I used to go to Jazz Fest in New Orleans every year with a group of old friends. We’d all gone to high school in the area, and then off to different colleges, so this was our annual get together.
As usual, when we finished the night in the vicinity of Bourbon Street, we’d find ourselves in the Irish Pub. We’d sing the Irish drinking songs with gusto, filling ourselves with Harp, Guinness and Jameson.
On the way home one year it struck me that it was odd to find such a great Irish bar in New Orleans… a town of decidedly French descent. Then I realized! There seems to be a great Irish bar in EVERY town I’ve ever lived in and most towns that I’ve visited.
Now, after years of demographic study, I think I know why…
The Irish leave their homeland at one of the fastest rates in the world, and then spend the rest of their lives pining for it. This drives them to open bars in whatever town they find themselves, serving Irish beer and whiskey while paying like-minded, depressed Irishmen to sing ballads. The rest of us are just along for the ride!
Given that widespread emigration is once again a fact of life for the Irish, we can expect to see more Irish bars popping up in cities around the world.
Over the last four years the Irish government estimates that roughly 400,000 of its countrymen have left the nation. The population of the tiny state is only 4.5 million, so this is a loss of almost 10% of its people, which would be like the U.S. experiencing an exodus of 30 million.
Keep in mind that the drain isn’t constant across age groups. Those who leave are mostly of working age, with half of them less than 25 years old and half of them between 25 and 44.
This trend drains the country of the exact people who would typically be working, paying taxes, and growing their spending. In short, it hollows out the economy. But, for the Irish, this isn’t their first go-round.
The Irish Potato Famine is probably the best known instance of mass exodus from Ireland. More than one million people died, and another million left the nation for other shores. At the time, this reduced the nation’s population by more than 20%.
Ireland experienced another tremendous emigration surge in the late 1980s, which lasted until 1995, losing tens of thousands of able-bodied workers in most years. The drain of manpower and families robbed the nation of its natural fuel for growth.
This situation turned around in the late 1990s when the Celtic Tiger was unleashed, drawing tens of thousands of displaced Irishmen back home, as well as attracting immigrants from other countries. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a paper tiger, cut from the cloth of financial innovation and banking shenanigans that eventually fell apart.
The remnants of the crisis left many jobless and penniless, and the austerity imposed by the Troika — the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund — has greatly reduced wages, public spending and pensions. So the Irish leave home, looking for better opportunities. And opening bars.
Interestingly, the Irish leave home at the fastest rate of any country in Europe, including Greece!
Luckily for the Irish, their tax laws are unique, allowing big companies like Apple to set up shop and avoid billions of dollars in taxes. This is a draw for international corporations, which do create some employment opportunities in the largest metropolitan areas.
At the same time, the Irish are very un-European in their view of family life. While their rate of child bearing (2.01 per woman of child-bearing age) is just below the rate needed for population replacement, it’s far ahead of most European nations.
That means that as the Irish situation improves… and then deteriorates again… there should be enough of the countrymen to keep opening bars in far-flung places for decades to come! That’s good news for the rest of us.
For the meantime, this situation points out the continued hardships in the countries of Europe that were hard hit in the downturn, and the fact that the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) have not yet recovered.
For those looking for a place to invest in 2014, I’d suggest that when it comes to Ireland, its beer is a better bet than its stock market.
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Ahead of the Curve
Today, investors are pouring cash into the real-estate market at an incredible pace. I saw a recent study from those smart financial guys over at Goldman Sachs, and they estimated that almost 60% of all real-estate transactions are now conducted in cash. They should know. It’s their investment firm buddies doing most of the buying.