Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ireland of the Unwelcomes

This is the sign outside the police station in my home town of Dungannon in Northern Ireland: it says 'Welcome to Dungannon Police Station' in seven different languages. It used to say it in six languages as they had forgotten to include the message in, ahem, Irish ... slight oversight. Now sorted.

One striking thing about the population of Dungannon is the share of foreign nationals now living there. About 20% by some estimates. The presence of large food processing factories in the area has been the main reason for attracting large numbers of foreign workers in recent years. This month's UK census will provide more accurate information (rather than just guestimates) in the near future.

By way of contrast I was in Totnes in Devon over the weekend. It is a remarkably 'homogeneous' town (i.e.: almost exclusively white, English-born inhabitants) - which my friends there agree makes it quite unusual by comparison to nearby Plymouth never mind most other English cities nowadays. But there is the clue perhaps. Totnes is a very small town (a third the population of Dungannon), and doesn't have any large-scale food processing industries. Though it does have plenty of organic farms - they just don't employ many people.

So it seems much of the variation in the distribution of immigrant populations has been mostly driven by the availability of work. And not, say, by mythical levels of social welfare payments. Though the latter do influence the level of skills of immigrants according to a recent VoxEU study.

Here in the Republic of Ireland we have something of the same work-related pattern of migrant population distribution (e.g.: Brazilians in Gort). But with the work drying up it seems that many immigrants are becoming emigrants (in fact, they make up the majority of emigrants leaving Ireland).  And given the Eurostat report today showing that Ireland rejected 98.4% of all asylum applications last year (versus an EU average of 75%: 76% in the UK), then it looks like the Republic will end up more like Totnes than Dungannon in years to come.

Though hopefully with more going for our economy than farming and tourism...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Foreseen Consequences

If only they had listened to the behavioural economists. Here was how we - or rather - they should have dealt with Gaddafi:
We should have sent in the peacemakers to tell Gaddafi:
- where he would and would not be welcome to live
- that he must never return to Libya again
- he can have his Swiss bank accounts
- we will let bygones be bygones (i.e. give him an amnesty)
- and, frankly, tell him to f-off into oblivion (Terms & Conditions apply)
Unsavoury, I know, and certainly not 'justice'. 

That's Hugh Salmon lamenting the inability of the UK government to take its own advice and apply some insights from behavioural economics to the problem in Libya. It would have been a lot cheaper than the current exercise in cruise missile diplomacy.  It's too late now of course.

But still, there's a chance the 'coalition of the willing' will succeed. About a 3% chance if history is anything to go by. This from Foreign Policy's commentary on social science and the Libyan adventure:
A 2006 study by Jeffrey Pickering and Mark Peceny found that military intervention by liberal states (i.e., states like Britain, France and the United States) "has only very rarely played a role in democratization since 1945." Similarly, George Downs, and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of New York University found that U.S. interventions since World War II led to stable democracies within ten years less than 3 percent of the time, and a separate study by their NYU colleague William Easterly and several associates found that both U.S and Soviet interventions during the Cold War generally led to "significant declines in democracy." Finally, a 2010 article by Goran Piec and Daniel Reiter examines forty-two "foreign imposed regime changes" since 1920 and finds that when interventions "damage state infrastructural power" they also increase the risk of subsequent civil war. 
The triumph of hope over experience once again. Or the Self-Serving Bias at work.

Image cred. In Male Fide

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Quote of The Day

Stratfor's George Friedman on Libya:

"In my view, waging war to pursue the national interest is on rare occasion necessary. Waging war for ideological reasons requires a clear understanding of the ideology and an even clearer understanding of the reality on the ground. In this intervention, the ideology is not crystal clear, torn as it is between the concept of self-determination and the obligation to intervene to protect the favored faction. The reality on the ground is even less clear. The reality of democratic uprisings in the Arab world is much more complicated than the narrative makes it out to be, and the application of the narrative to Libya simply breaks down. There is unrest, but unrest comes in many sizes, democratic being only one.

Whenever you intervene in a country, whatever your intentions, you are intervening on someone’s side. In this case, the United States, France and Britain are intervening in favor of a poorly defined group of mutually hostile and suspicious tribes and factions that have failed to coalesce, at least so far, into a meaningful military force. The intervention may well succeed. The question is whether the outcome will create a morally superior nation."

Read more: Libya, the West and the Narrative of Democracy | STRATFOR

Punching Above Our IQ

It seems we're richer than we should be. Ireland is an outlier in a recent study showing that most of the variation between countries in terms of GDP per capita can be explained by an index of economic freedom and average citizen's IQ. The study reports that Ireland's GDP per capita is 'too high' relative to our estimated national IQ (a low 93 vs 100 next door in the UK). But in the detailed explanation the author kindly suggests that Ireland's estimated average IQ is probably on the low side. Phew!

There is a growing interest in the role of IQ in national economic performance. One recent study suggests that it isn't the average IQ that matters but the IQ of the smartest 5% of the population:
For each one-point increase in a country’s average IQ, the per capita GDP was $229 higher. It made an even bigger difference if the smartest 5 percent of the population got smarter; for every additional IQ point in that group, a country’s per capita GDP was $468 higher.
IQ - like race - is a sensitive subject, to put it mildly. Even if, as I've noted before, it was we Europeans with our 'middling IQ' that succeeded economically rather than higher IQ Asians. Suggesting that there's rather more to economic success than IQ (see Niall Ferguson's current series on Civilization for the details). Which is good news for 'low IQ' nations. Apart from the persistent problem of measuring IQ we also have the Flynn Effect, i.e.: long run improvements in average national IQ due to a possible combination of diet, education, technology etc.

Even better news: evolution hasn't stopped. I recently read The 10,000 Year Explosion - a truly fascinating book. The authors describe an 'endless dance between biological and cultural change' that continues to this day. That evolutionary force means that Civilization will continue to be an intelligence-enhancing 'drug': one that holds out the promise that all of humanity can eventually enjoy a higher standard of living.

A higher standard of living is something we continue to enjoy here in Ireland, despite our embarrassing lapse into self-pity in recent times. The moral of the story? Don't get mad, get smart.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Reality Is Pink

"This world view is foundational to political correctness - it is the bottom line. Reality is merely perception: that which is perceived is the only real, and the way we perceive is changeable. To control reality, therefore, we need to control the perceptual biases. If everyone without exception wears rose-tinted spectacles, then reality is pink." Bruce Charlton

I participated in a debate on gender balance last week organised by IBEC. The motion was whether the Government should set quotas for the proportion of women on the boards of publicly listed companies in Ireland, following the example of Norway (which requires 42% of board members to be female). There were five speakers in favour of the motion and one against: me.

The key note speaker was Arni Hole, Director General of the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion in Norway. Arni gave a fascinating insight into the process by which Norway has gone about socially re-engineering their society in order to 'destroy culture and stereotypes' (her words) in relation to gender roles. And it seems to be 'working'. Norway has achieved a remarkable degree of equality, so much so she informed us that 32% of Norwegian university graduates are male. Here in Ireland 44% of 3rd level graduates are male (39% of university graduates) so obviously we still have some way to go in order to achieve a Norwegian level of 'equality'.

Most of the speakers for the motion cited various statistics showing that companies with more gender balanced boards were more successful - however defined. Of course, such statistical relationships are all correlations. As it happens there are other studies that show negative correlations with gender balance, e.g.: that mandating gender quotas actually reduces the value of well run firms. You can have lots of fun with correlations. For example, the Norwegian requirement for 42% of board members to be female in publicly listed companies came into effect in 2008 (after some delays). Between 2008 and 2009 the OBX indicator for the Oslo Bors (the index of Norway's publicly listed companies) fell by 65%... Coincidence, correlation or causation? I'm guessing Lehman Brothers myself. Though sadly the latter's own commitment to gender balance didn't help very much either.

At the moment the idea of state mandated quotas for private companies is probably still a minority preference (45% of Britons are against gender quotas, 30% for and the rest don't know). But the power of political correctness to reinvent the world in its own fashionable image should not be underestimated: and gender quotas are very fashionable right now. My guess is we will have state enforced gender quotas for Irish businesses within the next five years. On the evidence to date I doubt IBEC will object.

Below is the text of my five minutes worth on why I was against the motion of gender quotas. The other presentations, including Arni's, may be up on the IBEC website in due course. I'll let you know when they are:

An Unbalanced Debate

Good evening everyone. These are tough times in Ireland. Getting to better times will take the combined efforts of all Irishwomen and Irishmen in order for us to succeed. In that context enforcing gender quotas on boards, businesses and political parties will do nothing to get us there. Worse, it will prove to be an unnecessary distraction from the real challenges ahead, one we simply cannot afford.

But that aside, I fundamentally believe that the idea of gender quotas is wrong.


Are men and women equal? Can women do any job men do? When it comes to the workplace are women just as capable as men? If you agree that men and women are equal then you also agree that: men can do any job women do; and when it comes to the workplace men are just as capable as women. But already I can hear the ‘yes, but’ arguments developing:

‘yes women and men are equal, but women bring special skills to the workplace’;

‘yes women and men are equal, but women work in a different way from men’...

Which leaves me confused. Just like a lot of advocates of gender quotas I seems to me. Here’s Kate Sweetman in the Harvard Business Review on Norway’s quota plan:

“...as a group, women tend to display a different set of characteristics from men as a group — characteristics that broaden discussions, reduce unnecessary risks that a corporation takes on, and punish people who would increase foolish risks.”

So women and men are different, not equal. Indeed, this is the thing I struggle with most about the demand for gender quotas. If women and men are effectively interchangeable in the workplace then why does the ratio of males to females matter? Either is as capable of doing as good a job as the other. On the other hand, if you believe that women are different from men and have a different set of skills, competencies and attributes to men then it follows that men have a different set of skills, competencies and attributes to women. So there may be circumstances in which it is better to rely more on women for certain tasks and roles, and others in which it is better to rely more on men for other tasks and roles.

But you can’t have your cake and eat it: you can’t demand to be equal and then claim to be different at the same time. That’s contradictory.


Lucy Kellaway made a very important point recently in the Financial Times:

"The hot debate should not be about boardroom quotas versus voluntary codes of conduct. It shouldn’t be about the boardroom at all – or at least not about the non-executives. What matters are the women on the staff, and making sure that the good ones get to the top.

Whether there are one, two or three female non-execs who pitch up a few times a year for board meetings strikes me as a peculiar thing to get into such a stew about."

So why do people get into a stew about women’s representation on boards, government cabinets and so on?

After all, only a tiny, tiny percentage of men and an equally tiny percentage of women get onto boards or into government. The TASC report on Ireland’s golden circle pointed out that just 39 individuals (including 3 women) held powerful positions in 33 of 40 top public organisations and private Irish businesses. Let’s put this in context: the organisations they oversee employ hundreds of thousands of people – but only the tiniest fraction of one percent of men or women ever end up on a board.

Yet the logic of gender quotas would say that if instead of 3 women the 39 individuals in the golden circle it had included 20 women then would that make everything okay? That is the logical outcome of gender quotas after all.

I read recently a CSO figure showing that there are 6 men employed as machine operatives in Ireland for every woman. But oddly enough I never hear about quotas for machine operatives. Women on boards, yes. Women in the cabinet, of course. But women on the factory floor. Oddly enough no. This I think further betrays the elitism behind the demands for gender quotas: it’s about an elect group of women sharing the spoils alongside an elect group of men. And if you are not part of the elect group – whether female or male – then good luck to you.

And the really amazing thing is to see so many on the Left advocating and supporting such elitism!


Which brings me to my final criticism of gender quotas: ultimately the idea of a quota is a Reactionary idea. Let me explain. We live in a democracy: one in which the individual citizen is sovereign, regardless of rank, status, gender, age, religion or any other aspect of his or her identity. The democracy we live in was hard won against extraordinary opposition from those who claimed to know better than ‘ordinary’ citizens. We threw of the shackles of a feudal system of nobility, rank and rigid social structures in order to empower each citizen with the power to shape their own lives and ultimately the course of our nation.

But gender quotas are a throwback to a pre-democratic age. They are a feudal idea that divides society up into classes and castes, that sets the nobility above the commons and that sees the workplace comprised of guilds and special groups protective of their power and status. A guild of women board members – dictated by the state over the heads of the people – is a backward step in a democratic society.

The same goes for politics. What does it matter if any of us are represented by female or male TDs? Now if you think that women have a different perspective that is unique to their sex then why stop at gender quotas? Why not have quotas for age groups, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion etc? In fact, why not select a random sample of citizens from around the country to make decisions for us. Of course if you do that then before you know it we’re back to class and castes.

It doesn’t sound very democratic does it? But that’s where you end up with quotas – ultimately you are using the power of the state to force citizens and individuals in private businesses and organisations under threat of fines and worse to do something they would not otherwise do. If that isn’t reactionary I don’t know what is.

Our nation faces immense challenges in the coming months and years. We will need to the talents of every woman and man in our businesses and organisations in order to meet those challenges and build a better Ireland. We need the best women and men drawing on their skills and competences to help secure the future. But we won’t do it by substituting one elite for another, nor by restricting the freedom of individual citizens in their private businesses and organisations. Nor will we build a better Ireland by taking a backward step towards a feudal way of governing society.

So ignore demands for gender quotas, and let’s focus on building more successful businesses that will provide the wealth and job creation needed to return our country to a path of sustainable growth.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St Patrick's Guide to Debt

Couldn't resist it (ht Daniel Hannan):

Was Saint Patrick an American?

"The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate." Russell Kirk
I wonder if part of what makes St Patrick's Day so big in the United States is the sense of continuity and connection that it provides in a country so often defined by its capacity for change? My company's latest survey of Irish Americans certainly confirms its importance to at least 40 million Americans.

But I think here in Ireland we also need to reconnect with the deep sources of identity and continuity that have inspired us as a people through good times and bad. Especially the bad.

A Happy St Patrick's Day to you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Quote of The Day

We live in stochastic times:
"We can no longer turn the clock back to a simpler time. We must play the hand we are dealt. And our time is interconnected, interlinked and increasingly complex. And our hand has, at its core, a rising number of outlier or Black Swan events."
Doug Kass
See also Ormerod and Colbaugh.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cursing the Darkness

"Decisions made now in the wake of an emergency in Japan may sow the seed of energy poverty in countries like the UK for decades to come. I have for a long while been pro-nuclear but must admit that my faith in nuclear planners is shaken by this sequence of events. Now is not the time for knee-jerk decisions. Governments must carefully weigh the benefits of stable supplies of nuclear electricity to society against the risks posed by nuclear power plants. This is not an easy task." Euan Mearns

The future just got a little darker, and a lot colder. The triple-tragedy of Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster has - as Euan Mearns anticipates - moved us inexorably towards a world more dependent on fossil fuels and therefore more vulnerable to their depletion. If the British abandon their nuclear building programme then their coming 'energy cold' will be our 'energy flu'.  Renewables will simply not fill the gap - too great a reliance on renewables will leave us cursing the darkness.

The priority right now, of course, is the successful containment of the problems at Fukushima for the sake of the Japanese people, their homeland and their economy. But the nuclear tragedy now unfolding will reverberate long after the Japanese have repaired the damage done by the earthquake and its aftermath. Reverberations that we will feel here in Ireland for decades to come.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Quote of The Day

"Ireland and Spain never breached the deficit ceiling of the Stability Pact, though Germany and France did. They did not break the rules. If anything, it was the European Central Bank that broke the rules by running negative real interest rates and gunning the money supply.

Europe’s whole financial system was out of control, and still is. The North has not yet forced banks to rebuild their capital buffers or nationalize those that cannot do so, understandably in one sense since it might risk a credit crunch. Germany’s policy towards the Landesbanken is a study in paralysis.

That is why Europe dares not lance the boil with "haircuts" and debt restructuring. It dares not risk a repeat of Europe’s Lehman moment in May 2010. It is why the EU has scotched any quick move by Ireland to deflect the shards of pain from taxpayers to senior bank creditors.

...Ireland’s Enda Kenny may ultimately have to choose between his EU club loyalties and his duties to the sovereign nation that elected him. Some within his coalition ranks already seem tempted to retaliate by pulling the plug on EU banks. That would certainly remind Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy what this crisis is really about.
 Popular revolt is the dog that has not barked since the long slump began. This may just be a question of time. The pattern of the 1930s is that deep alienation starts in year three as austerity grinds on, and in this case tensions on the eurozone peripery can only turn nastier as the ECB tightens monetary policy.
What is clear is that sovereign states are being forced to cut wages and dismantle parts of their welfare state under foreign diktat, with a gun held to their heads. This will not be forgotten lightly. The character of the European Project has changed utterly"
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hot Chocolate

The latest inflation data for Ireland shows cocoa prices rising by 26.6% in February. That's very hot chocolate. What's going on? The chart from DB Research gives us one clue: when oil prices are rising so do food prices. And the link appears to be strengthening:

The links between food and energy economies are stronger than ever. The food sector uses about 10% to 15% of all energy in the industrialised countries: for chemical fertilisers, transport fuel, on-farm activities (irrigation, crop drying, heating of green houses and livestock sheds, tractor fuel) and for the end of the value chain (processing of crops and foods, refrigeration and cooking).

...The two-way link between food and energy makes the level of oil prices a significant factor for the production and distribution of food. Higher oil prices will tend to contribute to higher food prices – by increasing input and production costs and reinforcing demand for biofuels. A tighter connection between oil and food prices also likely drives an increased occurrence of spikes in food prices.
So the outlook for oil prices is a good indicator of that for food prices. Which makes the latest developments reported by Stratfor all the more worrying:
There is a strong potential for clashes to break out March 11 between Saudi security forces and protesters, particularly in the vital Eastern Province. Saudi authorities have taken tough security measures in the Shiite areas of the country, deploying about 15,000 national guardsmen to thwart the planned demonstrations by attempting to impose a curfew in critical areas. Energy speculators are already reacting to the heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf region, but unrest in cities like Qatif cuts directly to the source of the threat that is fueling market speculation: The major oil transit pipelines that supply the major oil port of Ras Tanura — the world’s largest, with a capacity of 5 million barrels per day — go directly through Qatif.
 Enjoy your breakfast.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Quote of The Day

Apropos yesterday's post, it seems men are not quite a minority everywhere...

"In China today, according to American Enterprise Institute demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, there are about 123 male children for every 100 females up to the age of 4, a far higher imbalance than 50 years ago, when the figure was 106. In Jiangxi, Guangdong, Hainan, and Anhui provinces, baby boys outnumber baby girls by 30 percent or more. This means that by the time today’s Chinese newborns reach adulthood, there will be a chronic shortage of potential spouses. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, one in five young men will be brideless. Within the age group 20 to 39, there will be 22 million more men than women. Imagine 10 cities the size of Houston populated exclusively by young males.
The question left open by economists is what the consequences will be of such a large surplus of young men. History offers a disquieting answer. According to the German scholar Gunnar Heinsohn, European imperial expansion after 1500 was the result of a male “youth bulge.” Japan’s imperial expansion after 1914 was the result of a similar youth bulge, Heinsohn argues. During the Cold War, it was youth-bulge countries—Algeria, El Salvador, and Lebanon—that saw the worst civil wars and revolutions. Heinsohn has also linked the recent rise of Islamist extremism in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan to an Islamic youth bulge. Political scientists Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer warn that China and India could be the next countries to overdose on testosterone."
Niall Ferguson

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Majority of the Population Day

Today is the day that minorities everywhere - men, gays, disabled, non-Caucasians, travellers and anyone else I've forgotten - get to celebrate the achievements of the majority of the population, i.e.: women. And they have been significant achievements:

- living longer than any minority group
- receiving the greater part of government transfers
- casting the majority of votes in every election since universal suffrage became the norm

Oddly enough these are not things that get celebrated on International Women's Day. Nor is that most important task of women since time immemorial: motherhood. As Carolyn Moynihan notes this task has been strangely overlooked by feminism:

Women have proved that they have brains -- they now outnumber men in graduating from universities in the developed world. They have shown that they can do a wide range of demanding jobs and that they can look after themselves financially. All good. What they have yet to show is how their education and earning capacity can be combined successfully with the one career that is exclusively theirs: motherhood.

This essential vocation and service remains the aspiration of the vast majority of women -- as does marriage, without which motherhood is a burden to the woman and an insufficient support to the child. Yet, as research by the US National Marriage Project has shown, the erosion of marriage has penetrated far into the middle ranks of society. There are several reasons for this -- economic, cultural and civic -- but one of them is surely feminism’s antagonism to the family as a “patriarchal” institution and its insistence on female independence as a lifelong state.

It’s thanks to this ideological stance that we still have Ministers of Women’s Affairs, their bureaucracies and their international Big Sisters pushing for gender equality policies which assume that husbands and wives -- or domestic partners -- should each do exactly half of both childcare and domestic chores and half of the paid work to support a household. Research has shown that this is not what women with young children want.

If women want to have the choice to be wives and mothers in anything more than a nominal sense, it is time to knock this sort of nonsense on the head. Whatever good feminism was going to do has been done; now it is time to tidy up the house and start living again. 
Nicki Hodgson goes even further:
Have-it-all feminism, it seems, has left them with a frying-pan to ironing-pile dilemma — Sisyphea knackerdom for those that work and breed, or scrub-wifely shame for the Vesta non-virgin rest. At the same time, and I say this as a flag-flying feminist, gender equality has been commandeered by feminist self-interest. Of course women still need their rights fighting for. But despite their commitment to ending gender-based discrimination, you won't hear a similar clarion call for shorter prison sentences for male criminals (women get less time for equivalent crimes), for more men in fashion, HR and professional administration work; for better male mental health provision (men are three times more likely than women to commit suicide), or for more fathers to be given joint custody of children following divorce or separation.
But as a member of a minority group I know it is wiser not to take these things too far.  I also know that ideology is not reality and that the lust for power of contemporary feminism does not represent all women, and certainly not a majority. And finally as a man I know that beyond a mythical equality lies a more profound reality: the love and respect between the sexes that has gotten us this far and that will long outlive the contemporary angst that poisons gender relations to the detriment of both women and men.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Age of Ageing

I've written a piece in today's Irish Times about the business opportunities arising from Ireland's ageing population:

OLDER PEOPLE are happier: that’s a fact. Of course, it depends on your definition of “older”. In survey after survey – across dozens of countries – the curious fact emerges that people’s self-reported happiness declines from their late teens until their late 40s and then it starts to rise again. And it keeps rising until people are into their 80s.
While this may not be good news for teenagers, and is probably old news for people in their 40s (an unhappy bunch in most surveys nowadays), the finding is certainly good news for Ireland’s growing population aged 50 and over. Right now they number more than 1.2 million – nearly 28 per cent of the entire population – and their numbers are set to grow substantially over the coming decade.
Charlie Preston has also reviewed my company's recent survey of Ireland's over 50s. As Ireland looks ahead to a decade of slow recovery, then any opportunity to secure longer term growth must surely be seized upon. The size of the opportunity is enormous. Take the recent Accenture report on New Waves of Growth. They specifically identify the 'silver economy' - i.e.: those commercial and economic opportunities arising from an ageing population - as one of four growth drivers. The chart shows the potential impact on the UK's economy from a 'silver growth' strategy.

The research by the way was done as part of this week's Business of Ageing Conference. It's not too late to book...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Unplugged

I came across an interesting initiative among some American Jews to use their Sabbath to set aside one day of the week to be unplugged. I think we will see more of this: efforts by families, schools and communities (religious or otherwise) to find a new balance between the world of atoms and the world of bits that we now live in. And maybe even a three day weekend while we're at it.

Of course, keep holy - or special - the Sabbath (Friday, Saturday or Sunday depending on which book is your guide) is advice many people still follow. We all need the ritual or routine of one day of the week that is set aside for something special or important to us, for religious or for temporal reasons.  'twas ever thus of course...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Future Belongs to The Unhappy

It seems the future belongs to the unhappy:
"The findings of happiness research are mostly unsurprising. If you’re a nation-state, your population will be happiest if you’re a wealthy, liberal-democratic, capitalist, welfare-state with a low rate of unemployment. Who knew! If you’re a mere flesh-and-blood human mammal, you’ll be happier if you get more sleep, get plenty of exercise, work at a job that fits your personality, don’t spend much time stuck in traffic, have a stable marriage with a compatible partner, spend plenty of time with friends, pull down a decent income and … don’t have children. Yeah, that’s right: kids are a drag." Will Wilkinson
Why then does the future belong to the unhappy? Because they're the ones having babies of course...

The Single-arity

"The victims of the most serious individual and social catastrophes are often not even aware: individuals become stultified, societies become degraded, unawares." Don Colacho
The collapse of marriage in the western world is one of those trends that everyone sees happening but is nevertheless considered beyond our control, like the weather. The chart, from Pew Research, shows the almost inexorable decline in the share of married people among US adults since 1960. The situation in Europe is more mixed - the overall marriage rate (marriages per thousand population) has fallen over the past ten years, especially in the larger countries, but the marriage rate has risen in 11 (albeit, smaller) European countries - including Ireland (where the institution of marriage is still in a fairly healthy state). As for divorce, the good news is that it is also in decline (in the United States) and static in Europe - possibly because there are fewer married people to get divorced...

But, as the chart shows, the real growth trend is in the share of singles in the population. In Ireland's case, the share of non-married females in the total population is returning to levels last seen in the 1930s.  To coincide with next week's International Women's Day (I can't wait) Eurostat have published a statistics report on Europe's households. It shows that almost one in five households now comprises single women without children, and a further one in ten comprises single men without children. Their numbers have risen steadily in recent years. We appear to be approaching a 'Single-arity' whereby there will be more households comprising single women than couples with children. Germany, Finland and Austria have already reached that point.

What's going on? According to Kay Hymowitz it's all men's fault: they need to 'man up' and start getting married, rather than remaining stuck in adolescence, and meanwhile single women are running out of patience. Needless to say, quite a few have begged to differ (it still takes two to get married etc), including female bloggers. Stuart Schneiderman explains the male perspective for the 'marriage boycott', noting that women are also at fault (preferring to remain free and single until their thirties):
No one is trying to tell women what to do. But if women want to do as they please, then, as moral beings, they also need to take some responsibility for the aftershocks. Even when those aftershocks are a generation of angry young men. 
While the Elusive Wapiti points out that the 'grand bargain' that is marriage is vital to the health of society:
Last, it is not true that men will work for sex... Rather, men trade their labors for a durable link to their progeny.  That is is the grand bargain that is struck in every patriarchal society...a man's labor for a man's legacy.  Sex is merely the vehicle through which this compact is implemented.
We are still some way away from the Single-arity here in Ireland (we are among only 3-4 EU countries where there are still more households comprising a couple with children than single male/female households combined).  And the economic crisis will undoubtedly curb the enthusiasm of young men and women to set up households on their own. Though unless there is a revolution in western society's attitudes towards marriage (the old-fashioned, heterosexual kind) we will likely lurch further towards the Single-arity and yet more women like Kay Hymowitz will wonder what's going on...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Quote of The Day

"The Western cult of happiness is indeed a strange adventure, something like a collective intoxication. In the guise of emancipation, it transforms a high ideal into its opposite. Condemned to joy, we must be happy or lose all standing in society. It is not a question of knowing whether we are more or less happy than our ancestors; our conception of the thing itself has changed, and we are probably the first society in history to make people unhappy for not being happy."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sea of Blue

After thousands of words, there's nothing like a picture (or, in this case, a graph):

ht: Ronan Lyons
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