Where Are We Going: Expectations of Life & Country

For migrants (emigrants and immigrants), notions of “destination” and “direction” are key. They are going someplace new, but, more importantly, they must concern themselves with where that place, their new home, is going. Is it going where they want it to go? Is it headed in the direction they think it is? Truly? Beyond the news, and the public relations and tourism hype, is their newly adopted country headed in the direction that they think it is, or should be, going?

Emigrants have a right to know, truthfully, what they are getting into. That said, for emigrants, knowing the truth of their new home is next to impossible. The Internet makes it possible to do research. But most of that is a marketing and public relations veneer. It is what they want us to know, and what visitors believe/see. And that may, or may not, reflect the practical, everyday truth of life in that place. To be fair, it’s okay, if the country is not going where we think it should, or if it’s going nowhere at all. Cultures expect different things out of life. I’m talking about much more than the painfully trite difference between people who “live to work” and those who “work to live.”

Ireland is a beautiful green country of friendly, warm-hearted people who are easygoing and enjoy a very casual and relaxed existence. That’s all true. Ireland is a great small country for business, and is rapidly on its way back to economic greatness. Bushwah.

Ireland (and the Irish) repeatedly proclaims that the Emerald Isle will be the “best small country for business”.  Little tip: every small country believes this. An Irish friend of mine who lived in Edinburgh tells me that Scotland says the same thing. But the entrepreneurial spirit is simply not in the Irish national soul. There are Irish entrepreneurs (and good ones) to be sure, but the national mindset, current laws, policies, and standards are psychically at odds with the entrepreneurial spirit.

Despite its claims that it wants to be a Mecca for business, Ireland currently has laws on the books that restrict small business owners and some of their descendents from taking advantage of certain social benefits that accrue to most other working citizens. These are not old, long-forgotten statutes. Some of these restrictions have just been reconsidered and upheld. Additionally, the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare recently recommended that the PRSI (pay related social insurance) tax for self-employed individuals be increased by 1.5% (over the standard 4% rate imposed on others). But, going beyond even these structural social concerns, Ireland’s basic business infrastructure is not what its marketing and PR would have us believe.

For a country that is so vital to the European tech sector, or believes itself to be, Ireland’s level of connectivity (reliable high speed Internet service) is appalling. Additionally, the number of Irish businesses that still don’t have even a rudimentary Web presence is staggering. And, all too often, those that do boast embarrassingly Internet illiterate designs. While I understand that many of these businesses are older, traditional establishments, and not every business needs to be “cutting edge”, taken collectively, none of this sounds like the workings of a culture that fundamentally “gets” self-employment, small business, the entrepreneur, and technology.  Again, that’s okay.

The Irish can be whatever they want.  But problems arise when Ireland (and other countries that believe their own hype) make decisions based on perceived self-image and grand hopes for the future instead of reality. Irish leaders act as if the country is just a couple profitable corporate relocations away from economic nirvana. While it’s great to have ambitions, countries with longer institutional memories and more experience with self-governance have learned to temper the impact that ambition has on policy. They plan for the future based on pragmatic asset projections.

Sadly, Ireland may be a long time in emerging from its current economic slump. I fear that the Irish will founder on the shores of their own leadership, as they continue their policy of ad hoc taxation and spur of the moment financing, to the long-term detriment of the economy. The Irish people may have to endure another meltdown or two before Irish leadership has enough experience in the bank to knowledgeably lead the country to a promising future. And that’s nobody’s “fault”. Ireland is simply a young country.

That’s something I would never have realized until I actually lived here, listened to the news every day, and talked to enough people. Before I moved to Dublin, the questions necessary to achieve this insight simply wouldn’t have occurred to me.

You never really know the truth of a country until you live there. Do your research before you go. But the only way to know the difference between real life and the rationalizations and false perceptions of locals is to reach out to expats, both recent arrivals and the old hands. Find out if the myths of place are true. Do laws, regulations, and actual practice support the public relations and marketing?

Don’t just consider the differences between fact and fiction, think about what those differences represent? Why are the country and its people lying to themselves, or misrepresenting themselves to the world, in this particular way? Are they ashamed of something? Do they want to be something that they are not capable of becoming, and, if so, what (or who) is stopping them? Where in their history did they turn away from what they want to be, or say they want to be, and why?

If you are okay with the truth of life in your new home country, whatever that may be, that’s grand. But make sure that you really dig for the truth before you trade one set of misperceptions for another.

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
* Renting Abroad, Home Maintenance and Property Management in a Foreign Country
* Corporate Taxes Abroad, and the Con Artistry of Luring Foreign Investment

About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
This entry was posted in Dublin Life, Emigrant/Immigrant Life, Immigration & Emigration, Irish Economy, Irish Life & Society, Politics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Where Are We Going: Expectations of Life & Country

  1. calgary411 says:

    Re: “Emigrants have a right to know, truthfully, what they are getting into. That said, for emigrants, knowing the truth of their new home is next to impossible. The Internet makes it possible to do research. But most of that is a marketing and public relations veneer. It is what they want us to know, and what visitors believe/see. And that may, or may not, reflect the practical, everyday truth of life in that place.”

    Your site goes beyond that marketing and PR veneer and appears to be a valuable resource for those planning their big move to Dublin. Good on you for helping in their more practical aspects of so-important research! I hope many find their way to your blog.

    (Another area that would be helpful is all involved with moving children to a school system in a completely different country and the records they will need to bring with them to ease that process.)

  2. Thomas says:

    Forbes(American publication) recently(5th December 2013) rated Ireland as the best country in the world to do business – see link – http://uk.news.yahoo.com/ireland-tops-forbes-list-best-countries-business-224902203.html#Gk9MVoE

    The only good thing about raising taxes to meet the IMF/EU criteria is that what goes up must come down. Maybe not in 2014 but I’d imagine that in 2015 the tax burden will start to decrease. Take for instance the sales tax(V.A.T) rate of 23%! which was 18% pre-recession. Combined with public spending cuts and an average 20% cut in salaries our regained competitiveness might very well lead to a decade of above average growth rates as measured by GDP.

    • Thomas,

      Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to comment.

      I hope you are right, and we do start to see growth in the near future. My concern is that Irish leaders seem to be doing everything they can to bend those numbers quickly rather than sustainably. And, I do understand the impulse to that. However…..

      To my mind, the Forbes ranking makes my point for me. The reason Ireland is ranked so highly is partly because we have relatively safe markets, and personal freedom. But the real reason is the low corporate tax burden. What that means is that Ireland is basically giving away the store. In the classic mode of Irish low self-esteem in many sectors of Irish society, Irish leaders grossly undervalued themselves in the name of getting people to “like them” economically. Despite their repeated denials, the leaders have also made numerous sweetheart deals to get companies here. There’s likely nothing on paper, but in some back room, I believe Enda and the boys have agreed to look the other way when Google accountants work their magic and the company only pays 2% instead of 12%.

      And, even if they haven’t been promised special treatment, the fact that those companies are only here for the low taxes means that Ireland can never raise those rates, or they’ll simply pick up and move elsewhere (to the next best haven). By undervaluing itself in this way (ad hoc taxes in the name of quick “healthy” numbers) Ireland will never develop an economy built on something solid and sustainable.

      Ask yourself, what does Ireland build/do/make? The things it is good at and makes well (music, art, literature, agricultural products, and possibly pharmaceuticals, etc.) have nothing to do with the tech companies that are here for the tax breaks. Those companies see Ireland as a stepping stone to other things. Asian companies see Ireland as a temporary stepping stone (near-shoring) to more lucrative North American markets. And North American companies see Ireland as a cheap haven with reasonably good middle management that speaks better English than you get in India, and is easier to manage because it’s only 5-8 hours time difference, and not so bloody hot in the summer.

      If Ireland wants to build its economy on cheap exploitable middle management, and being a stepping stone to bigger things, that’s fine. But that’s all cheap tax rates will accomplish. And the fact that the Forbes article cites cheap taxes and plummeting salaries as the key reasons why Ireland is ranked so highly is proof of that.

      Sorry, it’s the same old same old….

  3. pensatus says:

    V interesting observations about the entrepreneurial spirit. I’m not sure you’re right in saying “the entrepreneurial spirit is simply not in the Irish national soul”. There seem to be many Irish examples of remarkable individual entrepreneurialism. But Ireland is a very paradoxical country; it harbours many opposing virtues and vices. For most assertions about the Irish, the opposite is also true! I think you’re dead right that those people who are entrepreneurial have to fight their way out of a deadening national anti-entrepreneurialism, a morass of postcolonial self-doubt and self-denigration, etc. It would be very valuable, I think, if you could publish a piece about your observations in a mainstream newspaper.

    • Pensatus,

      Thanks for reading, and taking the time to comment.

      I agree. Ireland is an extraordinarily complex place/society/culture. For every assertion, there are exceptions.

      Thanks again for contributing.

      Happy New Year to you and yours.


  4. Rosemary says:

    I recently came across your blog doing research for a possible future move to Dublin. I have found it very interesting and thoughtful reading. You have brought out a number of interesting and helpful subjects that would never have crossed my mind when thinking about moving abroad. Thanks for the good reading and keep it up!

    • Hi Rosemary,

      Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to respond.

      I’m glad I could help.

      I hope I haven’t deterred you from moving to Dublin. It really is a terrific city to live in.


  5. Pingback: The Local: Where Are You From | An American in Dublin

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