 2009

@Jim Monaghan
I I know the Star Trek reference you speak of, there is still another 15 years for that to be proved wrong as they put the reunification of Ireland at 2024:


This may be a bit pedantic though :).


Adam - October 21, 2009

Actually on rereading you probably meant 2050 when you said “by this stage”. My mistake! Stephen feel free to delete these comments.


5. Joe McCann - October 21, 2009

I have only ordered the book,but what i see here about the church doesn’t surprised me.
Religion should not be mixed with politics.We all know that.The churches in ireland have had an impact on our economy during the previous years,but i think these times have passed long ago.
It is down to FF greed, so if you want to talk about religion,Greed is one of the seven deadly skills.In my own option,We will be moving further away from the churches in ireland.

I am looking forward to reading this book, i believe steven has great prospective and knowledge of what’s going on


6. WorldbyStorm - October 21, 2009

While enjoying the book – and it’s well worth a read – I’d entirely agree with DJP that much seems to be an extension of the present. For example it’s clear that Stephen admires social democratic approaches, but I don’t understand why it’s inevitable that we won’t push in that direction simply because hitherto our parties have cleaved to a centre right consensus. Forty years is an enormous length of time, and one need only cast back the previous forty to see how significant the changes have been in the interim.

I’d also agree with you Jim, I think the Church is very much in decline. Indeed last time I met you I think you made that point very clearly.

BTW, kudos to Stephen for engaging with people on the book.

BTW squared, if we’re talking Rodenberry, does anyone recall Earth: Final Conflict and the episode The Secret of Strandhill which IIRC had a united Ireland as well… Was Rodenberry in some way related to Ireland (not closely to judge from some of the depictions of the Irish on STNG).


7. cogadh - October 21, 2009

I think at this stage it’s gone beyond complacency. They are completely ossified and I don’t think that will change in 40 years time which means the last bit quoted from the book is probably correct. Although one can take solace in the fact that it makes use of the royal ‘we’…


8. Crocodile - October 21, 2009

Hope you’re kidding, Jim. Might as well cite Michael O’Leary on the future of industrial relations or Richard Corrigan on the future of vegetarianism.


Crocodile - October 21, 2009

Sorry. That refers to your citing Ed ‘Genghis Khan’ Walsh on education.


9. Jim Monaghan - October 21, 2009

I regret to say that the left is very complacent about the education system. Constant repeating of the mantra of best education system in the world is just that a mantra. Kiberd, the english lit one, wrote a critique. IMO the Leaving Cert has been dumbed down. I think there should be an applied Junior Cert. It is too late after the Junior.Moving from one year to another should be based on attainment not just age. Compulsory summer classes for those in need of it so that at School start they are up tp speed.I could go on.
Let us be honest we are adding each year to those who do not have the level necessary for Third Level or Craft.Yes and we need something to check the quality of our schools and teachers.The current system is a joke. Even if it is negative nothing can be done. There are probably more doctors dropped by the Medical council than teachers.
I have experience of both those who go to college and those who do not. Over 25% of those who go to an IT do not get a qualification.
In middlecalss Dublin the faults in the schools are disguised by the willingness of parents tp pay for grinds. Oh and grinds do work, maybe not for all. Some kids need a boost in a subject for a variety of reasons.
Anecdote: Kid does not get into A stream (oh yes there are streams). Kid gets grinds paid for. Lo and behold the grinds are by the best teacher who is allocated to the A stream.
It is getting worse because with immigration we are no longer a monocultural society so Irish schools are now dealing with a diversity that was unknown in the past, aggravated yet again by cutbacks in funding for extra help for those for whom English is not a first language. I would like a real debate not just a reaction from touchy teachers.I am an engineer and I will freely admit that I would be careful using anything built/designed/constructed by some.
It is a tough world out there as we are finding out. The best way we can survive is by having our people really well educated.


10. Ian Clotworthy - October 21, 2009

The mere fact that the book appears to take no account of the impact of peak oil on our economy (i.e. We will work in creative industries, transport will be car-dominated) rules it out as a realistic prediction.


Stephen Kinsella - October 21, 2009

Hi Ian,

the book does discuss peak oil, renewable energy, and nuclear power. The cars in 2050 are electric, not fossil fuel based. I’m a big fan of people like Orlov and McKibbin, and reference their work in my book. Check out the irelandin2050.con site for some stuff about nuclear power if you’re interested.


11. Stephen Kinsella - October 21, 2009


I appreciate the urge to be snarky, I do, but you haven’t put the work in yet to show how, where, and why any of my premises are false or questionable, and how they therefore lead to false conclusions. I’m sincerely offering you the forum to do so, because I really do mean what I say I the book- I want as many people to think about this as possible, and to disagree with me if necessary, because I think these issues are really important.

So, for your readers, put in the work, think hard about the book, and show me where I’m wrong.

Or you could send out facile one-lined comments. Up to you. But your readers would Appreciate the former I think. So would I.


12. D.J.P. O'Kane - October 21, 2009

‘Ireland’s development. . . hasn’t changed us all that much. . . We’ll be fundamentally the same in forty years’.

What’s your basis for this statement?

In your third chapter, you state ‘the isolated, socially-distant nuclear family of the 1950s was really an anomaly’. You appear to be confusing the social structure and mores of 1950s Ireland with an episode of Mad Men. In what peculiar sense can the kinship system of 1950s Ireland be said to consist of isolated and socially-distant nuclear families?


Stephen Kinsella - October 21, 2009

A little better DJP, cheers for the questions. I’ll cheerfully answer these and any other questions in the morning-kids up at 6, etc.


13. tgmac - October 21, 2009

I hope the fella’s book does well. There’s no harm in a bit of the auld prognostications. Looking backwards to the last couple of years, I can’t find a whole load of people who forecast the global economic crisis we’ve just experienced(ing). Even those who thought things would go fubar didn’t realise the scope, sequence of events, and really don’t know the full ramifications of how these past events will impact the future. Might have a read of the book one of these days but I think I’ll dust off the Black Swan as well.


Stephen Kinsella - October 22, 2009

@tgmac, I’m a huge fan of Taleb’s work, here’s my review of The Black Swan: http://www.scribd.com/doc/2681746/Stephen-Kinsellas-Review-of-The-Black-Swan


14. Stephen Kinsella - October 22, 2009

Morning All,

‘Ireland’s development. . . hasn’t changed us all that much. . . We’ll be fundamentally the same in forty years’.

What’s your basis for this statement?

Think about the changes we have seen in Irish society from 1970 to today. We are getting older as a society, and there are more of us. The Catholic Church is no longer the cultural and political force it once was; less than half of the people in the country still go to mass every week, and today only one in four of us want to see Church-run schools. Despite our current economic situation, Ireland’s population is vastly wealthier in 2009 than it was in 1970, and this wealth is much more concentrated in the hands of an elite few. We are part of the European Union. We have embraced modern technology, and it extends us: we have the Internet; the mobile phone; internet banking, twitter, blogs, the Crazy Frog ringtone, and Britney Spears’ lip-syncing. It’s a brave new world, DJP.

In some respects, we already live in the future science fiction writers of the 1970’s dreamed for us: we live longer, healthier lives, enjoy more free time, experience more opportunities, and have more education. In many other respects though, we still face many of the same challenges we did in 1970.

Oddly, once you look around, as I have, for hints about the future, you see that Ireland has *not* changed utterly in the last 40 years. Look just below the surface, you’ll find things just aren’t that different to the way they were in 1970. Think about your car, the town nearest where you live, and the main street in that town. The road you’ll drive on might look a bit better, thanks to advances in material science and liberal applications of EU Structural Funds over more than a decade. The local shop might be a Spar, a Centra, or a Londis now. Your car is almost certainly faster, safer, and more fuel-efficient than any car you could have driven in 1970. But you still drive down a road in a car to a shop to buy some milk, and, maybe, the paper. The details might have changed, but the dynamic remains the same.That’s what I mean when I say things have not changed fundamentally. They haven’t.

In your third chapter, you state ‘the isolated, socially-distant nuclear family of the 1950s was really an anomaly’. You appear to be confusing the social structure and mores of 1950s Ireland with an episode of Mad Men. In what peculiar sense can the kinship system of 1950s Ireland be said to consist of isolated and socially-distant nuclear families?

DJP, I don’t think you’ve understood the point I’m trying to make in Chapter 3. I say nothing about ‘the social structure and mores of 1950’s Ireland’. I just google Mad Men, it looks interesting, but I’m a ‘House’ and ‘America’s Next Top Model’ fan, personally.

My point was that Ireland’s family structure is changing, and the family as a societal unit is flexible enough to accommodate any changes required. Using the nuclear family of the 1950’s as a benchmark for ‘normal’ families isn’t useful in this context. To get a sense of how this definition hasn’t been really useful for at least 20 years, look here: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_ckWrFNiurfA/R-tL9c8p-OI/AAAAAAAAAZQ/8fSl5EgFUCU/s1600-h/births+outside+marriage.jpg

Leslie Wolfe, executive director of the Center for Women Policy Studies in the US:

“The isolated nuclear family of the 1950s was a small blip on the radar”

She has a great publication on this: http://www.centerwomenpolicy.org/pdfs/wf5.pdf

Ireland in 2050 describes what life might be like for an average family in 2050. The family as the primary unit within Irish society won’t change that much. Our notion of privacy will disappear. We will see spikes in the divorce rate, and a slowing of the numbers of younger people getting married, as the law changes to accommodate cohabiting couples, and as the influence of the Catholic Church wanes further and further. Just responding to some of the first commenters on this thread, we are unlikely to see a resurgent Catholic Church for at least two generations, until the memory of the abuses the institutional Catholic Church committed recedes from the public mind. For decades the Catholic Church functioned as a shadow welfare state in Ireland, and, in my view, the Church will redeem itself through its activities as a provider of basic goods and incomes for the poor of the 21st Century.

On monogamy and marriage as kinship rituals, I’d view the late anthropologist Margaret Mead as a pioneer of the kind of serial monogamy that may become popular in the next century. Mead said she was married three times, all successfully. Mead’s husbands suited her needs at different points in her long life. Her first partner, whom she called her “student-husband,” provided a conventional and comfortable marriage. As her career progressed, however, she sought a traveling partner who was interested in her fieldwork. Finally, she found a romantic and intellectual soul mate. Here the best kind of book to read on the changing role marriage plays in advanced industrial societies is someone like Ken Dychtwald, his big book is: http://www.amazon.com/Age-Wave-Important-Change-Future/dp/055334806X/sr=1-1/qid=1161591901/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/104-7894416-9027134?ie=UTF8&s=books

Scott Coltrane, author of The Gendered Society (2000) has claimed that school-aged children who do housework with their fathers are more likely to get along with their peers and have more friends.

“Among the other findings uncovered in the survey, the average father spends about three hours interacting with his school-aged children per weekend day, up significantly from estimates in earlier decades. At the same time, father’s interactions with their children remain shaped by older expectations about what men and women should do.”

And funnily enough, the article ends with this line:

“Looking forward to Fathers Day in the year 2050, more fathers can expect a gift of dinner out or breakfast in bed, thereby relieving them of their fatherly obligations for a day.”

Stanley Kurtz cites David Popenoe, author of “Disturbing the Nest: Family Change and Decline in Modern Societies”, stating that “affluence, secularism, and individualism that led to family decline in the first place” could reverse the decline in the nuclear family

“Economic decline could force people to depend on families instead of the state. A religious revival could restore traditional mores. And a revised calculation of rational interest in light of social chaos could call the benefits of extreme individualism into question. We’ve already seen that a demographic-economic crisis could invoke all three of these mechanisms.”

The above is from Policy Review: Stanford University, “Demographics and the Culture War: The Implications of Population Decline” – by Stanley Kurtz
It can be read here: http://www.hoover.org/publications/policyreview/3431156.html

Now, I’ve responded in a good amount of detail to your questions, DJP, I’d like you to answer two of mine, in as detailed a manner as you can:

1. What kind of Ireland would *you* like to see in 40 years? Pay specific attention to demography, industrial structure, education, globalisation, social and cultural conventions, and, of course, climate change. Reference your work appropriately, and we can take it from there. I’ll cheerfully talk about this all day with you, and as I’ve said, I’m happy to host a discussion with you and your readers on the book’s blog.

2. Joe Lee describes the possessor principle as the glue of modern Irish society: http://books.google.com/books?id=h19tLDUUPGYC&pg=PA400&lpg=PA400&dq=Possessor+Principle&source=bl&ots=v4u2LlRQaj&sig=S_w6fU42ji8gjzhKCyicnFQ0mF4&hl=en&ei=CxjgSqm1JcKs4QaYoKAN&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAsQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Possessor%20Principle&f=false

How do you see the possessor principle becoming unhinged in the next 40 years, now that 82% of us ‘own’ homes?


15. yourcousin - October 22, 2009

This may be one of the first times I’ve seen an author on CLR (aside from the TLR crew though that’s a little more special interest). I would echo WBS and commend him for engaging. O’Kane, you’re carrying the CLR banner now, don’t let the team down by being an asshole.

Having not read the book I can’t get too into detail, but I think that saying in the future things will be the same but worse, probably isn’t too far off the mark.


16. D.J.P. O'Kane - October 22, 2009

How am I being an ‘asshole’?


Stephen Kinsella - October 23, 2009


Can I take it you’re not interested in discussing the book further?

If so I might ask you to change the blog post’s title-the complacency clearly lies somewhere else.

Again, always happy to discuss the book with you.


17. D.J.P. O'Kane - October 23, 2009

Thank you for your detailed post above, Dr. Kinsella. I will be responding to your points in due course. As it happens, I have work to do, which I can’t drop in order to give his comments above the detailed response they require.


18. John Green - October 23, 2009

I always understood that it was bad form for a writer to respond to reviews of his/her work unless there was something libellous or malicious in the review. And I’d have thought futurology in particular is not an area where arguments can be vehemently defended or taken seriously.

Incidentally, I assumed the review title was just a nice Bunuel reference highlighting the presumed persistence of the status quo in the book. Witty. Ish. 😉


D.J.P. O'Kane - October 23, 2009

I try, John.


19. Clay Davis - October 28, 2009

I’ve honestly never heard of any convention which dictates it is bad form for a writer to repsond to reviews. In fact, I believe the author is contributing to a public sphere of healthy debate and dialogue, which unfortunately, is not matched by the petulance of O’Kane and his inability to respond to the authors points.

Pretty ropey performance by O’Kane.


Stephen Kinsella - October 28, 2009

Thanks for the kind words Clay, always happy to discuss this stuff.


John Green - October 29, 2009

It’s obviously somewhat moot now, Clay, but try googling “negative reviews” and authors. It’s clear that there are plenty of others out there aware of the convention, and lots of the sites that come up in the results recommend that authors never respond to negative reviews.

It’s a matter of simple etiquette as an author that you accept that other people are entitled to their opinions of your work, and while writers may feel precious about their books, responding in person to readers soon begins to seem like harrassment.


John Green - October 29, 2009

You especially shouldn’t respond to readers with “You haven’t understood my book at all.”


20. Dr. X - October 28, 2009

I found Dr. Kinsella’s book – like his statements on this thread – complacent because I don’t believe that he has engaged at all with the changes that began in this country with the Whitaker report and which accelerated sharply from the early 1990s onwards. There is a persistent assumption in his book that everything is, and will be, for the best in the best of all possible, Irish worlds. I do not, and cannot, agree. The opportunities which the recent boom may have offered were squandered because Irish people did not adequately consider the ways in which Ireland had really changed, and the ways in which what is new in Irish society interacts with that which had been handed down from the past.

It is this interaction which underlies both the current dynamic of Irish society and the future direction of Irish society. Futurology is not, and cannot be, an exact science, but this does not mean that all exercises in futorology are created equal. Those which properly assess the prior trajectory of change in society from its initial starting point to its present condition can make a better attempt at charting the ultimate end of that trajectory.

Every society that has made the transition from a rural, agrarian condition to an urban, industrial or post-industrial condition has experienced very sharp and severe changes to its social structure and culture. Members of such societies find that their consciousness is radically reshaped by these changes, and the way they interact with other members of their societies, and with their environment, and with the outside are all areas that are deeply affected by these changes. Ireland since the Whitaker report has been no exception, and the changes Ireland has experienced cannot be measured by hypothetical journeys to one’s local Spar.

That’s why I ended my review above with the quote concerning Ireland’s putative lack of fundamental change over the past forty years. Ireland today is a fundamentally different society from that which existed in 1970; it is in different in its core economic activities, it is different in its cultural life, it is different in its social structure and dynamic. A rural village which has been transformed into a dormitory community for some sprawling urban centre is no longer a rural village, and it’s citizens are no longer rural people. As a result of these changes, the way Irish people see the world around and the way they interact with that world and with each other is also fundamentally different. This does not mean that there is no continuity between the Ireland of today and the Ireland of forty years ago; it does mean that the elements of continuity have changed their meaning and their effect as a result of the new context in which those elements now exist.

The extremity of that transition can be understood (for example) through the memoirs of people like Denis Sampson, who has written thusly of his childhood in the West of Ireland:

“I had grown up without an intellectual father, or anyone whose thinking I could trust or respect. I was a farm boy from the West of Ireland. There were no books or ideas in my house. My self-effacing father was barely literate and usually fell asleep after lunch and supper with the daily newspaper on his knee; my mother read women’s magazines looking for recipes or knitting patterns. Electricity arrived when I was six, a tractor when I was twelve; up to then we had ploughed the potato fields and cornfields with horses. My brother was destined to inherit the farm, and so my mother’s dream was that education would take me out into that big world where I would honour her with my accomplishments.”

(Sampson, Denis, 2001, ‘A biography not written’, _The Dublin Review_, no. 4, Autumn, pp. 91 – 102).

Sampson goes on to discuss his plunge into the intellectual excitement of university life in late 1960s Dublin, and his adoption of Conor Cruise O’Brien as an intellectual role model. His subsequent career would be evidence, I would say, of how the members of an Irish family can experience, in the transition from one generation to another, a fundamental change in world-view, a broadening of horizons that opens up a whole world, and at the same time blocks off any return to the stable agrarian Ireland of the past – even if elements of that past remain in play in both the family and the wider social dynamic.

One area where I believe that elements of the past exist alongside the new, and exist in a dialectical relationship, is in the area of the family. The American writers cited by Dr. Kinsella above are interesting in and of themselves, but they are of little or no use if the goal is to understand what is going on, has gone on, and will go on in Ireland. Ireland, for all the Americanisation of the past 15 years, this remains a different society and different culture from that of the United States (a very different society and culture, in fact). The experience of social change cited by Tucker and Wolfe are fascinating in and of themselves, and not wholly irrelevant to the Irish case either; but they cannot be transferred, as Dr. Kinsella seems intent on doing, to an Irish context which is very different from that of the United States.

One part of the Irish context in which the past has been reproduced in the transition from the old Ireland to the new is ,probably, certain child-rearing techniques and family dynamics. I write ‘probably’ because there has not yet been, to my knowledge an adequate study of such dynamics as they exist in Ireland today – certainly not in any form comparable to the studies of family dynamics and kinship systems (not kinship rituals, kinship systems) in the work of people like Arensberg and Kimball, Eileen Kane, Nancy Scheper-Hughes and other anthropologists of Ireland (some of whom were contemporaries of, or students of, Margaret Mead). It is these writers who should be studied to understand the history and future evolution of the Irish family.

Scheper-Hughes in particular is controversial for the ways in which she is alleged to have misrepresented the community she studied as a dysfunctional one where childrearing techniques and family dynamics produced an above-average level of mental illness and schizophrenia. Her aetiology of schizophrenia was probably flawed; her depiction of a dysfunctional society is, in my opinion, broadly correct, even if other anthropologists would dispute this, however. The persistence of that dysfunctionality can be seen, I believe, in the stubbornly high rates of alcohol and drug abuse, and in the high rates of suicide – the latter especially is the tip of a much larger iceberg of alienation and anomie.

That alienation and anomie is what reduces (if not eliminates) the role of the ‘possessor principle’ as the ‘glue’ of Irish society (assuming for the sake of argument that Lee’s facile argument is correct). What Lee identifies as a ‘social glue’ is not the mere fact of (theoretical and mortgage-backed) home ownership, but possession of a very different kind of capital – social and cultural capital which allowed people to make claims to positions of influence and control within the post-independence social order. This ‘possessor principle’ is one possessed by the elites in this country. It is not shared in by the poor mugs trapped in the suburbs with their 25-year+ mortgages around their necks. How mortgagees will react to finding that their future is not what they thought it will be is uncertain – but any attempts to predict their future and the future of Ireland as a whole has to start with Ireland’s present condition and its roots.


21. CMK - October 28, 2009

Dr. X I think your last paragraph, and in particular the last two sentences of it, capture what is the most likely determining contour of Ireland’s future development. One with huge consequences for the future structure of our social, political, economic and personal lives.

The existence of a huge cohort between 25-45 years of age whose only choice is between bankruptcy; debt peonage under an agreed repayment plan; or, having to spend 40%+ of after tax income on debt servicing for the next 30 to 40 years, and all of this on diminishing incomes, is a totally without precedent. One whose implications have been scarcely acknowledged. It’s arguably a critical structural pillar for Ireland’s future development that is being laid down and consolidated right now. And the problems implicit in this development are there in the very brief discussions of our really problematic national debt: collossal private (non-state) borrowings.

That’s not an enticing prospect for any rational human being who values their life, but it’s the only prescription on offer for the majority in this cohort. So, they may be ameanable to “thinking outside the box” politically; this could easily express itself in several ways. The only coherent response, in my view, would be drastic turn to the left and socialism. It could go in the other direction, of course. But the requirements of neo-liberal capitalism have effectively boxed off any prospect of a good life for that cohort you have legitimate expectations of just that.

Thus, I think to argue that Ireland in 2050 will be an approximation of what it is today is a difficult argument to sell.


Stephen Kinsella - October 28, 2009


That’s really not my argument, just an aspect of it DJP/DRX took from the book.

I’ve written elsewhere about the prospects for a NAMA for personal debt on http://www.progressive-economy.ie. I don’t think NAMA or our personal debt overhang will precipitate large scale social change–precisely because so many of Ireland’s citizens have literally bought into the status quo, but you are right, continually socialising losses while privatising public gains implies an ever-increasing tax burden, further reducing disposable incomes, especially at the margins, and taking away a chance at ‘the good life’.


Dr. X - October 28, 2009

And if they have ‘bought into the good life’ and subsequently find that the ‘socialisation of losses and the privatisation of public gains’ erodes their wealth, material comfort and social status, why assume that they will stand still?

I would not rule out the precipitation of large-scale social change in that case, though I suspect it would not involve change for the better.

It would be more likely to involve people mobilising behind some right-populist O’Berlusconi, and his targetting of convenient scapegoats. . .


Stephen Kinsella - October 28, 2009

Dr X.,

Can you point to any far-right party in existence in Ireland? The most right wing party, the PDs, doesn’t even exist anymore. Our political structure doesn’t handle extremism well. I don’t assume those dispossessed of the good life will stand still, but grabbing up pike staffs won’t happen either. Like it or not, the vast majority of Ireland’s citizens have vested interests in maintaining the status quo.


CMK - October 28, 2009

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for the link to TASC. All I can say is “s***e!!” as the numbers you lay out for potential mortgage defaults are scary indeed when combined with NAMA.

My point, however, refers to, I suppose, the changes to the political culture that this level of indebtedness might imply. Because, as I said above, this cohort (myself included) are boxed in by the capitalist exhortation to pay your debts lest you slip into the dreaded “moral hazard”; and, the socialist answer of defaulting on the debt or nationalising it and telling the banks, domestic and foreign, to take a hike… The latter development would, of course, imply revolutionary change at some time over the coming decades…

I genuinely can’t see a third way between these two poles and given, as you write, there won’t be a NAMA for consumer debtors, neo-liberal capitalism has led this state and society into a deadly quandary which it is ill-equipped to emerge form in a manner that is fair and just to all citizens.

For that reason I’m willing to bet that the differences between Ireland in 2050 and Ireland now, will be much bigger that the differences between Ireland in 1970 and now.


Stephen Kinsella - October 28, 2009

I’ll take that bet CMK, looking forward to collecting it, along with my (early retirement) pension, in 2050 :).


Tim - October 28, 2009

Stephen, how do you equate the PDs with extremism?? or was that a misprint 🙂


Stephen Kinsella - October 28, 2009

Hi Tim, I didn’t say the PDs were extremist. Quite The opposite in fact. I said our system doesn’t handle extremism well. The pds were about as far right as a credible political party has gotten since the 1970s. That’s not to say another far right party couldn’t spring up, but I don’t see a Le Pen lurking around Irish politics!


Dr. X - October 28, 2009

So if no far-right party exists in Ireland right now, there’s no question of changing conditions in the future ever producing a far-right party of any sort?

A middle-class committed to ‘what we have we hold’, and which finds itself subject to pressures that threaten its status, is likely to be easy meat for any new political snake oil merchants.

I’d cite the obvious historical precedent, but that would only bring down the Wrath of Godwin on this thread.


Stephen Kinsella - October 28, 2009

Dr. X, technically you just did I think, by implication: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law.

I’d reply, but there are rules to these things, as you know.

Looking forward to your detailed reply to my comments below.


22. Stephen Kinsella - October 28, 2009

Thanks again for the comment ‘Dr. X’.

Cool name. I imagine you’re stroking a purring cat while reading this post from a laptop in an underground secret base, listening to Chopin, while tinkering with lasers. Fair play to you, these bases really hold their value, unlike other properties in Ireland.

Your points at least partially attempt to address some of the points DJP O’Kane and I discussed.

DRX: There is a persistent assumption in his book that everything is, and will be, for the best in the best of all possible, Irish worlds.

SK: No, there isn’t. Either the book was written by someone else, or you’ve misunderstood the book entirely. I don’t make an assumption of maximising anything in this book. Nowhere in the 200 odd pages of Ireland in 2050 will you find an explicit or implicit reference to Ireland doing the ‘best’ we can. I say we can do better. I don’t believe we can ever find “the best of all possible, Irish worlds”, and apologise profusely if I ever gave the impression of my work being utopian. It isn’t. The Ireland I see in 2050 is distopian, in fact, because of the existence of income and health inequality, the reduction in privacy, the divorce and leisure booms, the social, political and cultural impact of an aging population on Irish society, not to mention climate change, globalisation, changes in industrial structure and the nature of work, and, of course, the changing role of the family. I think you may need to put that cat down, switch off the Chopin, and re-read the book in places, Dr.X, I’m more than happy to point you to page numbers to check if you’re short on time.

DRX: Those [studies] which properly assess the prior trajectory of change in society from its initial starting point to its present condition can make a better attempt at charting the ultimate end of that trajectory.

SK: I agree completely, which is why I asked DJP O’Kane for his/her/its take on “demography, industrial structure, education, globalisation, social and cultural conventions, and, of course, climate change.” I think my assessment of where we came from is pretty accurate, including the changes in areas like our industrial structure, of which I’m well aware. This might be the root cause of our disagreement though. I’ll return to this at the end of the post.

DRX: Ireland today is a fundamentally different society from that which existed in 1970.

SK: No, it isn’t. Denis Sampson grew up in a rural area and went to college, which changed his life and his outlook in relation to his brother, who stayed on the farm, and to his parents, who were less educated than he. That’s in 1960. The same process is happening today in hundreds of houses around Ireland. Some are staying on the farm, more are going to college, there are more colleges and college places, and but the process exactly is the same as it was even in 1960. Yes, people live longer and sometimes healthier lives, but the lives they live are largely the same as they were in 1970 or even 1960. There are still roads, cars, shops, jobs, births, deaths, annoying television shows, unemployment, fridges, international conflicts, migration, social inclusion and exclusion, wealth creation and destruction, fornication, bad breath, and industrial change.

Ireland is *not* fundamentally different. The processes are still the same. Of course these processes are carried out at different speeds and in different proportions, but the set of relationships these processes embody-their dialectic-is the same. I do assume the continuance and even strengthening of the existing power relations in Irish society, especially when I discuss inequality, and I think that annoys some readers, but I’d urge anyone who does disagree with me on these points to consider an alternative set of structures for the organisation of society, which I note I’ve not seen from DJP just yet. I’d love to talk with anyone about the kind of Ireland we’re going to have, I really would. I’m passionate about this topic–which is why I wrote the book, and which is why I try to engage with my readers on sites like this, and on my own, http://www.irelandin2050.com.

You might think, ‘well, we didn’t have divorce in 1960, did we Stephen?’, and I’d say that’s true, but couples did live apart, and many were divorced in all but name. The destruction of the Catholic Church as a cultural force in Ireland has been coming since the 1960’s, but again, during the recent increase in marriages and births, the vast majority of children born became baptised, and of those couples who decided to marry, many of them did so in a Catholic Church. So the proportion has changed, but the process–births, marriages–hasn’t changed. We now have many babies born out of wedlock, yes, but that, for me, is a change in the process, not a new one altogether. I try to talk about the shifts we’ll see in Ireland as a result of the changes in child rearing and in the extension and contraction in different areas of the traditional family model. I’m very interested in anthropology and economic anthropology, and I’d agree with Dr. X that there needs to be a large scale study of kinship dynamics in Ireland. When thinking about the issues around the family, I used the best and most up to date evidence I could find—which studied the US case. I agree the mapping from US to Ireland isn’t 1:1.

DR X: [A]lienation and anomie is what reduces (if not eliminates) the role of the ‘possessor principle’ as the ‘glue’ of Irish society

No, it doesn’t. The possessor principle works because those ‘with’ massage any situation to remain ‘with’, ensuring political stasis as a result. I’d point out that Ireland is undergoing the worst economic contraction of any advanced economy, that, if it were going to come, social change could be bent around the fulcrum of the NAMA debacle. But it won’t. The poor mugs you refer to are also, to a lesser degree, also possessors, Dr X–82% of Irish people own their own homes. That ensures we have a vested interest in the status quo, regardless of the level of human, social, or any other type of capital built up in other areas. I’ve written elsewhere on the TASC blog, http://www.progressive-economy.ie, and on my own site, http://www.stephenkinsella.net, about the prospects for a NAMA for personal debt. Short story: there won’t be one. Joe Lee’s possessor principle isn’t facile if it helps us understand why there aren’t burning buses across roads and widespread social agitation and disruption in Ireland. There will have been more protests about the removal of the medical from over 70’s than the payment of 54bn to Ireland’s banking classes by the end of 2009. That is not fundamental change, Dr. X, that is our current condition. We will get past the current difficulties, and when we do, things will be different–but not that different.

Now, I see two big differences between us. The first is that you don’t feel that I’ve addressed the changes in Irish society. I think I have, I just differ with you, I think, on the extent to which those changes–migration, say, or child rearing–are truly ‘new’, and not just an extension of a practice we’ve seen before. One cool way to test this would be for you two write a Murphys story of your own. For those readers who haven’t read the book, the Murphys are an average Irish family I’ve dreamed up to describe the future I see in 2050. Try to reach into the past, as you’re clearly capable of doing, and pick out something that’s really different for families in 2050. It would make for great reading.

If Dr X (or even DJP) wanted to write one, or any other Cedar Lounge readers for that matter, I’d post them all up on the http://www.irelandin2050.com site, and let readers vote on the best one. I’ll give a signed copy of the book to the winner by popular vote. We can host the essays here and on irelandin2050.com.

Second, we seem to disagree, I think, on what exactly constitutes ‘new’. I really would like to hear anyone’s take on Ireland’s changing demography, industrial structure, education, globalisation, social and cultural conventions, and, of course, climate change, specifically to see if there is anything new in there. I don’t think there is, but I’m happy to be corrected.

Thanks again for the comment, looking forward to your response(s).


23. A reply to Dr X | Stephen Kinsella - October 28, 2009

[…] Here’s a long running discussion of some of the themes I raise in Ireland in 2050 on Cedar Lounge. Check the comments section in particular. Cedar Lounge is an excellent blog, well worth subscribing to. Posted by Stephen on Wednesday, October 28, 2009, at 3:10 pm. Filed under irelandin2050. Follow any responses to this post with its comments RSS feed. You can post a comment or trackback from your blog. […]


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