Published in Issue 6 (November/December 2022), Letters, Volume 30

Sir,—It is only with reluctance that one criticises the product of an optimistic perspective. The positive and optimistic bring hope, and with hope comes enthusiasm, leading to progress. However, the piece on economic and social progress for the first 100 years of independent Ireland, ‘A people’s progress’ (HI 30.3, May/June 2022, Platform) by Mark Henry, is drunk on optimism to the point of pathological delusion.

There is a great deal of emphasis on graphs and statistics. Did the author never hear of Mark Twain’s dictum, ‘There are lies, damned lies and statistics’?

As statistics are fed to the reader, using striking and colourful graphs but without proper explanatory context, superficial impressions are made to appear to be significant insights. A major case in point is the comparison of Irish GDP (Gross Domestic Product per capita) changes over time with those of the UK and US.

A graph shows how GDP per capita for Ireland surpassed the UK in 1997 and the US in 2015. The author acknowledges ‘the shortcomings of GDP calculations that include the earnings of multinational corporations’, but he does not explain these shortcomings. The reality is that the economically literate understand Irish GDP figures as a statistical mirage created by the accounting procedures of multinational firms. The more profit is ascribed to subsidiaries in Ireland, the less tax is payable overall. It is a financial smoke and mirrors game. Thus GDP markedly exaggerates the true standard of living in Ireland.

He refers to how ‘… our service exports now well exceed those of our manufactured goods’, omitting the fact that many of these ‘service exports’ are another mirage created by the elaborate accounting practices of multinationals. (This has been explained by the financial commentator Michael Hennigan, who presents his views on the FinFacts website.)

And so the author goes on: ‘The United Nations rates our quality of life as the second-highest on the planet’. Again, how could the UN make such a calculation for disparate assorted countries except by slotting headline national statistics into a standard algorithm (mathematical formula)? Given, as seen above, that national economic statistics for Ireland, especially GDP, exaggerate reality, we would expect a high placing on any UN ‘quality of life’ index.—Yours etc.,

Dublin 9


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