Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger

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Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger
By Fintan O'Toole
PublicAffairs, 2010
240 pp. $25.95
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Every happy economy is happy in its own way; unhappy economies are all alike. When the "Celtic tiger" was growing by close to ten percent per year, floating on foreign investment to a per capita income above that of its old imperial neighbor, many extolled the unique virtues of the Irish. Yet just as in Japan, Italy, the United States, and elsewhere, when the boom ended in Ireland, it inevitably uncovered a toxic combination of lax regulation, property speculation, and political corruption. Wealthy land speculators had cornered urban markets, driving housing prices up by 500 percent in a decade. Bankers on the take had provided the financing, and corrupt politicians had facilitated tax evasion. State assets were sold for a song. Now Ireland's GDP is shrinking fast, its housing prices are in free fall, its banking system has collapsed, and its gross indebtedness outstrips that of Japan. O'Toole's argument is that Ireland, like other rapidly developing countries, went too quickly from a premodern economy to a postmodern one based on free-market ideology while retaining the essentially clientelistic politics of the past. To this day, corruption in Ireland remains unpunished, and Irish politics, unreformed.